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06/09/2022

New study reveals Canadian CEOs’ top priorities

Global IBM study shows the pressure is on business leaders to act on sustainability
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Canadian CEOs have climate and cyber crime on their minds.

In the latest edition of IBM’s Institute of Business Value annual CEO study, 3,000 CEOs in 43 countries were surveyed to better understand their priorities in today’s complex environment.

For the first time, the majority of Canadian respondents (56%) ranked sustainability as a high priority, a giant leap from 31% in 2021. “It’s not entirely clear why there was this increase, but there are a few things to consider,” said Jean-François Barsoum, senior innovation executive at IBM Canada, in an email interview with Canadian Grocer.

The first is the number of extreme weather events in Canada over the past year, which are impacting both communities and businesses. “There’s also been evidence that consumers’ concern over environmental issues has grown,” added Barsoum. “For whatever reason, I can’t imagine the trajectory of this issue slowing down.”

The study notes that pressure to act on sustainability is mounting. CEOs in Canada report receiving the greatest pressure from board members (79%) and investors (68%)–the stakeholders they tend to interact with most directly–as opposed to consumers (17%). Additional pressure comes from regulators (56%), government (55%) and ecosystem partners (52%). Pressure from employees came in at just 12%.

Barsoum noted another factor could be that most CEOs (80%) believe sustainability investments will not only accelerate business growth, but will also improve business results within the next five years. “The bottom line is clearly an element here,” he said.

When it comes to executing on their sustainability strategies, a key challenge is the talent crunch. Only 35% of Canadian CEOs said they have the people and skills needed, and only 21% said their sustainability efforts had any impact on recruiting talent.

Notably, Canada was the only country that said cybersecurity was a higher priority than sustainability. It was cited as a top priority by 57% of Canadian CEOs in 2022, up from 46% in 2021.

“Cybersecurity awareness appears to be growing ever more important in the face of increasingly costly and frequent attacks, the cost of which rose to C$6.75 million per incident on average last year, an all-time high for Canada,” said Barsoum.

In the face of these challenges, what’s a CEO to do?

“Although most organizations are building this plane while flying it, there is a strong case for optimism—as long as business leaders remember that this is not a ‘one and done’ process,” said Barsoum. “Transformational sustainability does not end once leaders have built and integrated certain capabilities. Anticipating the need for new capabilities and approaches is an important part of driving continued progress.”

His advice is to understand that sustainability starts with information. For Canadian CEOs investing in sustainability, the biggest challenges to achieving their objectives are: lack of insights from data (48%); difficulty calculating ROI and economic benefits (47%); and technological barriers (45%).

“AI is expected to have a big role to play in addressing those hurdles,” said Barsoum. “In fact, 60% of Canadian companies are either currently using (29%) or planning to use AI (31%) to support their sustainability goals.”

For grocery stores specifically, Barsoum said: “AI and IoT sensors can be used to provide inventory counts in real-time, while data analytics can predict consumer demand and eating patterns. Based on these kinds of insights, grocers can then adjust their buying cycles to not only be more sustainable but also save money.”