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Insights 7 Jun 2016

The 2016 Sustainability Leaders Survey: Experts Share Views on Progress and Company Performance

By Aiste Brackley

GlobeScan and SustainAbility have tracked expert opinions on sustainable development leadership for more than 20 years.

Over these two decades, we have seen the sustainability agenda evolve and broaden, watched companies climb to the top of the corporate leadership list and then completely disappear from it, and witnessed many waves of optimism and pessimism as well as shifting expectations.

This edition of the Sustainability Leaders Survey is the first since the adoption of the Paris Agreement. In December 2015, the international community expressed unanimous commitment to tackling climate change and limiting global warming to below 2C. Governments, companies and other stakeholders polled for this year’s survey now operate in an environment profoundly different from previous years in terms of ambition, urgency and consensus about the direction of the sustainable development agenda.

Experts believe that national governments and the private sector equally share the responsibility for advancing sustainable development.

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Also new in 2016, GlobeScan and SustainAbility have joined forces with Sustainable Brands to conduct and publish the survey. This partnership has enabled us to expand the pool of surveyed experts, especially in Asia and Latin America, to achieve a more comprehensive international representation.

According to the 907 stakeholders in business, government, NGOs and academia across 84 countries polled for this year’s report, non-state actors continue to outperform all other institutions and especially national governments, which remain at the bottom of the list for their achievements. The contribution of NGOs since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio is viewed positively by 57% of polled experts, while national governments are regarded positively by only 6% of respondents.

Other key findings of the 2016 Sustainability Leaders report include:

  • Sustainability experts believe that national governments and the private sector equally share the responsibility for advancing sustainable development over the next two decades, with 34% of experts mentioning the two institutions as critical to progress.
  • Unilever continues to dominate global corporate rankings, further increasing the leadership margin and has been mentioned as a leader by 43% of polled experts. Patagonia, IKEA, Interface and Tesla were also among the most frequently mentioned companies.
  • Rankings of regional leaders are dominated by consumer-facing companies, with Unilever leading the list in Europe, Patagonia in North America, Woolworths in Africa and Natura in Latin America. In Asia, the Tata group of companies occupies the top position on the list.
  • Aligning sustainability strategy with internal culture and values is perceived to be the key driver of corporate leadership.
  • The most effective way for companies to make positive contributions towards Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is through pursuing partnerships and developing products and services, 44% of experts believe. The private sector should also apply SDGs as a lens in goal-setting and risk analysis processes.
  • WWF and Greenpeace continue to be seen as NGO leaders on sustainable development, with, respectively, 30% and 20% of expert votes. Meanwhile, Sweden (27%) and Germany (25%) have the best records among governments.
  • Experts are critical of industry efforts to transition to sustainable development, with the record of all sectors viewed primarily negatively. The forest products industry, biotechnology and ICT companies are considered to be managing the transition the best, while oil & gas and mining industries are viewed negatively by more than 75% of experts.

You can download the report here. For a deeper dive into the survey results and discussion with corporate representatives, join our webinar on June 30th, 8am PST.

Further reading

The 2016 Sustainability Leaders

A GlobeScan / SustainAbility Survey

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