5 ways you may be sabotaging your corporate sustainability efforts

5 ways you may be sabotaging your corporate sustainability efforts

Mastering the basics of corporate sustainability means steering clear of common pitfalls. Dive into the five missteps that often plague sustainability efforts and discover how to transform your intentions into tangible results.

The research is clear: Sustainability and business success go hand in hand. Whether the aim is to increase brand value or meet stakeholder demands, pursuing a sustainability strategy has become a vital tool for businesses to remain competitive and tackle climate and nature-related risks.  

So if corporate sustainability has finally entered the mainstream, why is meaningful progress largely lacking? As companies adopt sustainability strategies and work towards environmental targets, there are a few common missteps that risk derailing progress. We’ve flagged five common mistakes you may be making that — despite good intentions — undermine your sustainability success in the long run and what to do about them.   

1) Pursuing perfect data at the expense of action 

Often, decision-makers want to know exactly where they stand before acting taking action, so they spend large sums for increasingly granular data. But the quest for perfection can cause companies to lose sight of why they’re investing in data collection in the first place and, ultimately, stall action. This is called “analysis paralysis,” and can prevent companies from putting all the data and insights they’ve gathered to good use (i.e., making decisions that help them make progress on their goals and commitments), causing delays, missed opportunities and an overall loss of momentum. 

What to do instead: Don’t let perfection be the enemy of progress. Even the most comprehensive data is useless if it isn’t used to drive meaningful action. It’s critical to consider the “why” behind the data you’re collecting. What information will it reveal that will help you move forward on your sustainability journey? 

The value of sustainability data comes from the answers and insights it provides into the root causes of environmental challenges and it should be utilized to find solutions. There’s a lot of progress that can be made with readily available data of sufficient quality. You can continue to work on collecting more refined data in parallel and use it to fine-tune as you go. 

2) Succumbing to burnout after setting targets 

With the so many new and evolving frameworks, setting science-based targets can be a huge undertaking (though an important one) and companies often lose steam once they’ve set their targets. Underestimating the task at hand is one of the biggest culprits and can leave teams feeling burnt out and progress at a standstill.  

Another issue is that many companies spend so much time worrying about what needs to be achieved that they don’t sufficiently consider how they’ll achieve them. It’s only after the fact that they realize that they don’t have the knowledge, capacity or resources to implement their strategies. This not only prohibits progress, but it could also lead to greenwashing accusations when commitments aren’t met.  

What to do instead: Public commitments are just the start of your journey. Delivering on goals and achieving transformative outcomes requires companies to examine the gap between where they are today and where they need to be. By identifying potential roadblocks early in the process — such as a lack of in-house knowledge or skills or incompatible processes, governance structures or company cultures — and taking steps to address them, you can avoid some headaches down the road and keep teams engaged and motivated. Define responsibilities across the organization, allocate the appropriate resources, and establish digestible timelines. A well-structured action plan transforms lofty sustainability targets into practical, achievable milestones. 

3) Neglecting what’s material to business survival 

Aware of the numerous physical, financial and transitional risks climate change poses to business, many organizations have directed the focus of their sustainability efforts on climate action and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But climate is just one piece of a much larger planetary puzzle and failing to address other environmental issues, including biodiversity, water quality and more could put your business at risk, as well as undermine your climate efforts.  


Every company depends on nature in some way, but the vast majority of organizations operate without taking it into account. However, the critical role nature plays in maintaining economic stability is becoming ever clearer. Natural shocks linked to the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events and the disturbance, decline and loss of ecosystem services on which companies’ operations depend are disrupting the status quo and generating significant costs and losses for businesses.    

What to do instead: Climate and issues are interlinked, so solutions must take a holistic approach and consider how these different pieces fit together. For example, regenerative agriculture can lead to better outcomes for soil fertility, biodiversity, pollination and water regulation while also helping to reduce emissions.    

Companies that take steps to gain a complete picture of both their impacts and dependencies on nature will gain clarity on how they’ll to adapt in a changing world so they can better navigate uncertainty and reduce exposure to physical, transitional and reputational risks.   

4) Not linking environmental decisions with business decisions 

While many agree that sustainability needs to be integrated into the business model to maximize impact, few companies have done so. A 2023 BCG survey of corporate directors found that while 66% of respondents believed sustainability should be an integral part of business strategy, only 25% believe that it’s appropriately in place today. A primary reason for this disconnect is that the directors felt that their time was better devoted to high-priority, non-sustainability related topics.  

If businesses want to mitigate their environmental risks, which amounts to $44 trillion of economic value generation, this needs to change. To build a more resilient business, business leaders can’t treat sustainability as a “nice to have.” It needs to be a consideration in every business decision, in every department.  

What to do instead: Your sustainability goals can’t be achieved by the sustainability department alone; business functions across the entire enterprise — operations, sourcing, R&D and even marketing — should be using the data, research and insights developed by the sustainability team to inform their decisions and activities. Leaders need to understand how climate and nature can impact business operations and make sustainability a core component of corporate DNA, fostering a strong culture of sustainability 

If you’re financing sustainability separately from the rest of your business activities, you aren’t allocating enough resources to implement holistic, sustainable business transformation. Instead of having a siloed sustainability budget, look at what each department needs to achieve and build sustainability into each team’s budget for the year. 

5) Talking the talk but not walking the walk with sustainability  

Some companies fail to see progress because their efforts go in contradictory directions, such as lobbying for policies that undermine their sustainability agenda or failing to give sustainability teams any real power within the organization. Not only does this run the risk of creating  distrust with consumers, it exposes them to greenwashing accusations. With mounting regulations and reporting requirements, it’s going to become all the more challenging for companies to continue in this vein without facing consequences. 

What to do instead: It’s important to have the right narrative around your corporate sustainability initiatives, and your actions must tell the same story. Maintaining credibility will require executives and functional leaders to examine whether the status quo aligns with or undermines the organization’s sustainability vision. Ultimately business decisions and operations should be consistent with your goals. Any discrepancies signal areas for improvement. 

Rather than focusing on how you can push your sustainability narrative externally, keep the promotion of your activities at the same level as your actual achievements. Regularly monitor and report that progress, showcasing your commitment to sustainability both internally and externally. This promotes brand authenticity and transparency, which will please both shareholders and consumers. You don’t need to be perfect on your sustainability journey, but you do need to be genuine.  

Effective corporate sustainability programs should be dynamic and transformative. Sustainability goals can and should be used to guide business activities toward a future where business success aligns harmoniously with regenerative ecosystems and the respect for planetary boundaries. 

As your business navigates this terrain, remember that sustainability isn’t just about mitigating risk or meeting regulatory demands: it’s about redefining success in a way that’s aligned with the well-being of our environment and society. The boundaries of our planet are also the boundaries within which businesses must operate to thrive in the long run. 

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