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New Global Survey Finds Covid-19 Is Intensifying Sustainable Development Challenges, But Leading Businesses Are Stepping Up Action

  • Four in ten sustainability experts believe the pandemic will increase poverty and inequality

  • Access to energy, food security, diversity, and discrimination are also increasing in urgency

  • One-third of experts believe COVID-19 will lead to more attention on the environment

  • Sustainable business models and strategy are the strongest drivers of recognized corporate leadership, overtaking target-setting and sustainability values/purpose

28 July 2021: New research from GlobeScan and the SustainAbility Institute by ERM finds that sustainability experts believe the global pandemic will help draw attention to environmental issues—but will also deepen socio-economic challenges such as poverty and inequality.

The GlobeScan / SustainAbility Leaders Survey has tracked global expert opinions on the evolution of the sustainability agenda since 1997. The 25th edition of this report has taken place against the unprecedented backdrop of the pandemic, with nearly 700 sustainability experts from over 70 countries reflecting on its implications for the sustainable development agenda.

Overall, experts are now more optimistic that the pandemic will not derail action on sustainable development. In 2020, almost half of sustainability professionals (49%) predicted a de-prioritization of the sustainability agenda over the coming decade as a result of the coronavirus; in 2021, just one in four experts (24%) believe this will happen. Furthermore, a third of experts believe more attention will be given to the environment due to the pandemic.

However, COVID-19 is perceived to be exacerbating socio-economic challenges, with nearly four in ten experts believing that increasing poverty and inequality will be one of the most likely effects of the pandemic. When asked to rank the most urgent sustainable development challenges, experts believe that climate change remains the most pressing issue, but issues such as access to energy, food security, diversity, and discrimination have increased the most in perceived urgency over the past year.

Within this context, Unilever and Patagonia rank first and second, respectively, as the companies most recognized by experts for their sustainability leadership, but the gap is narrowing among corporate leaders. Brazil’s Natura &Co has overtaken IKEA and Interface to break into the top three. Companies filling out the top 15 include IKEA, Interface, Danone, Microsoft, Nestlé, Tesla, Ørsted, Google, Kering, Schneider Electric, Suzano, and Walmart. In a signal that the hallmarks of leadership have shifted, sustainable business models and strategy is the strongest driver of recognized leadership, overtaking target-setting and articulating sustainability values or purpose.

Mark Lee, Director at the SustainAbility Institute by ERM, said: “What we’re seeing as a result of the pandemic is a triple-whammy of interconnected social, economic, and environmental challenges. None of these can be tackled in isolation, which requires organizations to have more comprehensive sustainability strategies integrated into their business and operating models. Leading businesses are showing the way as we enter the decade of action.”

Chris Coulter, CEO at GlobeScan commented: “Once again, this survey of sustainability experts and influencers across the world reinforces the urgency of the planetary challenges that we face from climate change to inequality and offers hope in comparison to last year that sustainability is being prioritized. The collective wisdom of this distinguished panel of experts needs to be heeded. We need to do more at scale to facilitate the transition to sustainable development at a far greater pace than we are currently doing.”

Leading Businesses Are Stepping Up Action in Sustanable Development

Leading Businesses Are Stepping Up Action in Sustanable Development

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About the SustainAbility Institute by ERM

The SustainAbility Institute by ERM is ERM’s primary platform for thought leadership on sustainability. The purpose of the Institute is to define, accelerate, and scale sustainability performance by developing actionable insight for business. We provide an independent and authoritative voice that helps decode complexities. The Institute identifies innovative solutions to global sustainability challenges built on ERM’s experience, expertise, and commitment to transformational change. For more information, visit

Insight of the Week: Four Key Drivers of Inequality in the Coming Years

Four Key Drivers of Inequality in the Coming Years

Major Trends, 2021

Rising inequality is a defining challenge of our time and current approaches to addressing it are perceived to be highly insufficient.

A multi-stakeholder research project identified four mega-trends (health, future of work, social divisions, and climate change) both as drivers and as possible areas for solutions to respond to this complex challenge.

These wider cross-cutting trends provide a great starting point for identifying pathways to effective action in addressing inequality.


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Insight of the Week: High Concern about Climate Change Persists During the COVID-19 Pandemic

High Concern about Climate Change Persists During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Seriousness of Climate Change and Global Warming, “Very Serious,” Average of 17 Markets,* 2003–2020

Even with parallel worries about COVID-19 and the economy, environmental issues are still highly concerning for people around the world. Across 17 markets surveyed over the past two decades, a majority continue to think of a range of environmental issues as being “very serious.” Concern about climate change has grown dramatically since 2014 and continues to be at its highest point in 17 years of tracking (the other high point was in 2009 during the time of COP15 in Copenhagen).

These findings suggest that the pandemic has not weakened public expectations around climate and environment and that there are likely high expectations for significant commitments at COP26 in November of this year.


  • Question wording: For each of the following possible global problems, please indicate if you see it as a very serious, somewhat serious, not very serious or not at all serious problem.
  • Data source: GlobeScan Radar 2020, survey of 27,000 people in the general public in June 2020).

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Insight of the Week: Strong Support for Government Efforts to Reduce Future Pandemics through Ending Deforestation

Strong Support for Government Efforts to Reduce Future Pandemics through Ending Deforestation

Consumers in China, Myanmar, Thailand, the U.S., and Vietnam, 2021

As human activities such as deforestation increase the risk of disease transfer between animals and humans, an overwhelming majority of people in China, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, and the U.S. support government action to curb this destructive practice.

Identifying and capitalizing on public support for measures helps drive policy change. Given the strong support for preserving forests, there is an opportunity to mobilize change for more sustainable practices.


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Consumption of Wildlife Drops Almost 30% Over Perceived Links to Pandemics Like COVID-19

WWF survey also finds overwhelming public support for action on key drivers of pandemics and nature loss’

24 May 2021 – As the World Health Assembly opens today against a backdrop of continued suffering caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 30% of people surveyed across China, Myanmar, Thailand, Viet Nam and the United States say they have consumed less or stopped consuming wildlife altogether because of the health crisis.

More specifically, 28% among those surveyed in China consume less wildlife or have stopped consuming wildlife because of COVID-19, with numbers nearly doubling in Thailand (21% in 2020 to 41% in 2021) and remaining stable in Viet Nam (41% in 2020 to 39% in 2021). There remains a committed contingent of wildlife consumers, however, with 9% of participants intent on buying wildlife products in the future in all five countries.

The figures come as part of a survey conducted for WWF by GlobeScan and published today in a new report titled, COVID-19: One Year Later:  Public Perceptions about Pandemics and their Links to Nature’. It builds on an initial study a year ago to deepen understanding of public attitudes and behaviours about addressing future pandemics. With the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recent investigation pointing to wildlife as a likely source of the pandemic, this year’s survey discovered that support is strong in all five countries to back government efforts to close high-risk markets selling wildlife (85%) and stop deforestation (88%), as root drivers of zoonotic disease outbreaks.

More than a year after the COVID-19 outbreak, the data shows that there is a strong understanding that risky human-animal interaction, often connected to deforestation and high-risk wildlife trade, can lead to serious disease outbreaks, with 46% of all participants listing disease transmission from animals to humans as the root cause most likely to trigger future pandemics.

The majority of those surveyed believe that preventing future pandemics begins with addressing root causes, including high-risk wildlife trade and deforestation. More than four out of five people surveyed support government action to tackle these threats, and in the event where no measures are taken to close high-risk wildlife markets, 79% of all the participants in the five countries say they would be extremely worried or very worried about a similar outbreak.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the impacts of human activity on nature tragically close to our homes and families, and people are increasingly concerned and urging action: addressing the key drivers of zoonotic disease outbreaks and taking a One Health approach has to be part of our collective global pandemic prevention strategy,” said Marco Lambertini, Director General, WWF International. “The only way to prevent future pandemics is by reducing destructive human activities that drive the loss of nature – such as deforestation, unsustainable wildlife trade and risky wildlife consumption – rather than reacting to outbreaks after they have emerged. Prevention of pandemics is estimated to cost 100 times less than responding to them. The pandemic has made it blatantly clear that investing in planetary health and nature is the only way to avoid paying such a terrible social and economic price again in the future with scientists being very clear that unless we rebalance our relationship with nature, the question would be ‘when’ a next pandemic will strike, not ‘if’.”

Key drivers of zoonotic disease outbreaks include wildlife farming, land-use change leading to deforestation, and high-risk wildlife trade, which can all facilitate easier spread of diseases like COVID-19, SARS, MERS and Ebola by putting wild animals in closer proximity to people and domestic animals.

The Chinese government announced a broad ban on the consumption of wild animals in February 2020, and the survey found that in China, closing high-risk wildlife markets is seen as the most effective measure to prevent pandemics (91%). In Viet Nam, where the Prime Minister also announced actions against the illegal wildlife trade last year, 84% of participants agree that closing high-risk wildlife markets is crucial.

WWF’s Preventing Future Pandemics advocacy action calls on government entities to adopt a One Health approach to high-risk wildlife trade and deforestation.

The conservation organisation is also calling on decision makers to include interventions needed to address key drivers of zoonotic disease outbreaks in their pandemic prevention plans. Halting deforestation and closing risky wildlife markets, for example, will help recover wildlife populations and maintain local and global biodiversity that naturally help regulate disease, as well as help ensure sustainable use of natural resources.

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Launch Webinar

On 27 May 2021, we hosted the launch webinar with the following panelists who shared their valuable insight:

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About the GlobeScan survey

This online survey of those aged 18+ was conducted in five countries between February 4th and March 18th, 2021. This timing was chosen to coincide with the 2020 survey, which was conducted between March 6th and 11th, 2020. Sample sizes: US (2,000), China (2,000), Viet Nam (1,000), Thailand (1,000) and Myanmar (631). Because of political unrest in Myanmar, research in this country was cut short.

About One Health

When the “One Health” approach was explained to participants in the GlobeScan survey, 85% said they strongly support or support such an approach to combating pandemics.

One Health’ is defined by WHO as an approach to designing and implementing programmes, policies, legislation and research in which multiple sectors communicate and work together to achieve better public health outcomes. It brings together the expertise across public health, animal health, plant health and the environment. It is endorsed by multiple international and national organizations including World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations System Influenza Coordination, the World Bank, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and others.

About WWF

WWF is an independent conservation organisation, with over 35 million supporters and a global network active through local leadership in nearly 100 countries. Our mission is to stop the degradation of the planet’s natural environment and to build a future in which people live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world’s biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption. Visit for the latest news and media resources, and follow us on Twitter @WWF_media

Webinar | Public Perceptions about Pandemics and Their Links to Nature

On May 24, WWF and GlobeScan released the results of the most comprehensive research to date in the US and Asia on public understanding and perceptions about pandemics and their connection to wildlife trade and deforestation.

Given COVID-19’s origin as a zoonotic disease – one that spreads from animals to humans – people’s perceptions and behavior around the purchase of wild animals as food, pets and luxury items are of particular interest to monitor during this time.

In early 2021, WWF and GlobeScan conducted an indepth follow-up study to one conducted in 2020 to assess understanding about wildlife consumption as the root cause of the pandemic. This study looks at five countries: China, Myanmar, Thailand, the United States, and Vietnam. We also delved into perceptions regarding what needs to be done to prevent future pandemics, and we looked at the public’s understanding of other root causes, including deforestation. We wanted to understand whether consumers in deeply affected countries are supportive of government action to prevent zoonotic outbreaks at the source.

On 27 May 2021, we hosted the launch webinar with the following panelists who shared their valuable insight:

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Will Sustainable Consumer Behaviors, Attitudes Persist Post-Pandemic?

Next month, GlobeScan and its growing set of brand partners will conduct their latest annual Healthy & Sustainable Living survey of roughly 30K people across 30 markets to explore consumer motivations, needs and expectations; as well as opportunities for influential organizations to support healthier and more sustainable living.

Over the past year, COVID-19 has disrupted lives all around the world. Due to lockdown, our daily habits have changed dramatically in a very short time — but it’s impossible to say whether new, healthier behavioral patterns will persist in the longer term.

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Purpose-driven Brands and Civil Society Join Forces with GlobeScan to Help Consumers Live More Healthy and Sustainable Lives

April 15th, 2021: GlobeScan is once again joining forces with a range of committed partners – Akatu Institute, NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business, CVS Health, IKEA, Levi Strauss & Co., PepsiCo, Reckitt, Visa, and WWF International – to conduct our annual Healthy & Sustainable Living global consumer research study.

Building on the insights from the 2019 and 2020 studies, this year’s research across 30 markets will help identify opportunities to close the gap between peoples’ desire to live more sustainably and to what extent brands and civil society can help them to do so.

Key insights from 2020 include:

  • Healthy and sustainable living must be affordable. The number one action that people want companies and brands to take to enable healthier and more sustainable living is to make more affordable products and services that are better for both people and the environment.
  • People are unlikely to embrace change if they think it is difficult. When trying to be healthier and more sustainable, the easier something is perceived to be, the more interested people are in changing that behavior.
  • Younger generations are far more interested in changing their behaviors and are more commonly subjected to social pressure to do so.

Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the lives of people across the globe. Our daily habits have changed dramatically in a very short time, but it is unknown whether new behavioral patterns will persist in the longer term.

Approximately 30,000 people across 30 markets will be surveyed in May 2021 to explore consumer motivations, needs, and expectations as well as opportunities for influential organizations to support healthier and more sustainable living. Initial results will be released globally in September 2021.

Helio Mattar, President and CEO at Akatu Institute said: “Many of the characteristics of the future consumer have become a reality much sooner due to the pandemic. It is wonderful for Akatu to be a partner in identifying the attributes of sustainability in companies, products, and brands that are valued by consumers as well as learning about the triggers and obstacles for the consumer to live a healthy and sustainable life. Those elements are absolutely crucial for companies who want to define their purpose, objectives and strategies in ways that are no longer nice to have but are necessities that our study will help identify as opportunities.”

Randi Kronthal-Sacco, Senior Scholar at the NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business said: “We, at the NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business, have seen an uptick in the purchases of sustainable fast-moving consumer goods, even during the pandemic. We are delighted to partner in this study to better understand the motivations behind this dynamic to help business and civil society drive additional change.”

Eileen Howard Boone, Senior Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility and Philanthropy and Chief Sustainability Officer of CVS Health said: “We know from our own research that our customers, colleagues, and business partners share our commitment to sustainability and understand the connection to health. This work with GlobeScan and other partners is critical to helping us learn more about people’s evolving needs and interests in this area and to help us accelerate our work across our key CSR priorities.”

Chris Coulter, CEO at GlobeScan said: “Engaging consumers and citizens worldwide on healthy and sustainable living is hugely important to help create the future we all want. I am delighted to have such a wonderful and growing set of partners for this third annual study which is very inspiring. It is my hope that together we will make an even greater contribution to this critical topic.”

Lena Pripp-Kovac, Chief Sustainability Officer at Inter IKEA Group said: “We want to understand what people value the most as societies are slowly opening up after more than one year of lockdowns and physical distance. It’s important for us to keep listening to the needs and dreams of the many people so that we can better support with more sustainable and affordable solutions.

Jeffrey Hogue, Chief Sustainability Officer at Levi Strauss & Co. said: “Post-pandemic, it is clear that consumer intent and behavior are beginning to accelerate toward more sustainable consumption patterns and increased acceptance of alternative business models like rental and recommerce. For Levi Strauss & Co. and the industry at large, it will become increasingly important to follow and respond to the evolution in consumer trends and behaviors in this space.”

Jim Andrew, Chief Sustainability Officer at PepsiCo said: “PepsiCo knows that consumers value brands and products that are better for them and also better for the planet. We are partnering on this global study to be able to identify and understand additional opportunities to engage consumers as we work to build a more sustainable food system.”

Miguel Veiga-Pestana, SVP Corporate Affairs & Sustainability at Reckitt said: “Listening to and engaging with consumers around the world is essential if we are to meet the challenges society faces for a more sustainable future and to deliver on the SDGs. I’m proud to be part of this study and know the insights it brings will help us enable a cleaner, healthier world.”

Douglas Sabo, Chief Sustainability Officer at Visa Inc. said: “Visa is committed to inspiring and empowering the sustainable living movement for everyone, everywhere. As the world goes increasingly digital, the power of insights identified through the GlobeScan study will help inform our efforts – together with those of our clients and partners – as to what’s needed to make progress during this transition to sustainable living and a low-carbon economy.”

Cristianne Close, Global Leader Markets Practice at WWF said: “COVID-19 is our wake-up call. The risk of future pandemics will only increase unless we fix our broken relationship with nature. To build back better, we must finally recognize that our well-being and prosperity depend on nature and healthy natural systems. That’s why WWF is pleased to support GlobeScan’s Healthy & Sustainable Living research once more. It will enable business and civil society to help consumers make better choices for people and planet. Together, we can shape a fairer, greener world.”

Survey sampling and data collection will be achieved using best-in-class online consumer panels in each of the 30 markets and optimized to represent consumers per the latest census data for those aged 18 years and up. The study will also pay close attention to the views of young adults to better understand the shifting needs and opportunities of Generation Z.

Participating markets include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, France, Germany, Hong Kong SAR, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, Portugal, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Thailand, the UK, the USA, and Vietnam.

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Insight of the Week: A Majority of Sustainability Experts Believe the Pandemic Has Slowed Progress on the SDGs

A Majority of Sustainability Experts Believe the Pandemic Has Slowed Progress on the SDGs

Impact of the Pandemic on the Sustainable Development Goals,
% of Sustainability Experts, 2021

Over half of sustainability experts feel that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially among academics and NGO leaders. Conversely, more than a third of experts feel that the pandemic has accelerated progress on the SDGs.

This implies added pressure on the “Decade of Action” to fulfill the SDGs by 2030 and even greater expectations of governments and business to make up progress post-pandemic.


  • Question wording: How will the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impacts affect society’s progress toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) over the coming decade?
  • Data source: GlobeScan / SustainAbility Survey of over 500 experts representing business, government, NGOs and academia across 75 countries.

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Insight of the Week: Consumers Rate Health, Food, and Tech Sectors Highest on Social Responsibility

Consumers Rate Health, Food, and Tech Sectors Highest on Social Responsibility

Performance of Sectors in Fulfilling Their Responsibilities to Society,
Net Performance,* Average of 27 Countries, 2020

There is great variability in the reputation of sectors across the economy.

Sectors providing essential services are rated particularly highly:

  • Healthcare companies are rated the highest while pharmaceutical companies are a few ranks behind.
  • Agriculture/farming, food, technology, and consumer goods sectors have all been instrumental in meeting essential needs during COVID-19.

This highlights a reliance on business resilience in challenging times.

Sectors associated with negative health or environmental impacts – tobacco, mining, alcohol, and oil – have net negative responsibility ratings.


  • Question wording: Please rate each of the following types of companies on how well they fulfill their responsibilities to society compared to other types of companies
  • Data source: GlobeScan Radar our 27-country, 27,000-person public opinion study on views of business, government and NGOs, issues tracking, and shifting societal expectations.

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