One year into the COVID-19 pandemic and CEOs surveyed globally expressed optimism over the future economic outlook.

Every year, PwC conducts a global survey of the CEOs of major companies. The Annual Global CEO Survey is a flagship PwC survey in which the views of thousands of chief executives around the world take part.

Now in its 24th year, the objective of the survey, conducted in January and February 2021, is to identify key trends and patterns in the global economy that affect important management decision-making by leaders of the business establishment.

337 CEOs from across Canada weighed in - 61 from Alberta - on their plans to respond to new threats, transform their operating model and create a more sustainable future.

Reynold Tetzlaff, the Alberta Region and Calgary Office Managing Partner of PwC Canada, told the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce that despite a measly 14 percent of CEOs globally optimistic about global economic growth in 2020, there’s a reason to be hopeful.

“There's lots of optimism as 72 percent of CEOs are expecting the global economy to come to bounce back, with 73 percent expecting their revenue to bounce back as well, going into 2021,” he said. “It is probably not a shock that we were expecting a rebound in 2021 versus 2020.”

In Alberta, 72 percent of CEOs expected economic growth globally, with only 31 percent confident in their organization’s revenue prospects over the next 12 months. That is likely to increase to 48 percent over the next three years.

However, Canadian CEOs are less concerned about climate change and environmental damage compared to global CEOs. Twenty-three percent of Canadian CEOs and 30 percent of global CEOs expressed ‘extreme concern’ on climate change, which the former deem the lowest priority to economic growth.

Cyber threats, COVID-19, and over-regulation, were the most pressing concerns in Canada, with their Albertan counterparts concerned primarily about over-regulation, policy and tax policy and uncertainty.

“CEOs in the energy sector, in particular, are focused on pursuing organic growth while taking climate change to heart,” said Tetzlaff. This is one industry where I think the ESG investment is actually quite high and the highest in the country and the highest in the industry.”

Fifty-four percent of Alberta CEOs intend to increase ESG investments, with more taking the threat of climate change more seriously.

“It's probably not surprising just based on what we're facing here locally around ESG reporting, as climate uncertainty is the area of highest growth within the next three years at 70 percent,” said Tetzlaff.

He argues local industries are not waiting for the government to solve the problem. Only 31 percent of Alberta CEOs believe the Alberta government’s recovery plan will effectively balance short-term economic needs with long-term environmental goals.

“They know they need to invest in the environment and ESG reporting really to be able to raise capital and attract similar global capital as well as private equity funds, and so they are taking it very seriously, which isn't surprising to me,” he said.

Steve Hollinger, Office Managing Partner, Edmonton, PwC Canada, said the rapid acceleration of ESG policy worldwide in the last year is because “now's the time to do more”.

“Investors are increasingly considering ESG impacts and their capital allocation decisions, which means this is an opportunity to expand longer-term growth prospects,” he said.

Hollinger advocates that a robust plan can be a differentiator. “It can help attract the right talent to your organization, especially around younger workers, who are emphasizing the importance of sustainability and environmental programs where they work.”

“What can organizations do first of all, with climate at heart, is raise awareness on making your business more sustainable, including the culture, values, relationships, and employee engagement,” he said.

Nationally, 51 percent of Canadian CEOs believe government effectively balances both.

“From an Environment, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) perspective, Canadian CEOs probably have less concern and less investment when it comes to ESG compared to some of their global counterparts,” said Tetzlaff. “However, there's still investment happening, with 41 percent of private companies and 66 percent of public companies looking to invest in ESG.”

“ESG and environmental concerns are going nowhere,” he said.