Experts Again Name Unilever As Top Corporate Sustainability Leader

Unilever has retained its top ranking among corporate sustainability leaders, according to a new survey of sustainability experts from around the world. But the survey also shows that perceptions of sustainability leadership have declined or stalled for nearly all institutional actors - including corporations, governments, NGOs and social entrepreneurs - in the last twelve months.

The findings are drawn from The 2012 Sustainability Leaders: A GlobeScan / SustainAbility Survey of sustainability experts across corporate, government, NGO, academic, research, and service organizations in 76 countries. A total of 825 experts were surveyed online by GlobeScan and SustainAbility in January and February 2012.

Respondents were asked to name companies they consider to be leaders in integrating sustainability into their business strategy. Unilever, which launched its Sustainable Living Plan in late 2010, was mentioned most frequently for the second year in a row, while Interface was the next most frequently mentioned, followed by GE, Patagonia, and Walmart. While nine out of the top 13 corporate sustainability leaders were also in the top 13 in 2011’s Sustainability Leaders survey, Unilever and Patagonia are the only top companies that have seen their “market share” increase among the expert community in each of the past two years. GE was one of a number of companies that saw a marked decline in the proportion of mentions, from 12 percent in 2011 to 7 percent this year. Walmart, the top-rated company in 2010, saw its proportion fall from 11 percent to 7 percent, while mentions of Marks & Spencer declined from 8 percent to 5 percent.

The attributes of sustainability leadership cited by the experts were broadly consistent with 2011 results: commitment to sustainable values the most frequent reason cited (by 31%), transparency/communication (12%), sustainable products and services (11%), and the integration of sustainability into the core business model (10%) were the next most common reasons given.

The survey also shows that perceptions of the effectiveness of corporate and government leadership in addressing the sustainability agenda have declined from already low levels over the past year. Only 17 percent rated the performance of corporate leaders in addressing the sustainability agenda as effective (down from 24% last year), while government leaders are even more poorly rated, with only 5 percent (6% in 2011) rating them as effective. Social entrepreneurs, and leaders in the scientific community, rated as effective by 48 percent and 43 percent respectively, retain their positions as the most capable actors to advance the sustainability agenda.

GlobeScan’s Sustainability Director Eric Whan comments that “companies seeking expert recognition for leadership face ever increasing competition. They cannot rely on past achievements alone. We think that, in and of itself, can only help drive innovation within organizations that have what it takes to lead.”

SustainAbility Senior Vice-President Jeff Erikson comments: “Unilever’s efforts and progress in making sustainability core to their forward business strategy are applauded by us and acknowledged by experts around the world. The survey results are another clear sign that leaders in all sectors and across many institutions must commit more resources and more effort to creating the system changes required to make real progress toward a sustainable future.”

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