People around the world are demanding more progress on sustainability and social efforts and are looking to businesses to step up.

This is according to a new study by Oracle and Pamela Rucker, CIO advisor and instructor for Harvard Professional Development, which polled more than 11,000 consumers and business leaders across 15 countries including South Africa.

The study found that people are fed up with the lack of progress society is making towards sustainability and social initiatives, want businesses to turn talk into action, and believe technology can help businesses succeed where people have failed.

The events of the past two years have put a spotlight on sustainability and social efforts, with people worldwide fed up with the lack of progress and calling for businesses to step up:

* 97% of people in South Africa believe sustainability and social factors are more important than ever and 87% said the events over the past two years have caused them to change their actions.

* 98% believe society has not made enough progress. 56 percent attribute the lack of progress to people being too busy with other priorities, 50% believe it is the result of more emphasis on short-term profits over long-term benefits, and 46% respondents in South Africa believe people are too lazy or selfish to help save the planet.

* 57% in South Africa believe businesses can make more meaningful change on sustainability and social factors than individuals or governments alone.

* 87% are frustrated and fed up with the lack of progress by businesses to-date, and 95 percent believe it’s not enough for businesses to say they’re prioritising ESG – they need to see action and proof.

* 89% South African respondents believe businesses would make more progress towards sustainability and social goals with the help of AI, and 61% even believe bots will succeed where humans have failed.

Business leaders know sustainability efforts are critical to corporate success and even trust bots over humans alone to drive sustainability and social efforts:

* 91% believe sustainability and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) programs are critical to the success of their organizations. Executives identified the top three benefits as strengthening the brand (54%); increasing productivity (45%); and attracting new customers (49%).

* Almost all business leaders (92%) are facing major obstacles when implementing sustainability and ESG initiatives. The biggest challenges include obtaining ESG metrics from partners and third parties (45%); a lack of data (48%); and time-consuming manual reporting processes (37%).

* 97% of business leaders in South Africa admit human bias and emotion often distract from the end goal, and 92 percent believe organizations that use technology to help drive sustainable business practices will be the ones that succeed in the long run.

* 90% of business leaders in South Africa would trust a bot over a human to make sustainability and social decisions. They believe bots are better at collecting different types of data without error (60%); making rational, unbiased decisions (50%); and predicting future outcomes based on metrics/past performance (54%).

* Business leaders believe people are still essential to the success of sustainability and social initiatives and believe people are better at implementing changes based on feedback from stakeholders (61%); educating others on information needed to make decisions (61%); and making context-informed strategic decisions (48%).

Businesses need to prioritize sustainability and social issues and rethink how they use technology to make an impact – or risk facing major consequences.

* 98% of people in South Africa want to make progress on sustainability and social factors to establish healthier ways of living (61%); save the planet for future generations (61%); and help create more equality around the world (56%).

* 76% of people in South Africa would be willing to cancel their relationship with a brand that does not take sustainability and social initiatives seriously, and 77% would even leave their current company to work for a brand that places a greater focus on these efforts.

* If organisations can clearly demonstrate the progress they are making on environmental and social issues, people would be more willing to pay a premium for their products and services (92%); invest in their companies (90%); and work for them (88%).

* Business leaders understand the importance and urgency – 94% believe sustainability and societal metrics should be used to inform traditional business metrics, and 95% want to increase their investment in sustainability.

“The events of the past two years have put sustainability and social initiatives under the microscope and people are demanding material change. While there are challenges to tackling these issues, businesses have an immense opportunity to change the world for the better,” says Rucker. “The results show that people are more likely to do business with and work for organizations that act responsibly toward our society and the environment. This is an opportune moment. While thinking has evolved, technology has as well, and it can play a key role in overcoming many of the obstacles that have held progress back.”

Juergen Lindner, senior vice-president and chief marketing officer: global marketing SaaS at Oracle, comments: “It’s never been more critical for businesses to invest in sustainability and ESG initiatives, as people don’t just want to hear about it – they’re looking for decisive action and are demanding more transparency and tangible results.

“Business leaders understand the importance, yet often have the erroneous assumption that they need to prioritize either profits or sustainability. The truth is this is not a zero-sum game. The technology that can eliminate all the obstacles to ESG efforts is now available, and organisations that get this right can not only support their communities and the environment, but also realize significant revenue gains, cost savings, and other benefits that impact the bottom line.”