Companies and Governments Lag NGOs in Driving Sustainability but New Corporate Leaders Emerging, According to Experts



London, Toronto, and Washington DC (July 22, 2009) – Business and political leaders are lagging far behind non-governmental organization (NGO) leaders and social entrepreneurs in driving the move to sustainability, according to a new global poll of sustainability experts. But a new generation of corporate leaders driving change may be starting to emerge.

Findings from the inaugural annual Sustainability Survey by GlobeScan and SustainAbility show that thought leaders across the world view corporate leadership on sustainability to be far behind that of NGOs and social entrepreneurs, and only slightly better than governments in pushing the sustainability agenda forward.

More than 1,600 experts were surveyed in March 2009 on a range of topics related to sustainability. Respondents are drawn from corporate, government, NGO, academic, research, and service organizations, and span more than 90 countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, North and South America, Australia and New Zealand. The Sustainability Survey is the largest global poll of the views of sustainability experts.

The survey also suggests that a new generation of corporate leaders in sustainability is starting to emerge. When asked to name individual companies that are committed to sustainability, experts identified a diverse range of companies from many sectors. Interface, GE, Toyota, and Walmart receive the most recognition from experts.

Expert opinions about corporate sustainability leadership have been shifting over the years. Interface, Toyota, BP, and to a lesser extent, Shell, remain high on the list of leaders, but with fewer mentions than in past years; while mentions of GE, Walmart, Marks & Spencer, and Google are rising in prominence. This new mix of leaders may reflect a shift in expectations about the type of companies—and sustainability strategies—which appear to be driving the necessary change.

A credible public commitment to sustainability grounded in the company’s core values is cited as a key factor behind experts’ choice of corporate leaders in sustainability. While experts surveyed also say a company’s products, services or policies are important signs of sustainability leadership, it is clear that a company’s ability to communicate a strong commitment to sustainability resonates the most. This suggests companies that integrate sustainability as a core value are also expected to follow through with more sustainable products and services.

Jeff Erikson, Vice President at SustainAbility, comments: “While our global sustainability challenges are growing both in urgency and complexity, it is clear that our political and business institutions have some distance to go before they are seen as providing adequate sustainability leadership. Companies must continue to integrate sustainability throughout their core business practices, while government leaders must do a more effective job at developing policies which drive positive social and environmental change. Those which do so will gain the trust of the public, and be more likely to succeed in these changing economic times.”

Chris Coulter, Vice President, Global Insights and Strategy at GlobeScan, adds: “It is those companies that are able to communicate effectively with stakeholders and distill their commitment to sustainability into a convincing theme that seem to be able to occupy the highest regard in the minds of stakeholders. Interface’s Mission Zero, Marks & Spencer’s Plan A, GE’s Ecomagination and more recently, IBM’s Smarter Planet, are all emblematic of this approach and allows for the connecting of the company’s core essence - its brand - with its sustainability commitments.”

About The Sustainability Survey

The Sustainability Survey is a comprehensive program of research, analysis, and solutions that assists corporate leaders in navigating the challenges and opportunities related to sustainability. At the core of The Sustainability Survey are research-driven insights from ongoing polling of the most influential thought leaders in the sustainable development arena. The quantitative results then inform forward-looking strategic counsel for companies participating in the research program.

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All figures in the charts are percentages.




Media Contacts

For more further information, please contact:

Sam Mountford
Research Director
GlobeScan, London
Office: +44 20 7253 1447
sam.mountford@globescan.com

Oliver Martin
Director, Global Development
GlobeScan, Toronto
Office: +1 416 969 3073
oliver.martin@globescan.com
Jeff Erikson
Vice President
SustainAbility, Washington DC
Office: +1 202 315 4150
erikson@sustainability.com

GlobeScan is an international evidenced-based strategic consultancy. Our objective, data driven research and analysis is used to help develop, implement and measure the effectiveness of strategy for the largest global corporations, multilateral institutions, governments and NGOs. We conduct research in 100+ countries, employ advanced analytic methodologies and have over 20 years of proven results. www.globescan.com

SustainAbility is a strategy consultancy and think tank working with senior corporate decision makers to achieve transformative leadership on the sustainability agenda. We offer a range of services designed to create financial value at the same time as addressing environmental, social and governance issues in an integrated manner. SustainAbility also undertakes advocacy to contribute to a policy environment and broader public understanding aligned with our ESG goals. www.sustainability.com