Executives at leading fashion and retail companies say “more regulation will be needed” to deliver change around sustainability issues, a poll by Odgers Berndtson has revealed.

Four out of 10 top bosses polled said pressure to grow sales and maintain competitive prices were the “biggest single obstacle” to their businesses becoming more sustainable.

The leadership poll, conducted in July, showed a large number of senior executives working in fashion and retail are struggling to deliver “greater sustainability”. However, 94% said their companies do have a strategy in place to deal with the issue.

Odgers Berndtson head of fashion and luxury Catherine Broome said: “Senior executives don’t need convincing about the importance of embracing sustainability, but it is difficult and counterintuitive to implement initiatives that negatively impact profit, even in the short term.”

Twenty per cent of those polled said a lack of leadership from the very top was to blame for the company’s approach to sustainability, whereas 27% said a “piecemeal approach” was the main cause.

However, 29% said the main problem was “sustainability goals are not currently included in the objectives of every team and department”.

“Companies don’t routinely include sustainability as a measure of success for all senior executives instead relying on a few named individuals and departments,” Broome said.

“In many cases, this results in confusion over who is really accountable, puts individual performance indicators at odds with company sustainability initiatives and ultimately slows overall progress.”

Odgers Berndtson managing partner of the retail and consumer practice Jane Dessar said: “Consumer expectations are changing but tough commercial realities are not.

“Consumers are shifting towards contributing to a better world, but the question is how many will change their spending and shopping habits.

“Companies will do what they can but are conflicted over how best to proceed without putting profitability at risk.”