News from the world: global sustainability leaders revealed.

21 Jun 2016

A new survey identifies communicating purpose through brand as the key driver of corporate leadership. It identifies which companies are global leaders in sustainability.

International brands Unilever, Patagonia, Interface, IKEA, Tesla, Nestlé and Natura have won top honours in a global sustainability survey. They were rated global leaders in sustainability according to the 2016 ‘Sustainability Leaders Survey’ from GlobalScan,SustainAbility and Sustainable Brands.

GlobalScan and SustainAbility have tracked opinion on sustainable development leadership for more than 20 years. This year’s survey highlights a number of key perceptions. Consumer-facing businesses are leading the way when it comes to integrating and advancing sustainability. Governments remain at the bottom of the list for their achievements.

More than 900 experts across 84 countries were surveyed from business, government, NGOs and academia.

Here’s a summary of the report’s key findings:

  1. It’s all about values

The two key drivers of corporate leadership:

  • aligning sustainability strategy with internal culture and values
  • integrating purpose via brand promise
  1. Unilever is a runaway leader

For six years running, consumer goods company Unilever has taken out the top spot for the most sustainable corporate leader. In 2016, it dominates global corporate leadership with 43% of experts naming it as a leader. Vocal support of sustainability by senior leadership is the single most important factor accounting for its sustainability reputation.

In the past, BP and GE have ranked highly. But in 2016, it’s consumer-facing companies that lead the way. Patagonia, Interface, IKEA and Tesla are among the top-rated leaders.

  1. Public and private sectors share equal responsibility for sustainability, but one is leading the other

The over-riding perception among the experts surveyed is that NGOs and businesses significantly outperform governments when it comes to sustainability.

Governments who do rank positively are those from Northern Europe. Sweden leads the way, followed by Germany, Denmark and Norway. The role of government in advancing sustainability is seen as more important in Oceania, Asia and North America. It is suggested that the role of the public sector is still widely perceived to outweigh the private sector in these regions.

Expectations for governments to lead have gradually decreased in recent years. Those for the private sector have been rising. Multi-sectoral partnerships are also seen as playing a critical role.

  1. NGOs lead progress

NGOs were seen as the biggest contributors to sustainability globally. World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Greenpeace and Oxfam were seen as the most influential. The influence of the United Nations was noted by only 3% of experts.

  1. Industry sector efforts falling short

While experts surveyed were critical of efforts by industry sectors to transition to sustainable business strategies, forest products, biotechnology and ICT ranked most highly. Oil, gas and mining are viewed negatively by more than 75% of respondents.

To read the 2016 Sustainability Leaders Survey, click here.

SBN’s conference, Communicating in an Age of Authenticity, at AUT on 31 August, will look at the key driver of corporate leadership identified in this survey: how to communicate purpose through brand.

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SBN is working with businesses in four transformation areas.
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