The 2020 GlobeScan / SustainAbility Leaders Survey | Report & Webinar

About the 2020 Sustainability Leaders Survey

The 2020 Sustainability Leaders, a GlobeScan / SustainAbility Survey, asked over 700 experts representing business, government, NGOs and academia across 71 countries to evaluate the progress of the sustainability agenda and the companies and organizations experts perceive to be leaders since 1997.

We also analyze expert views on which companies are considered to be leading on integrating sustainability into their business strategy, as well as which NGOs are making the largest contribution to advancing the sustainable development agenda.

This year we collected responses between May and July as the global community was battling one of the worst public health crises in decades, the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to asking the regular tracking questions we include each year, we also took the opportunity to ask questions about COVID-19 that would let us gauge expert opinion on how this unprecedented crisis may impact the sustainability agenda and leadership action.

Download the Full Report


Findings from the 2020 Leaders Survey show that Unilever, Patagonia, IKEA, Interface, and Natura &Co are again the most recognized leaders according to this annual global survey of experts. An exciting development this year is the entrance of four new companies that have not previously been part of the top tier of recognized leaders: Microsoft, Ørsted, L’Oréal, and Tata.

Key Findings

For the tenth consecutive year, Unilever is most frequently named by experts globally as a corporate sustainability leader, but the list has seen some interesting shifts this year with four new companies recognized for their efforts. After dipping in 2019, mentions of Unilever have rebounded, while Patagonia and IKEA have kept their second and third positions. Thirteen companies are mentioned by at least three percent of experts, with four new companies reaching this threshold this year – Microsoft, Ørsted, L’Oréal and Tata.

Sustainability professionals point to WWF as the leading NGO advancing global sustainable development, with a spike in recognition since last year. While perceptions of Greenpeace remain steady, the World Resources Institute strongly reinforces its third position compared to 2019.

Climate change, biodiversity loss and water scarcity remain the most urgent sustainability challenges according to experts, with climate change generating strong concern almost universally. In the wake of the global pandemic and economic recession, concern about poverty, economic inequality, access to healthcare and food security – along with the spread of infectious disease – are increasingly seen as very urgent. The challenge of diversity and inclusion also receives increasing attention among sustainability professionals in 2020.

Experts’ perceptions of the private sector’s contribution to sustainable development continue to decline, although less sharply than last year. For the first time in years, the United Nations is also seen as contributing less to sustainable development. Research/academia and citizen-led movements have seen their perceived performance steadily increase, while national governments and institutional investors continue to be perceived as contributing the least.

While having sustainability as part of the core business model continues to be key to sustainability leadership, setting ambitious targets and committing to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is also increasingly recognized by experts and is now seen as an equally significant attribute of leadership. As we confront a global pandemic with resulting economic hardship, efforts around communications and advocacy as well as health, social engagement and human rights have also become increasingly important criteria.

The COVID-19 pandemic crisis is expected by experts to diminish sustainability priorities, with economic and health concerns likely to dominate the global agenda over the coming decade. However, some experts also believe that there will be a renewed focus on environmental issues to build long-term resilience and to address increasingly interconnected global challenges. Social impacts of the pandemic are also expected to have an impact on the sustainability agenda, with a growing focus on unemployment, inequalities and poverty.

Read the full report from The 2020 Sustainability Leaders for more key findings.

Download the full report
Read press release


On September 10th, we were delighted to host a webinar to discuss the results of The 2020 Sustainability Leaders Survey.
Global thought leaders shared their insights on the 2020 survey findings and answered your questions on the current and future state of sustainability leadership.

The webinar featured:

  • Rebecca Marmot, Chief Sustainability Officer, Unilever
  • Siddharth Sharma, Group Chief Sustainability Officer, Tata
  • Silvia Lagnado, Sustainable Growth Officer, Natura &Co
  • Pia Heidenmark Cook, Chief Sustainability Officer, IKEA
  • Mark Lee, Executive Director, SustainAbility
  • Chris Coulter, CEO, GlobeScan

Download Presentation Slides
Watch the full webinar recording: