29 June 2018

The state of sustainable business in Belgium

There is a clear trend in Belgium for companies to focus more and more on both social (‘People’) and ecological concerns (‘Planet’) and for them to align these concerns with their economic and financial performance (‘Profit’).

Integrating these 3 P’s - People, Planet, Profit - is widely considered to be the success formula for future-proof business.

But what is the actual state of sustainable business in Belgium? How are companies implementing sustainable business practices? What are the positive effects and barriers they encounter in the process towards sustainable change? And what lessons can be learned from their experiences?

ING worked together with Antwerp Management School to produce a new report answering all these questions and more. The aim was to sketch the current landscape of sustainable business in Belgium, while also investigating the practical side of sustainable change for Belgian companies.


To obtain the data for this report, a questionnaire was developed and distributed amongst companies based in Flanders, Wallonia and the Brussels Capital Region. The sample included small and medium-sized enterprises as well as large companies, representing all sectors.

In addition to collecting data through the questionnaire, interviews were held with Belgian companies and institutions with a view to obtaining more detailed, qualitative insights into the topics included in the questionnaire while adding a little extra “colour” to our findings.

Work in progress
"I am convinced that sustainability and sustainable business will not go away from the societal agenda. It has earned its place and it will stay there.” – Sabine Schellens, Aquafin

When it comes to sustainable change in Belgium, it is work in progress. While a large number of Belgian companies identify themselves as being in a more advanced stage of sustainability, a comparable amount indicates that they are still beginning the process. This may explain the strong inward orientation of sustainability and the relatively low level of satisfaction companies currently have with their own state of sustainability.

It seems that employees have an important role to play in spurring sustainability within companies. Companies nevertheless need to find more effective ways of addressing and enabling this driving factor beyond giving employees a voice in sustainability. In this context, the findings suggest an important role for HR.

Ambition for the future
"To future entrepreneurs I say: dare to confront your fears and realize the necessity of sustai­nability.” – Joost Callens, Durabrik

Many Belgian companies appear to have a strong ambition when it comes to sustainable business and the overall prospect for sustainable business in Belgium is positive. Indeed, many companies think sustainability will become strategically more and more important and intend to devote more attention to sustainability, even in the face of ongoing budgetary constraints.

Lessons learned

The most important lessons learned, as identified by the companies themselves, relate to :

  • structurally embedding sustainability within their organisation
  • developing sustainability from the bottom up
  • realising the contribution sustainability can make to companies’ economic and financial performance.
Download the study

The report demonstrates that Belgian companies are currently in the midst of sustainable change while seeking better ways to integrate sustainability into both their operations and their strategies.