Business management

Sustainable business: are you getting fit for the future?

Future-ready businesses are those that embed sustainability into long-term commercial strategies. Don’t miss out today on the opportunities that tomorrow presents.

Strive for purposeful growth

Future Fit businesses define their long-term objectives in terms of their purpose, our latest research shows. This is helping them to navigate a path to growth despite the headwinds. 

Purpose and performance go hand in hand. In today’s volatile market landscape, businesses with a ‘North Star’ keep moving forward. The Future Fit firms identified in our research embrace this idea – often starting with more sustainable business practices linked to environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals – and are achieving better results than their peers.

Our research identifies the leaders on sustainability and purpose:

  • 68% of Future Fit businesses say all their investments in sustainability are tied to long-term commercial objectives and that their contribution to these objectives is measured and verified
  • 63% believe purpose is the primary objective of their efforts to improve company performance and culture 
  • 74% agree sustainability investments provide competitive advantage


“The big question these businesses ask is: ‘what are we here for?’,” says Jonathan Barrow, our Head of National Sectors. “When there is so much disruption and uncertainty, just having that conversation about the why of your business – what you’re setting out to achieve – can be hugely valuable. It gives you the energy to keep going when it is difficult and noisy.”

Our research, based on a survey of 1,000 UK businesses across 10 sectors, underlines the point. It defines sustainability – in the widest sense of the word – as one of the four crucial pillars on which Future Fit businesses rely (alongside innovation, talent, and the supply chain). 

These are the businesses with the foundations in place for enduring success. Indeed, many are already outperforming their competitors: almost half the future fit businesses in the research (45%) have delivered significant growth over the past 12 months, more than twice as many of their peers.

How to define purpose and sustainability

Critically, sustainable businesses do not treat their organisational purpose or their sustainability objectives as secondary or separate from their day-to-day business activities. Instead, they see that both as integral to their ability to build for the future, and therefore should be sewn into their core operations as a business.

Defining an organisational purpose, for example, can ensure that every employee is pulling towards the same aim, even when making in-the-moment decisions. 

When you’re trying to make decisions at a million miles an hour, it is so useful to be able to sense check each option against your organisation’s purpose.

Jonathan Barrow
Head of National Sectors

“And if that purpose is understood at every level of your organisation, people can call it out when they see something that’s out of line,” adds Jonathan.

Purpose could begin with thinking about the business’s impact on society and the planet. More firms are setting themselves challenging goals on environmental metrics, with Future Fit businesses leading the way. These businesses are more likely to measure and report on their performance in this area, more likely to be reducing energy consumption and using renewable energy, and more likely to be allocating time in board meetings for discussions around ESG.

Not all businesses we surveyed define their purpose in terms of their contribution to the planet and society. In fact, many are more likely to articulate that purpose with reference to their products and services or business performance (39%) or to their direct impact on people such as customers and employees (36%). 

What is Future Fit in sustainability?

Our analysis identified companies that tie sustainability investments to commercial objectives, as well as embed organisational purpose in company culture and performance, as Future Fit in sustainability. Just over a quarter of businesses (26%) qualify as Future Fit on this basis. 

How to get fit for the future

So, what makes these companies stand out compared to their peers? Our research shows:


  • Future Fit businesses are determined to hold themselves to account. 

More than a third (36%) have extensively implemented tools to monitor and report on their performance on environmental criteria, compared with only 25% of all businesses.

  • Leaders are prepared to engage.

Almost one in five future fit businesses (19%) say they allocate a regular proportion of board meeting time to discussions on sustainability or environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues.

  • Future Fit businesses are outward-looking.

Almost a third (30%) say they engage with their industry ecosystems to develop long-term sustainability solutions – almost twice the proportion of all businesses who work this way.

  • Recognise sustainability is about state of mind as well as action. 

33% of executives from Future Fit businesses agree strongly that investment in sustainability can provide a source of competitive advantage – compared with only 26% of businesses overall.

  • Future Fit businesses focus on how to move forward together. 

More than a third (36%) strongly agree that everyone in the organisation has a key role to play in their sustainability strategy. 

The common thread, says Jonathan, is not the nature of the business, its size or industry. Rather, it is that these organisations are focused on working across their businesses (and suppliers) to define purpose in terms that everyone understands.

“Engaging your people in the shaping of your purpose, rather than taking a top-down approach, can really help to create that sense of togetherness,” he argues. 

When everyone feels genuinely connected to that purpose, a sense of collective endeavour will drive growth.

Jonathan Barrow
Head of National Sectors

Three key steps to purposeful growth:

  • Engage your staff in defining your purpose – and make sure every member of the organisation understands your North Star.
  • Look beyond the business to pursue purpose – engage partners from across your ecosystem to find common ground and advance together.
  • Focus on key sustainability improvements to make progress – monitor and measure your environmental performance, set targets for reducing energy consumption, and ensure senior leaders spend time discussing sustainability regularly and automatically. 

Create a sustainable business strategy for the long-term

Despite the pressures of today, there are opportunities to innovate or grow. We’re here to help you prepare for tomorrow with the capability and confidence to act today.

Discover more ideas here.

Discover other ways we could support you on your sustainability journey

This material is published by NatWest Group plc (“NatWest Group”), for information purposes only and should not be regarded as providing any specific advice. Recipients should make their own independent evaluation of this information and no action should be taken, solely relying on it. This material should not be reproduced or disclosed without our consent. It is not intended for distribution in any jurisdiction in which this would be prohibited. Whilst this information is believed to be reliable, it has not been independently verified by NatWest Group and NatWest Group makes no representation or warranty (express or implied) of any kind, as regards the accuracy or completeness of this information, nor does it accept any responsibility or liability for any loss or damage arising in any way from any use made of or reliance placed on, this information. Unless otherwise stated, any views, forecasts, or estimates are solely those of NatWest Group, as of this date and are subject to change without notice. Copyright © NatWest Group. All rights reserved.

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