In May, GlobeScan’s CEO Chris Coulter visited our Hong Kong office and with several partners, we convened a series of events including a salon, a dinner with the University of Oxford China Office, and exclusive breakfast meetings with leaders in sustainability. As a new member of GlobeScan’s Asia-Pacific team who recently transferred from our North America headquarters, it was an amazing whirlwind week to see the range of companies in Asia-Pacific working toward leadership in sustainability.
The events attracted more than 80 sustainability professionals for informal discussions about the importance of sustainability leadership. The companies in attendance were among those at the forefront of sustainability in Asia, ranging from BASF to Swire Pacific, and from Peninsula to Vitasoy.
2019 Sustainability Leaders Survey
As part of our discussions, we shared an early look at the results from our 2019 Sustainability Leaders Survey, fielded annually in partnership with our friends at SustainAbility. The Leaders Survey has tracked global expert opinions on the evolution of the sustainability agenda since 1997, as well as stakeholders’ views on which companies are leaders and why.
Many of the participants at the events were familiar with these global companies and their leadership in sustainability, and it was not difficult for them to list reasons and name initiatives for why they viewed these companies as sustainability leaders.
When we asked the question in our survey “Which companies headquartered specifically in Asia-Pacific do you think are leaders in integrating sustainability into their business strategy?”, the results below are quite different from the global list of leaders:
What struck me and some of our event participants is that many of these companies are not immediately recognizable consumer-facing brands (with a few obvious exceptions such as Toyota, Samsung, and Westpac, an Australian financial services company and also one of the few financial companies to make the cut).
Several of the companies on the list are Asian conglomerates with a long history, such as India-based Tata, Mahindra, and ITC, the Siam Cement Group (SCG) based in Thailand, and Swire based in Hong Kong. Other companies on the list come from a diverse range of sectors including Singapore-based property developer City Developments Limited, Hong Kong’s power generator China Light and Power (CLP), and Japanese food and beverage company Suntory.
At the events, we took the opportunity to discuss with Asia-based sustainability experts why they thought these Asian companies are on the list. A few experts pointed out that Asian companies particularly value awards and recognition in sustainability such as from the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. Others suggested that these companies, particularly the family-owned conglomerates, enjoy a certain degree of long-termism that is inherently aligned with the principles of sustainability. What stands out to me is that these companies typically have a wide range of businesses that each have their own material issues and challenges. When these companies decide to prioritize and invest in sustainability, they can make a huge impact.
While we realize that there is a difference between the APAC and global Sustainability Leaders lists, we should ask what these companies can learn from each other. There are certainly opportunities for the top companies to drive bigger actions and impacts toward a more sustainable world.
Sustainability Leaders Webinar
To learn more about the 2019 Sustainability Leaders Survey, particularly in an Asia-Pacific context, you can watch our webinar here.