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Sustainability in the Boardroom

Sustainability is growing in importance and finding its way into boardroom discussions

Today, international companies have come to accept that sustainability is a necessity. No longer driven purely by the profit motive, companies are becoming increasingly ambitious in pursuing the long-term advantages that sustainability promises.

This is our eighth survey since the first issue was published in 2012. PwC’s 2019 Annual Russian Boards Survey examines board perspectives on sustainability. The survey addresses a number of key issues, including the level of importance that board members attach to sustainability agenda, the sustainability issues that are gaining traction in the boardroom, the drivers of board commitments to sustainability and the extent to which sustainability is integrated into long-term business strategy.


  • 89%

    believe that their company's strategy is ambitious & realistic

  • 63%

    claim that investors pay attention to sustainability and CSR

  • 17%

    have a sustainability champion at the board level

  • 81%

    believe transparent & regularly published non-financial data improves investment attractiveness

Corporate strategy: what has changed?

This year companies that engage in short-term planning saw a slight jump to 12% (from 10% last year). However, our survey indicates that boards still prefer long-term over short-term views, with 42% discussing strategy over five-year planning horizons, a jump from 29% in 2018.  

At the same time, the percentage of boards that develop strategy on a ten-year planning horizon moved from 16% to a negligible 6% this year. 

Sustainability and Boards

In Russia, we see sustainability being embedded or integrated to some extent in strategic planning. According to our survey, 89% cite that sustainability and CSR objectives  are reflected in their company’s overall strategy, a 21 percentage point jump over last year. Around one-fifth (17%) of board members say that the objectives are fully reflected, a jump from 9% last year. And 72% (up  from 59%) indicate that sustainability is reflected in their company’s overall strategy – to some extent.

How do boards feel about strategy?

In the last two years (2018 and 2019), we have seen a positive trend in the growing level of trust given to executive teams and their ability to execute strategy effectively. To accomplish it successfully boards need directors who have the relevant expertise and experience that are critical to the company. 

In Russia, directors with risk management expertise, industry and international experience are important for most boards, 35% of board members in Russia think that sustainability expertise would benefit their board and company.


believe that their company’s strategy is ambitious and realistic
(81% in 2018)


believe sustainability expertise would benefit their board in Russia

Engagement with shareholders and investors

In our survey we found that more than half of respondents (57%) say that a member of their board engaged directly with investors in the past year. A majority (90%) agree that investors may have a special agenda when seeking to communicate directly with their board, and 73% of respondents agree that investors might ask questions that directors cannot answer. Around 77% report that direct communication presents too great a risk for mixed messages. And more than half (54%) believe that directors have enough time to meet with investors, and 62% do not believe that it is inappropriate to engage with investors on any matter.

Once sustainability reaches the board level, it is a core part of a company’s strategy. 

Boards taking actions

As sustainability issues have become business issues, addressing environmental and social matters has become critical to companies wishing to remain competitive in the long-term. 

This year, Russia officially joined the Paris Agreement on climate change, pledging to reduce emissions to 70%-75% of 1990 levels by 2030. The ratification of the agreement will have a significant effect on a number of industries, and we expect a response to the threat of climate change.

We are seeing Russian boards acting in response to investors’ calls to manage sustainability risks. But are they doing enough to mitigate risks to sustainable development?

Sustainability is managed in different ways. There is no one-size-fits-all approach that boards can use. However, it is critical to have a clearly defined sustainability position within the company. This year’s study shows that directors see the need to have sustainability expertise on  their boards.


of respondents claim that investors pay attention to sustainability and CSR


of respondents are dedicating more time to sustainable development in board meetings


of respondents have a sustainability champion at the board level

Issues in focus

When it comes to sustainability issues that boards believe are vital to the development of their company, the top two issues reported by our respondents were related to corporate governance. Perhaps reflecting the focus  that institutional investors have placed on corporate governance, increased transparency and reporting (93%) and compliance with environmental and social laws and regulations (86%) are viewed as “very” and “rather” important issue. 

Achieving Sustainable Development Goals: the current state

The SDGs are a global sustainability framework with 17 goals underpinned by 169 targets, there could be significant economic, social and environmental value for all stakeholders. Adopting the SDGs into business practice has been an area of interest across the globe, including in Russia, since 2015.

We found that 66% of board directors believe that the SDGs are “definitively” and “most likely” applicable and can be aligned with the overall company strategy. 

At the same time, our  research also identifies a gap in SDGs awareness among the business community in Russia, where 11% of our  respondents say they are not familiar with the SDGs or do not know the answer to the question. 

According to our results, the top three “very important” and “rather important” SDGs are Global Health and Well-Being (SDG 3), Quality Education (SDG 4) and Decent Work  and Economic Growth (SDG 8).


believe that company overall strategy  can be aligned with the SDGs


believe that transparent and regularly  published non-financial data improves  investment attractiveness


believe that listing in ESG indices  enhances investment attractiveness

Sustainability and ESG reporting

Companies disclose certain non-financial information on how they manage social and environmental challenges in Russia. One out of nine respondents believes that transparent and regularly published non-financial data improves investment attractiveness. 23% of our respondents think that it “definitely” does, while 40% claim that it “most likely” does.

While non-financial disclosure is on the rise and, as per our results, improves investment attractiveness, directors (40%) also are not planning to disclose non-financial data in the short term.

Contact us

Alexey Fegetsyn

Alexey Fegetsyn

Partner, Corporate Governance, PwC Russia

Tel: +7 (495) 967 6403

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