Global leaders in sustainability revealed for 2018

By Shilo Zhang

A new survey for 2018 identifies which companies are global leaders in sustainability.

For the eighth year in a row, Unilever is ranked as the top corporate leader in sustainability, taking out 47 percent of mentions by experts in the sustainability space.  Patagonia and Interface come in second and third positions, listed by 23 percent and 10 percent of experts respectively.  Finally, IKEA, Marks & Spencer, Tesla, Nestle, Natura, Danone, Apple and Walmart round out the list of highest-ranked companies.

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. Notably, it’s a continuing trend that 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.

729 experts across 70 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

And making sure sustainability values are aligned with the core business model.

  1. Unilever is a runaway leader

For eight years running, consumer goods company Unilever has taken out the top spot for the most sustainable corporate leader. In 2018, it dominates global corporate leadership with 47 percent 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.

Patagonia and Interface occupy the second and third positions respectively, with IKEA, Marks & Spencer, 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 2018 Sustainability Leaders Survey, click here.