University of Mannheim: Sustainability is becoming more and more important for German companies

Three quarters of those responsible for sustainability affirmed that their topic has become “much more important” in the company. In 55 percent of the companies surveyed, the issue of sustainability is now part of the board of directors. But despite the increased importance, the topic does not seem to be fully established. Only one of the people questioned stated that the topic was “fully anchored in all areas”. After all, the corona pandemic apparently had little effect on sustainability budgets in companies. A good half of the experts assured that the budget did not decrease during the crisis. However, just under half are of the opinion that the financial resources for their own area are sufficient.

51 sustainability managers from large companies took part in this first survey. The survey is to be repeated annually in the future. The aim of the partners is to take a look into the machine room of sustainable transformation. With this survey, the Sustainability Management Monitor, the sustainable transformation of companies is to be accompanied on an evidence-based basis.

Sustainability is also being promoted from outside
More than three quarters of those responsible for sustainability (78 percent) report that the topic of sustainability is being strongly promoted from outside within their own company. The respondents rate the influence of business customers as “rather significant” or “very significant”. The word of the boardroom has about as much weight. In third place among the sustainability drivers comes political regulation (70 percent). This supports the assumption that the political regulation of large companies leads to a so-called “trickle-down effect”. “If some large companies are subject to certain transparency obligations, these standards are also passed on within the value chain,” explains Jakob Kunzlmann, economic expert at the Bertelsmann Foundation.

Those responsible for sustainability consider the EU’s Sustainable Finance Action Plan with the EU taxonomy, the expanded sustainability-related reporting obligations and the Supply Chain Act to be particularly important, but they also fear additional costs and bureaucracy.

In the opinion of more than half of those surveyed, the fact that the transformation does not work faster is primarily due to excessive costs and a lack of resources (54 percent). Almost half consider too few market incentives to be a problem, so the next obstacle is insufficient demand. Many companies see this as a market opportunity, says Alexander Kraemer, co-founder and member of the board of directors of the Peer School: “Many offers, services and product innovations are only just being developed, tested or scaled. We are at the beginning of the runway for a sustainable transformation. We’re just getting really warm. “

Decarbonisation and the avoidance of emissions are important goals
In their endeavors to achieve sustainability, those responsible for sustainability set clear priorities. They consider the avoidance of emissions and the decarbonization of company processes to be particularly important. Almost 85 percent of those questioned see these topics as “material” or “very material”. It is no surprise that these requirements also create uncertainty: “This is a conversion with the engine running,” says Laura Marie Edinger-Schons, Professor of Sustainable Management at the University of Mannheim. “There are more new regulations and methods than ever before when it comes to sustainability. This requires completely new management skills and processes, especially in companies that only recognized the relevance of the topic late. “

Information on the Sustainability Management Monitor
The Sustainability Management Monitor is a component of the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s project on the “Sustainable Social Market Economy”. The aim is to use an annually repeating survey of sustainability managers in companies to gain insights into change processes. The monitor wants to show mechanisms and effects in order to address the necessary framework conditions and control levers for a climate-neutral and resource-saving economy in such a way that it remains competitive, compensates for negative social consequences as well as possible and offers broad opportunities for participation. The partner structure is to be gradually expanded and the panel enlarged from 2022.