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Study Shows Increased Profits for Companies That Embrace Sustainability

MIT Sloan Management Review and The Boston Consulting Group Find That at Least Half of Companies Surveyed Report Rise in Profit After Changing Their Business Model

CAMBRIDGE, MA -- (Marketwire) -- 02/05/13 -- Companies reporting a profit from their sustainability efforts rose 23 percent last year, to 37 percent of the total, according to a new global study by the MIT Sloan Management Review (MIT SMR) and The Boston Consulting Group (BCG). The study is being released today in a report titled "The Innovation Bottom Line."

The study, which is based on a survey of 2,600 executives and managers from companies around the world, also found that nearly half of respondents said their companies had changed their business model as a result of sustainability opportunities, a 20 percent jump over the previous year. The report calls these companies that have made business-model innovations "Sustainability-Driven Innovators."

Interestingly, the study found that companies in emerging markets change their business models as a result of sustainability at a far higher rate than those based in North America, which has the lowest rate of sustainability-driven business-model innovation and the fewest business-model innovators.

"Sustainability-Driven Innovators see the opportunity differently than do companies that haven't gleaned sustainability's financial rewards," explained David Kiron, executive editor at MIT SMR and a coauthor of the report. "They don't dwell on it as a cost issue. They focus on how their efforts can increase market share, boost energy efficiency, and build competitive advantage."

Sustainability-Driven Innovators also bring a strong execution focus to their efforts, are much more likely to place customers at the center and work closely with many stakeholders, and drive sustainability objectives through skillful organizational change, Kiron said.

The extent to which a company incorporates sustainability concerns into its business model often correlates with its increase in profit, the study found. For example:

  • 50 percent of survey respondents who had changed three or four business model elements said they profited from their sustainability activities, compared with only 37 percent of those who had changed only one element of their business model.

  • When innovations to both target segments and value-chain processes were among the three or four business-model changes, the percentage of respondents who said sustainability added profits climbed from 50 percent to nearly 60 percent.

  • More than 60 percent of respondents at companies that had changed their business model and had sustainability as a permanent fixture on their management agenda said they have added profit from sustainability.

  • Companies that profit from sustainability are almost 200 percent more likely to develop sustainability business cases. The business case is often integral to the company's overall strategy.

"The research suggests that business-model innovation, top-management support, collaboration with customers, and having a business case are all critical to creating economic value from sustainability activities and decisions," said Knut Haanæs, a BCG partner and coauthor of the report who leads the firm's Strategy practice. "Executives need to view sustainability as both a business necessity and an opportunity. Even moderate changes to company business models can reap significant financial rewards."

In a section called "Hitting the Sustainability Bull's-Eye," the report recommends that executives emulate five practices common to many of the companies that are finding profit in sustainability:

  • Be prepared to change business models
  • Lead from the top, and integrate the effort
  • Measure and track sustainability goals and performance
  • Understand how customers think about sustainability and what they are willing to pay for in connection with sustainable products or services
  • Collaborate with individuals, customers, businesses, and groups beyond the boundaries of the organization

To illustrate how organizations are employing these practices, the report cites numerous company examples, including: AT&T, Campbell Soup Company, Dell, Ecover, Greif, Intel, Kimberly-Clark, Kraft Foods (recently renamed Mondelez International), Marks & Spencer, Nestlé, Patagonia, PepsiCo, Sainsbury, SAP, Sprint, Timberland, UPS, and Zipcar.

For more details on the report's findings and interview transcripts, please visit the Sustainability & Innovation website at

To receive a copy of "The Innovation Bottom Line" or arrange an interview with one of the MIT SMR authors, please contact David Kiron at +1 617 253 8071 or [email protected].

To arrange an interview with one of the BCG authors, please contact Alexandra Corriveau at +1 212 446 3261 or [email protected].

About the Research Methodology
For the fourth year, MIT Sloan Management Review, in partnership with The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), conducted a global survey, to which more than 4,000 executives and managers responded. The report's analysis is based on a smaller subsample of 2,600 respondents from commercial enterprises, with respondents from academic, governmental, and nonprofit organizations excluded. A wide variety of industries are represented. The sample was drawn from a number of sources, including MIT alumni, MIT Sloan Management Review subscribers, BCG clients, and other interested parties. In addition to the survey results, the authors interviewed practitioners and experts from a number of industries and disciplines to understand the practical issues facing organizations today.

About the Sustainability & Innovation project
MIT SMR's Sustainability & Innovation project is an exploration, in partnership with BCG, of how sustainability pressures are transforming the ways we all work, live, and compete. S&I's research, reporting, and community help managers to better understand the new forces that will affect their organizations, to navigate through the overwhelming mass of information about sustainability, and to fend off the threats and capitalize on the opportunities that sustainability issues present.

About MIT Sloan Management Review
MIT Sloan Management Review leads the discourse among academic researchers, business executives, and other influential thought leaders about advances in management practice that are transforming how people lead and innovate. MIT SMR disseminates new management research and innovative ideas so that thoughtful executives can capitalize on the opportunities generated by rapid organizational, technological, and societal change.

About The Boston Consulting Group
The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) is a global management consulting firm and the world's leading advisor on business strategy. We partner with clients from the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors in all regions to identify their highest-value opportunities, address their most critical challenges, and transform their enterprises. Our customized approach combines deep insight into the dynamics of companies and markets with close collaboration at all levels of the client organization. This ensures that our clients achieve sustainable competitive advantage, build more capable organizations, and secure lasting results. Founded in 1963, BCG is a private company with 78 offices in 43 countries. For more information, please visit

About features the latest thinking from BCG experts as well as from CEOs, academics, and other leaders. It covers issues at the top of senior management's agenda. It also provides unprecedented access to BCG's extensive archive of thought leadership stretching back almost 50 years to the days of Bruce Henderson, the firm's founder and one of the architects of modern management consulting. All of our content -- including videos, podcasts, commentaries, and reports -- can be accessed via PC, mobile, iPad, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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