by Roy Harris

Are CFOs Turning Greener?

Jan 20, 20122 mins
Green ITIT Leadership

Report from GreenBiz, citing survey results from E&Y, point to finance as a factor in environmental steps despite recession.

A surprising resilience last year in corporate “sustainability” efforts — despite a global recession that many saw as working against that movement — largely reflected the work of corporate finance executives.

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That’s one key conclusion of the latest annual “State of Green Business” study by GreenBiz Group, a media company that supports individuals and companies that incorporate sustainability practices into their operations.

The report finds that in areas such as clean-energy patents, signs encouraging to that movement were found last year. Its report measures changes in U.S. business and the economy from an environmental perspective.

Recognizing the Risk

The study sites a survey GreenBiz Group conducted last year with Ernst & Young, showing 65% of CFOs indicating that they are engaged in sustainability efforts. “This shows that companies recognize the material risk related to such issues as energy supplies, greenhouse gas emissions, toxic ingredients in products and water management,” GreenBiz says in its press release.

In comments attached to the report, executive editor Joel Makower says that “it’s not that these CFOs have become tree huggers or anything; it’s simply that they understand that many of the things that relate to the environmental activities of their company — things like transparency, disclosure, compensation and risk — are things that matter to them as CFOs. And more important, they matter to shareholders and others near and dear to the boardroom.”

Examples of companies moving strongly toward improving their environmental profile — a major measurement of sustainability –include Patagonia and eBay, which teamed last year to produce advertisements encouraging shoppers to “Buy less, buy used.”

The Role of ‘Gamification’

This GreenBiz report also notes how companies use a technique called “gamification” — giving points or bestowing badges or other elements of “game mechanics” — to encourage environmental practices. Among companies noted for using those practices were SAP.

According to E&Y, the study it completed with GreenBiz was “an in-depth global research study that has revealed current trends and developments in sustainable business practices.”

Those trends included determining that CFOs, along with CEOs “and other C-suite executives need to gain a better understanding of these issues, how they affect the course of business and how to design a long-range strategy to move their organization forward.”