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Egon Zehnder Global Survey Shows Strong Commitment to Sustainability and Need for More Action from Leaders

Creating a More Sustainable World Will Require Empathetic and Visionary Leadership to Guide Culture, Measurement and Talent, results show

  • February 2022

LONDON & NEW YORK & ZURICH – February 28, 2022 – Egon Zehnder, the world’s leadership advisory firm, today released findings from its latest study, Creating a Sustainable World: Are Leaders Doing Enough?  Executives from around the world were surveyed on their sustainability efforts, addressing the question: are we doing enough to create a more sustainable world?

As the spotlight on major environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues increases, many industries are adopting more sustainable practices.  But are these efforts enough?  In partnership with Sustainable Views, a prototype platform by the Financial Times, this survey unpacks the main challenges facing leaders at this time.  The study also considers the role that boards, CEOs and senior leadership can play in delivering a sustainable agenda that accelerates progress. 

Key findings from the survey include: 

  • CEOs own the sustainability agenda and must empower their teams to deliver on it: More than two-thirds of respondents (68%) believe that a single leader owns the sustainability agenda in their organizations, and most often it was the CEO (66%).  However, while a single leader or team of leaders may be accountable for sustainability, it is critical that the responsibility be shared by everyone in the company, with leaders conveying the importance of organization-wide commitment and ensuring that all employees understand which part they can play through their daily work.
  • Shifts to a sustainability-centric culture are still not where they need to be within businesses: More than half (56%) of survey respondents said their organizations will need to change their collective mindset to achieve their sustainability goals.  True accountability will require embedding sustainability into the core of the company – a shift from the traditional business model/shareholder mindset for many firms. 
  • There is strong commitment and engagement on sustainability, but measurement is inconsistent: 86 percent of companies that participated in the survey have signed up to ESG targets, and those which haven’t are in the process of doing so.  However, there is still an issue around tracking progress.  Not all companies define sustainability in the same terms and often use differing frameworks and systems to measure progress. 
  • A CSO leading the sustainability charge should be a baseline, not a “nice to have”:  While most of our survey respondents believe CEOs “own” the sustainability agenda, 60 percent say CSOs lead it.  CSOs are often the missing link for organizations when trying to connect business and sustainability goals, which encompasses the development of a methodology, KPIs, tools, and a data collection pipeline to enhance insights.

“Now is the time for leaders to act,” says Rachael De Renzy Channer, Leader of Egon Zehnder’s Global Sustainability Practice.  “To drive change, executives from around the world need to lead with empathy.  They need to take a step outside of their role and assess their organization’s impact on the world around them. Environmental concerns are one of the top issues that have consistently plagued our planet for decades, and it’s time for leaders to build a sustainable workplace culture by empowering their teams to make it happen.”

“In communicating our findings, we aim to enable leaders to take more action on sustainability,” adds Catherine Zhu, Egon Zehnder Partner in the Board and CEO practices. “Leaders who expressed concern believe that a gap of relevant skills among board members is the biggest reason for a lack of preparedness, followed by managements’ and shareholders’ conflicting priorities and a lack of sufficiently good data. We expect to see boards adding a focus on sustainability competency.  It takes head and heart to build and implement a long-term vision for an enterprise-wide sustainability journey.”

Ultimately, committing to sustainability requires follow-through. It’s a leadership challenge; starting with commitment, layering on vision, leadership, strategy, alignment and persistence. Making good on a promise to one’s self, board members, investors, employees, and most importantly, the planet. Leaders must be willing to embed sustainability at their core and radiate that energy to inspire change in those around them.

For more information on Egon Zehnder’s study, which surveyed 329 executives, in 53 countries, visit:

About Egon Zehnder 

Egon Zehnder is the world’s preeminent leadership advisory firm, inspiring leaders to navigate complex questions with human answers. We help organizations get to the heart of their leadership challenges and offer honest feedback and insights to help leaders realize their true being and purpose. Our 525 consultants across 63 offices and 37 countries are former industry and functional leaders who collaborate seamlessly across geographies, industries and functions to deliver the full power of the Firm to every client, every time. 

We believe that together we can transform people, organizations and the world through leadership.

For more information, visit and follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.

About Sustainable Views

Sustainable Views is a prototype platform from the Financial Times. Powered by specialist journalism, it gives readers insight into how environmental, social and governance principles are reshaping capital, and into the emerging sets of policy and regulations driving this change. In a space that is as complex and confusing as it is consequential, we deliver cool-headed analysis to time-strapped investors, bankers and corporate financiers on the defining issue of our time.
For more information on our service, please visit us at, our temporary home, where you can sign up to the Sustainable Views newsletter.
About the Financial Times

The Financial Times is one of the world’s leading business news organisations, recognised internationally for its authority, integrity and accuracy. The FT has a record paying readership of more than one million, three-quarters of which are digital subscriptions. It is part of Nikkei Inc., which provides a broad range of information, news and services for the global business community.

Media Contacts
Stacy Drumtra, Global Marketing Co-Lead | T: +1 312 805 6736

Martin Klusmann, Global Marketing Co-Lead | T: +49 30 32 79 55 97

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