Sustainability Tops Executive Agendas Around the World, But Asia Pacific Lags Behind

Survey shows that Indonesia and Taiwan lead the region in sustainable transformation, with technology investment a priority, and the lack of programs and measurement key barriers

In conjunction with Earth Day 2022, Karan Bajwa, Vice President for Asia Pacific (APAC) Google Cloud, identified the most significant barriers to sustainability transformation across APAC: the lack of sustainability programs and quantifiable measurements. 

Bajwa highlighted a global survey of executives conducted by The Harris Poll for Google Cloud, in which business leaders shared their views on prioritization, challenges, and opportunities for sustainability. The survey demonstrates that while executives in the region are especially optimistic about sustainability compared to peers around the world, APAC executives and their organizations lag behind those in North America, Europe, Middle East and Africa in having programs and strategic priorities to achieve sustainability initiatives.

“The International Panel on Climate Change report is a stark reminder that it is now or never for climate action. Since joining Google Cloud, every conversation that I’ve had with customers’ Board of Directors, CEOs and CTOs has involved sustainability as a strategic imperative. Our planet urgently needs it, and consumers, employees, and investors demand it.” said Bajwa. “As organizations ramp up sustainability transformation efforts, technology innovation is what executives believe will have a lasting impact on the sustainability of their organization and the planet.”

Executives Enthusiastic About Sustainability, but Impact Measurement Falls Short

APAC executives lead in optimism, with 77 percent believing that sustainability can drive significant business transformations, compared to 73 percent globally. Many identify environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives as their top organizational priority, ranking ESG on par with business model evolution and customer relationship and experience optimization. Executives in APAC are in fact more likely to seek sustainability opportunities, with more agreeing that “I wish our board or senior leadership gave us more room to prioritize sustainability” (87 percent compared to 82 percent globally)—suggesting a growing recognition that sustainability is a serious driver for growth.

However, executives struggle to have sustainability programs in place or quantify their efforts—and APAC trails the pack. While nearly all executives report having at least one program in place to advance sustainability initiatives, APAC executives are more likely to say that their organization does not have sustainability programs or strategic priorities in place—the highest of all regions (8 percent in APAC compared to 4 percent globally). Measurement is a challenge, with only two out of five businesses in APAC (36 percent, on par with 36 percent globally) measuring their sustainability efforts, and only 16 percent in APAC (17 percent globally) using measurement tools to optimize results. 

Technology Innovation Tops Investment Agenda for Executives Reconciling Competing Priorities

Compounding the challenge are competing priorities executives in APAC face, with revenue priorities and authenticity the biggest barriers to sustainability progress. Executives in APAC are as likely as those in other regions to agree with the statement “My organization is more focused on revenue growth, even if it is more harmful to the environment” (37%, comparable to 38% globally). Authenticity is also top of mind, with over half (61 percent in APAC, 58 percent globally) reporting that their organization is guilty of greenwashing, and roughly two-thirds (65 percent APAC, 66 percent globally) question how genuine or effective their organization’s sustainability initiatives are. 

Tech innovation is the top area executives believe will impact the sustainable growth of their organization and of the planet. Over three in four executives (79 percent in APAC, 78 percent globally) believe that technology helps transform operations, socialize initiatives, and measure and report on the impact of their efforts. Executives are putting their money and time where it matters—the top two investment areas for 2022 are technology (61 percent in APAC, 62 percent globally) and sustainability (50 percent in APAC, compared to 55 percent globally). 

Sustainability Transformation in APAC Uneven; Indonesia and Taiwan Lead the Way

The survey reveals a divergence in sustainability agendas and progress within APAC, with Indonesia and Taiwan leading in prioritization and best practices: 

Organizational priorities and programs, measurement of impact, and technology investment

APAC countries represented/ Selected survey questionsAustraliaIndonesiaJapanSingaporeTaiwanGlobal average
ESG is a priority at my organization64%66%34%62%79%63%
My organization is more focused on growing in a way that is sustainable for the planet, even if it means lower revenue in the near future 61%74%54%57%71%62%
My organization does not have programs or strategic priorities in place to accomplish sustainability initiatives5%0%26%8%1%4%
We haven’t started developing a strategy / have been focused on other areas, and are not planning to do so in the near future15%1%22%4%0%6%
We have the ability to measure our biggest areas of environmental impact and progress against our goals89%96%46%86%95%85%
We are implementing a program or sustainability initiative/ measuring its impact/ using the measurement of our program to optimize based on results51%77%36%64%63%59%
Technology allows us to measure the impact of our efforts / report (e.g., automated data collection, reporting, etc.)43%54%46%44%49%45%
Technology enables automation or outsourcing business operations to improve sustainability31%59%32%44%61%43%
Technology enables reduced carbon footprint of commuting (e.g. hybrid or remote work)31%43%28%51%50%42%

Sustainability is increasingly top of mind for executives around the world as they seek to protect the environment and make sustainability a growth driver. The good news is that it is still early on many companies’ sustainability journey, with the majority in planning and early implementation phases of programming. The evidence points to technology as the path forward, enabling executives to narrow the gap between ambitions and impact. 

“At Google Cloud, we’re committed to helping our customers use cloud technology to do more for the planet. We operate the cleanest cloud in the industry, and because of that, we recognize that building a more sustainable business is not easy,” said Bajwa. “Our goal is to ensure that sustainability teams always have a seat at the planning table, so we can work together on using cloud technology to build a more sustainable future.”