Like it or loathe it, the UK’s January 2020 departure from the EU forced a once-in-a-generation opportunity to forge future-fit sustainability ambitions and regulations. But this hugely profound moment arrived with the global pandemic, closely followed by the first large-scale conflict in Europe in over 70 years and the associated cost-of-living crisis.
Thankfully, the UK’s characteristically pragmatic business leaders are simply “carrying on.” And, with similarly characteristic conviction, they demonstrate that a sustainable business is an enduring one.
In keeping with this conviction, UK businesses are doubling down on sustainability investment, with the highest anticipated growth in spend of any country in our recent survey of 3,000 executives globally, including 250 in the UK. The study, conducted with Oxford Economics, projects UK business sustainability spending to grow 260% between 2018 and 2030, and 13% year-over-year between 2025 and 2030.
As in other regions, core digital technologies (i.e., cloud, IoT and analytics) are well deployed in the UK. However, substantial opportunity remains for wholesale operational optimization through technologies that are less widely adopted (i.e., artificial intelligence, intelligent automation, digital twins and blockchain) to accelerate and scale enterprise response to environmental risk.
Similarly true of other countries, the focus of UK businesses’ intervention in sustainability remains resolutely focused on internal operations rather than across the value chain, despite the huge business opportunity of doing so. For example, non-profit CDP reports that, globally, businesses leading value-chain-wide (Scope 3) initiatives reduced emissions by 619 mt CO2e in 2020, saving $33.7 billion as a result.
There appears to be further opportunity in the UK from the closer coupling of business, sustainability and digital strategies. However, there needs to be a more equal distribution of responsibility for strategy and budget authority, and accountability for outcomes. After all, there’s arguably no better theme than sustainability to galvanize and mobilize every corner of the C-suite.
What’s clear is that despite recent perturbations, investor pressure is growing; consumers are ever more environmentally conscious, fluent and committed to change; and business leaders increasingly recognize the benefits of sustainability investment. All of these accelerating trends underpin UK businesses’ commitment to sustainability despite economic headwinds, and we anticipate an ever more surgical focus on the commercial outcomes of such investments.
Through our analysis of the survey data, we’ve devised five recommendations for how UK businesses can outperform their markets by embedding sustainability at their core:
#1 Boost sustainability investments to realize full business value