Communicating Purpose Through Brand Among Top Drivers Of Corporate Leadership: New Poll Of Experts

Unilever, Patagonia, Interface, IKEA, Tesla, Nestlé and Natura are among the top-rated global leaders on sustainability

7 JUNE 2016 – Integrating purpose through a common brand promise and aligning sustainability strategy with internal culture and values are key drivers of corporate leadership according to the findings of the just-released 2016 Sustainability Leaders Survey by GlobeScan and SustainAbility in partnership with Sustainable Brands.
The Sustainability Leaders Survey tracks expert opinions on the evolution of the sustainability agenda for two decades, along with views on the leaders and institutions most responsible for driving it forward. This is the first edition of the survey since the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change in late 2015.
Mark Lee, Executive Director at SustainAbility commented: “Sustainability experts now believe that national governments and the private sector must take equal responsibility for advancing sustainable development over the next two decades, with 34% of experts rating each as vital to progress. Expectations for governments to lead have gradually decreased in recent years, while those for the private sector have been rising. Multi-sectoral partnerships are also seen as playing a central role.”
Over 900 experts in 84 countries were asked, unprompted, to name three companies that they believe are leaders in integrating sustainability into their business strategy. Four in ten experts (43%, up five points from 2015) mentioned Unilever as a global leader on sustainability, a position that the company has maintained for the sixth year in a row (no other company has maintained top recognition for so long in the 19-year history of the survey).
Compared to 2015, Patagonia (in second position at 17%, up six points), Interface (tied for third with 10% of mentions, up 2 points) and IKEA (tied for third position at 10% with an increase of 5 points) have received more endorsements this year, leading to a more even distribution of expert votes among the top-rated companies in the second tier. Tesla, which is the only new entrant within the list of the top 13, has also seen a boost in its reputation for sustainability and is tied for fifth position along with Nestlé, Natura and Marks & Spencer (all at 6% respectively).
When asked to identify corporate sustainability leaders that are headquartered within their own regions, experts tend to name consumer-facing companies. Unilever leads in Europe (46%) and Woolworths in Africa (18%). In Latin America, Natura leads by the widest margin, being mentioned by close to half of all experts (47%). The landscape in North America is the most competitive. While Patagonia (16%) heads the list, Nike (10%), Interface (8%) and Walmart (7%) are close runners-up. In Asia, the Tata group of companies occupies the top position on the list (10%).
Values, purpose and integration are the top drivers that experts named as reasons why they considered certain companies to be global corporate leaders. Experts also consider leadership companies to excel at integrating social and environmental purpose into core business. Strong performance in business model innovation and ambitious goals are also identified as critical characteristics of being recognized as a leader in corporate sustainability.
Eric Whan, Director at GlobeScan, said: “Leadership companies are seen as those that align their sustainability strategies and their internal culture and values. Their social, environmental and business purposes work together toward the same impact, powered by clear goals and the innovation required to achieve them.”
For the first time, the Sustainability Leaders Survey was conducted in partnership with Sustainable Brands. Dimitar Vlahov at Sustainable Brands said: “We believe that activating the power of purpose can take company performance to the next level. We hope that in addition to growing expectations for the private sector, we will see the beginning of another trend – one of greater impact and collaboration.”
GlobeScan, SustainAbility hosted a webinar on June 29 (for Europe, Americas and Africa time zones) and June 30 (for Asia Pacific time zones) to discuss the results of the 2016 edition of the GSS Sustainability Leaders Report.

downloaded the full Sustainability Leaders report

Explore the recap here including a full recording and presentation slides

Among other findings:

  • Four in ten experts (44%) suggest that the most effective way for companies to make a positive contribution toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is through pursuing partnerships and developing products and services. Experts also recommend that the private sector should apply the SDGs as a lens in goal-setting and risk analysis processes.
  • Among NGOs, World Wildlife Fund (30%) continues to be regarded as the global leader in advancing sustainable development, and it has widened its lead (up 5 percentage points from 2015) over Greenpeace (20%) and Oxfam (11%), which are ranked second and third, respectively. Forum for the Future (3%) is the only new entrant on the list of the top ten NGO leaders.
  • The Swedish government (27%) is most frequently named as the global leader on sustainable development. It is mentioned as a leader among states by more than one-quarter of respondents and is ahead of Germany (25%) and Scandinavian peers Denmark (18%) and Norway (14%). Costa Rica (8%) continues to be the only country outside of Europe and North America on the top-ten list of governments.
  • Experts are critical of industry sector efforts in managing the transition to sustainable development with all sectors receiving mostly negative or neutral ratings for their efforts. The Oil and Gas industry, as well as the Mining industry, are viewed extremely negatively by global experts, as they ranked worse than other sectors for their efforts to transition to sustainable development. The Chemical industry has seen the most dramatic fall in its reputation since 2000.

Question:  Please select the top 3 reasons that explain why you consider the company to be a leader and rank them in order of importance.


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