More than half the business professionals polled in a recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers said “eco-efficiency” is a high or growing priority for their business.

PwC’s poll results indicate that businesses are putting greater emphasis on efforts to drive financial savings and build a competitive advantage in the market by being more ecologically efficient and reducing their environmental impact, with 52 percent of the more than 600 business professionals surveyed ranking it as a high or growing priority.

PwC has also produced a new report, “Less can be more: better for the bottom line and the environment,” and a webcast, offering ideas for companies considering eco-efficiency strategies. “Identifying innovative cost reduction opportunities through a sustainability lens is top of mind for the C-suite,” PwC Sustainable Business Solutions practice managing director Don Reed said in a statement.

“President Obama’s recent speech on climate change heightened awareness of corporate action to reduce emissions. At the same time, companies are focusing on the significant financial benefits of improving efficiency, unlocking incentives and rebates, while delivering better environmental results for stakeholders. There are a range of financial, environmental and reputational benefits for organizations taking a more eco-efficient approach, and well-positioned companies are using sustainability initiatives to gain a competitive advantage in their markets.”

According to PwC’s survey, eco-efficiency initiatives meet multiple business objectives. More than half (54 percent) of the respondents cited cost cutting as the main objective for their companies, followed by 30 percent who cited enhancing corporate reputation, and 12 percent who cited managing risks.

“Eco-efficiency has traditionally been thought of as energy only, but companies that employ a broader strategy are finding opportunities to reduce costs and impacts for other expenses such as fuel, waste, packaging, and water,” Reed added. “By identifying opportunities across the full organization and taking advantage of the financial incentives offered by governments and utilities, companies can quickly realize direct and indirect financial savings. Beyond the cost focus, company leaders are looking at other motivating factors including strengthened reputation, reduced risk and improved customer and employee experience.”

Changes in behaviors, processes and materials are an important component in implementing eco-efficiency initiatives, but companies can best achieve other goals through investment, according to PwC. More than a third of respondents (38 percent) said funding is one of the main barriers to making eco-efficiency a reality in their own organizations. Beyond funding, management support (21 percent) and internal capability (21 percent) emerged as additional obstacles. 

To secure funding for eco-efficiency programs, companies should look at additional cash benefits including utility rebates, maintenance savings and government incentive programs, PwC noted. Some utility providers may cover or subsidize capital costs for new equipment that is energy efficient. Likewise, the federal government and many state or local governments provide tax credits, cash grants or loans to spur the adoption of renewable energy, according to PwC.

When it comes to areas where executives see room for improvement in their eco-efficiency strategies, energy usage (52 percent) and waste (27 percent) are the top categories where respondents think their own companies could be doing more.  Opportunities to implement eco-efficiency initiatives vary, but common areas that are ripe for returns include lighting, on-site solar, fleets, water, and raw materials, according to PwC.

“Being more efficient and reducing environmental impacts means thinking and acting differently and companies need to learn how to understand and measure benefits of their eco-efficiency initiatives to really maximize the value and returns,” said Reed.