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Our Insights 29 Jan 2014

What Experts Think of Sustainability Ratings

By Michael Sadowski

We are pleased to publish the results of The 2013 Ratings Survey: Polling the Experts, the latest expert survey on sustainability ratings and rankings from the GlobeScan / SustainAbility Survey series. As with the surveys preceding it, we took the pulse of experts from around the world (see report below for details) on topics including rating credibility, drivers of such credibility and the importance of ratings in driving improved corporate performance. The survey comes at a good time, as we’ve recently seen a burst of activity around existing ratings (e.g. the Global 100, CDP’s Supply Chain Report) and new ones (e.g. Natural Capital Leaders Index).

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While we don’t view the survey as a rating of raters, we do know from conversations with dozens of corporations, investors, NGOs and others that the survey has become an invaluable data point to help them make sense of the ratings landscape. The survey is a compliment to other elements of the Rate the Raters platform, including perspectives on how companies can best manage ratings and raters’ responses to our questions about their methodologies and approaches.

In looking across the expert survey results, we see a number of key findings:

  • As with the 2012 survey, NGOs are again most trusted by experts to judge corporate sustainability performance, but ratings are catching up. Governments and journalists remain least trusted.
  • The five most credible ratings remained the same as in 2012, although the order shuffled. The top five in 2013 are CDP, the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, Access to Medicines Index, the FTSE4Good Index Series and oekom Corporate Ratings.
  • A number of ratings including Bloomberg, Climate Counts and MSCI ESG Research experienced notable increases in credibility in 2013.
  • The most mentioned drivers of credibility are 1) having a positive impact on corporate sustainability performance and 2) focusing on the right issues.
  • To improve corporate performance, experts suggest that raters make results fully available to stakeholders and ask more sector-specific questions – two points that were prominent in the third and fourth phases of Rate the Raters.
  • Experts are optimistic about the future of ratings: 63% believe they will be more important three years from now in driving improved corporate sustainability performance.

We welcome your feedback and questions on the survey results, and hope you will find them helpful in your work.

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