Sustainability track record will distinguish top businesses in next decade, survey finds

Over the next decade the world’s leading organisations in will be defined by their ability to integrate sustainability into their core business model, according to a new survey. And a commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was identified as key reasons why companies are considered to be leaders in corporate sustainability

The 2017 Sustainability Leaders Survey  undertaken by strategy consultancies Globescan and SustainAbility found that future leaders will excel at transparency and engagement. Experts also expect innovation and social responsibility to be the key attributes of corporate trailblazers in the upcoming 10 years.

The Sustainability Leaders Survey has tracked expert opinions globally on the evolution of the sustainability agenda for two decades, along with views on the leading organizations most responsible for driving it forward.

The survey concluded that integrating sustainability values, demonstrating innovation and fostering transparency will be defining characteristics of leading organizations in the next ten years. More than 1,000 qualified sustainability experts in 79 countries were asked, unprompted, to name companies that they see as being leaders in integrating sustainability into their business strategy.

During the first decade of this survey, the list of corporate leaders was dominated by heavy industrial companies with the likes of Shell and BP having enjoyed the longest leadership track.

However, the second decade of the Sustainability Leaders Survey saw the rapid rise of consumer-facing brands, with Unilever and Patagonia showing the strongest performance. The Swedish retailer and carpet manufacturer Interface was the only firm to have appeared consistently in the top ranks for sustainability leadership throughout the 20-year history of the survey.

In addition to integrating sustainability into the heart of the business and demonstrating executive leadership, strong performance in supply chain management, as well as commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), are identified as key reasons why companies are considered to be leaders in corporate sustainability.

“A handful of companies with powerful visions and values have won more share of mind among experts in recent years,” GlobeScan director Eric Whan said. “Meanwhile, it’s becoming harder for others to break through, even though many are making great progress. This is no reason to stop.”

Among NGOs, World Wildlife Fund (28%) and Greenpeace (18%) continue to be regarded as the global leaders in advancing sustainable development. Effective stakeholder engagement and collaboration are the key reasons NGOs are recognized as leaders.

While national governments are universally seen as not doing enough in terms of their contribution to progress on sustainable development, the perception of government differs by region. Asia respondents (24%) have the most positive view of overall national government performance, while Latin America experts (1%) have the most negative perceptions. 

The full Sustainability Leaders 2017 report can be downloaded here.

July 5, 2017
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