Survey of top business executives reveals fears Covid-19 crisis could stall corporate climate action


A survey of hundreds of top business executives by consultancy giant Deloitte suggests the Covid-19 crisis could slow sustainability initiatives at companies around the world, despite climate change remaining a major concern within the overwhelming majority of organisations.

A poll of 750 business leaders published last week by the management consultancy firm has revealed that 65 per cent of executives said their company would need to "cut back" on environmental sustainability initiatives in some way as they strive to handle the fall out from the pandemic. 

Despite high-profile calls from across the corporate sector for a 'green recovery' from the pandemic and a glut of net zero pledges unveiled over the last year, Deloitte's survey highlights how just 23 per cent of executives polled expected the companies they worked for to ramp up their environmental sustainability plans in the wake of the health and economic crisis. 

The revelation from business insiders that sustainability programmes could be slowed in the wake of the economic downturn comes despite widespread concern about the climate crisis among business leaders, according to the findings. Some 82 per cent of business leaders described their organisation as either "concerned" or "very concerned" about climate change and 81 per cent of executives agreed or strongly agreed that businesses could do more to protect the environment.

Meanwhile, around 30 per cent of respondents said their company was already starting to feel the operational impact of climate-related disasters.

Michelle Parmelee, deputy CEO and chief people and purpose officer at Deloitte Global, described the results of the survey as "mixed", but stressed the findings underscored the business case for tackling climate change and making environmental sustainability "a true imperative for executives".

"On the one hand, the pandemic has slowed some of the momentum toward combatting the climate crisis that has been building over the last couple of years," she said. "On the other hand, there has emerged a newfound sense of determination that if we act now, we can alter the course of climate change and avoid worst-case scenarios case scenarios down the line."

The survey reveals the top four actions being prioritised by companies to combat the environmental emergency are the adoption of public policy positions that promote sustainability and climate change action, work to ensure suppliers and business partners meet specific environmental sustainability criteria, use of more sustainable materials, and educating the board and senior management on climate issues.

Remote working was also identified by business leaders as an action being increasingly prioritised by companies as a means to reduce their environmental impact. Some 38 per cent of respondents revealed that their firm had promoted working from home as a means to reduce emissions from travel, up from the 19 per cent recorded in early 2020, before the pandemic saw empoyees around the world pivot towards home working to avoid the spread of the virus.

Despite the current economic headwinds, the findings highlight how executives are broadly optimistic about the future, with roughly 63 per cent of executives claiming they believed the worst impacts of climate change can be limited if immediate action is taken.

However, a third of respondents agreed with the statement that the world had "already hit the point of no return" and that it was "too late to repair the damage".