Values, Innovation and Transparency Key to Future Corporate Sustainability Leadership: Latest Survey of Experts

Global Sustainability Experts Say Increasing Renewable Energy Is an Effective and Viable Solution to Climate Change

28 June 2017 – Integrating sustainability values, demonstrating innovation and fostering transparency will be defining characteristics of leading organizations in the next ten years, according to the findings of the 2017 Sustainability Leaders Survey by GlobeScan and SustainAbility in partnership with Sustainable Brands.
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.
Over 1,000 experts in 79 countries were asked, unprompted, to name companies that they see as being leaders in integrating sustainability into their business strategy. A select few corporate leaders continue to gain an increasing share of recognition, with Unilever, Patagonia and Interface leading on sustainable development integration.
Unilever continues to be seen as the global leader on sustainability, receiving nearly half of total mentions cited (45%), and holds this dominant position for the seventh year in a row.
Patagonia is in second position, earning the largest increase of any company this year, and is cited by almost one in four experts (23%, up six points compared to 2016). Interface comes in third (11%), IKEA is ranked fourth (8%), and Marks & Spencer, Natura, and Tesla are tied for fifth position (all at 7%).
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. Interface is the only company to have appeared consistently in the top rankings for sustainability leadership throughout the 20-year history of this survey.
Unilever and Patagonia are universally seen as leaders by experts in all regions, while Latin America is the only region to have a home-grown company, Natura, ranked as the top sustainability leader. Unilever leads by the widest margin in Europe.
Eric Whan, Director at GlobeScan, said: “A handful of companies with powerful visions and values have won more share of mind among experts in recent years. Meanwhile, it’s becoming harder for others to break through, even though many are making great progress. This is no reason to stop.”
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.
Downloaded the full Sustainability Leaders 2017 report
Among other findings:

  • 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. 

Companies Leading on Integrating Sustainable Development
All Respondents, Unprompted, Total Mentions, 2017 
Characteristics That Will Define Leading Organizations in the Next Ten Years
All Respondents, Unprompted, Total Mentions, 2017


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About SustainAbility

SustainAbility is a think tank and consultancy that for over 25 years has catalyzed and supported business leadership on sustainability. Through our agenda-setting research and advocacy, we chart new territory and help business leaders and their stakeholders understand what’s next. Through our advisory services, we help clients understand the shifting landscape of risk and opportunity, develop practical strategies and initiatives, and foster authentic, impactful engagement and collaboration with a range of stakeholders.
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About Sustainable Brands

Sustainable Brands® is the premier global community of brand innovators who are shaping the future of commerce worldwide. Since 2006, our mission has been to inspire, engage and equip today’s business and brand leaders to prosper for the near and long term by leading the way to a better future. Digitally published news articles and issues-focused conversation topics, internationally known conferences and regional events, a robust e-learning library and peer-to-peer membership groups all facilitate community learning and engagement.