2023 Sustainability Leaders | Report & Webinar

About the 2023 Sustainability Leaders Survey

Findings from the 2023 Sustainability Leaders Survey, by GlobeScan and The SustainAbility Institute by ERM, finds that sustainability leadership is increasingly measured by the integration of sustainability into business strategy.

This year’s findings draw from more than 500 sustainability experts who once again came together from over 60 countries. At the mid-point of 2023, the global economy is still feeling the ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine continues changing geopolitical perspectives, and backlash against sustainability and ESG is gaining traction, all complicating progress on the creation of a more sustainable global economy and society. Even so, the efforts of governments, companies, and other actors demonstrates the determination of sustainability leaders to achieve this goal.

The Sustainability Leaders Survey is the largest and longest-running survey of its kind and has tracked expert opinions on sustainable development leadership for over 25 years.

Key Findings

  • Concern about almost all sustainability challenges remains consistently high. Experts rate most issues as increasingly urgent. While concern regarding climate change is slightly down, it remains the most pressing challenge according to respondents. Deforestation was included in the survey for the first time in 2023 and ranks among the top five most urgent issues. Other issues ranking consistently high in urgency include biodiversity loss, water scarcity, poverty, food security, and water pollution.
  • Experts identify new sustainability legislation, improved disclosure standards, and the COP15 biodiversity agreement as the most significant catalysts for the sustainability agenda over the last year. Legislation such as the US Inflation Reduction Act, the EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) rules on disclosure coming into force, and the EU Green Deal are cited as positive legislative developments in the realm of sustainability. Other significant developments recognized include the increasing quality and use of sustainability disclosure and reporting standads, the Kunming-Montréal Global Biodiversity Framework, sustainable action and commitment by businesses, and increased green and sustainable investing.
  • World Wildlife Fund remains the most widely recognized NGO for its contribution to sustainable development. Greenpeace continues to be the second most recognized. Professionals in the Corporate and Service & Media sectors and those based in North America and Latin America are more likely to see World Wildlife Fund as a sustainability leader than respondents from other sectors and regions. Collaborations and stakeholder engagement most drive recognized leadership among NGOs, much more so than activism and advocacy.
  • Patagonia has overtaken Unilever as the top-ranked corporate sustainability leader. The top companies (those mentioned by at least four percent of experts) in 2023, in order, are: Patagonia, Unilever, IKEA, Natura &Co, Microsoft, Interface, Ørsted, Danone, Google, Nestlé, and Schneider Electric.
  • Sustainable business models and evidence of impact and action are the strongest drivers of recognized corporate leadership. Experts increasingly prioritize tangible impact and action along with placing sustainability at the very core of the business model as the most important reasons they recognize companies as leaders.
  • Experts highlight an increasingly diverse range of regional corporate sustainability leadership. When asked specifically about corporate leaders headquartered in their own regions, experts in Africa and Middle East (Safaricom), Europe (Unilever), Latin America (Natura &Co), and North America (Patagonia) identify dominant individual regional leaders, whereas experts in Asia-Pacific cite a greater variety of leading companies including Mahindra & Mahindra, Tata, and City Developments Ltd.

Global Webinar

On 6 September 2023 we hosted a webinar to discuss the results of The 2023 Sustainability Leaders Survey.

Watch the full recording below, where we digest this year’s Sustainability Leaders Survey findings and hear perspectives from:

Mark Lee, Executive Director of The SustainAbility Institue by ERM moderated the session.