Primer: CEO Decision-Making for Sustainability

Primer: CEO Decision-Making for Sustainability

What helps shift CEO decision-making around sustainability? How can corporate change agents support this process? 
nbssouthafrica May 4, 2016
This primer describes what helps shift CEO decision-making around sustainability and how corporate change agents can support this process. 
It is based on a review of prior research on CEO decision-making, combined with practical experiences and insights gleaned from interviews with 84 CEOs, board members, and sustainability executives from a range of global companies. 

What shapes CEO decision-making?

Personal Readiness

CEOs' professional experiences and connections, personal experiences and connections, and the degree to which they are broad scanners of information all shape their readiness to accept that environmental and social factors should be factored into their decision-making. 

The Internal and External Context 

CEOs pointed to both the internal and external contexts of the business as key constraints on their decision-making.

A 'Gut Check' 

CEOs mentioned three other factors that guided their decision-making. They talked about needing to demonstrate performance, wanting to be seen as a good steward of the company, and leaving a personal legacy.

What barriers prevent CEOs from prioritising sustainability?

Three answers surfaced repeatedly in discussions with CEOs.

How can change agents support CEOs?

Change agents can try these tactics to support their CEOs and catalyse better decision-making around sustainability.

How can you be a more effective sustainability change agent?

Research revealed a number of characteristics of effective sustainability change agents. By reflecting on these characteristics, sustainability change agents may be able to bolster their own effectiveness.
Characteristics of Effective Change Agents (chart)

What next?

In addition to this primer, the main report and executive guide synthesise lessons on this topic from the direct experience of our participants. We hope their stories and our set of tools will help sustainability change agents in applying these findings in their own companies, and ultimately, catalyse better sustainability decision-making.
Executive Report

Leverage the CEO's position – at the interface between the external environment and the internal hierarchy of their companies – to drive sustainability.

Systematic Review

This report outlines the influences on CEO decision-making for sustainability and identifies actions for change agents to support their CEOs.

Reports and Articles

New research and tools provide insight into CEO decision-making for sustainability.