Rio+20: Seven out of ten CEOs would take action on global sustainability challenges

Malcolm Preston, PwC’s global sustainability and climate change leader, reflects on the results of a PwC poll which asked CEOs how important sustainable development is now and in the future, and what they're expecting from Rio+20.

With less than a month to go to the landmark Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, PwC has today launched results from our recent poll* of international CEOs which examines the global threats and challenges to business in driving sustainable development, and reflects on what CEOs' expectations are for Rio+20.

We asked CEOs how important the issues of water scarcity, food security, equality and social inclusion, biodiversity loss, sustainable consumption and resource scarcity, climate change and affordable energy, are to them now and in ten years time. Of these, CEOs identified affordable energy, equality and social inclusion, and sustainable consumption and resource scarcity as the top three concerns related to sustainable development today. Significantly, across all issues, CEO concerns are intensifying, with climate change and food security amongst those which will be of increasing concern by 2022. 

If progress is made at Rio+20, seven out of ten CEOs say they would take more ambitious action on issues related to the Millennium Development Goals, including issues of energy, water and sustainable development. Just under half of CEOs polled had made pledges so far. In terms of what progress will be made at the conference, the business jury is out. Unfortunately just half of those polled expect any progress across the issues being discussed.

There is a sense that business can and will respond on sustainability and climate change, and that the Rio + 20 summit can shape the vision and drive the ambition. But it is clear that business has more confidence in 'bottom up' driven actions than it has in 'top down'. According to the poll, four out of five CEO say that regional or national regulation and fiscal measures, along with private sector investment, are the most effective mechanisms for driving investment and change. Over a quarter say that global goals and targets, and regulations/treaties like the Kyoto Protocol, are ineffective in driving action.

To see more CEO poll results, or to have your say on sustainable development and Rio+20, go to

* PwC polled 141 CEOs of companies with revenues between $10m - $10bn+, during April and May 2012.