A new survey from the SustainAbility Institute by ERM and GlobeScan finds that sustainability leadership is increasingly being measured by evidence of action, impact, and above all the integration of sustainability into business strategy.
The GlobeScan / SustainAbility Survey: 2022 Sustainability Leaders, which questioned more than 700 sustainability professionals across 73 countries in March and April 2022, reveals a significant evolution in the way companies are assessed on their sustainability leadership.
High-profile CEO engagement and strong communication around sustainability have declined as indicators of recognised leadership. Purpose and goals remain important, but companies are increasingly considered as leaders for putting sustainability at the core of their business models and strategies, and for reporting on the tangible outcomes of their sustainability initiatives.
Here are the key survey findings with Asia Pacific highlights:
- Top sustainable development challenge: 96 per cent of sustainability experts say climate change is the most urgent (up 3 percentage points since 2021), followed by 88 per cent for biodiversity loss and 86 per cent for water scarcity.
- Leadership on the sustainable development agenda: National governments, the private sector and multi-sectoral partnerships are expected to lead the agenda over the next 20 years, with World Wildlife Fund being by far the most recognised NGO leader in sustainable development, at 35 per cent globally, and leading in Asia Pacific at 24 per cent.
- Corporate sustainability leaders in APAC: In Asia Pacific, Tata (13 per cent), City Developments Ltd (6 per cent) and Mahindra (4 per cent) are the most recognised sustainability leaders among companies headquartered in the region. This regional leadership is attributed to integration of sustainability into the business strategy (16 per cent), evidence of impacts/actions (10 per cent) and products/services (9 per cent).
- Top APAC sectors leading the sustainability transition: In Asia Pacific, the sectors most positively viewed when it comes to managing the transition towards sustainable development are Information Communications Technology (ICT) (36 per cent), Automotive (33 per cent) and Life Science/Biotechnology (26 per cent).
Mark Errington, APAC Regional CEO, ERM, said, “The rise of the regional sustainability leaders shows a greater diversity of corporate sustainability leadership in Asia Pacific. The survey findings validate our observations that leading listed companies are charting in the right direction. However, there lies a gap as many are still transitioning from a checklist approach to identifying and operationalizing material climate change actions into their business, to bring about meaningful impact.”
Commenting on the sector ranking, Mark said, “ICT is leading the pack in Asia Pacific – apart from setting net zero targets upon themselves, many are working with their suppliers to expand the sustainability goals across their supply chain. The research around electric vehicle and battery recycling will inevitably benefit across industries. With digital transformation and an increased uptake in renewables in the region, we are positive that the sustainability agenda will be accelerated across Asia Pacific.”
Urgency of sustainable development challenges and sector performance
Sustainability experts are now almost unanimous in declaring the urgency of climate change, while energy security is growing in perceived urgency in the context of the war in Ukraine. Meanwhile, other key sustainable development challenges, particularly social issues such as poverty, access to healthcare and opportunities for education have decreased in perceived urgency compared to last year.
The majority of sectors are seen by experts to be performing worse on the transition to sustainability than they were a decade ago, with especially poor ratings for managing the transition to sustainable development given to the extractive sectors. However, the banking/finance, electric utilities, and automotive sectors are believed to have improved their sustainability transition performance in recent years.
In the short-term, the experts surveyed believe that the war in Ukraine means attention focused away from the sustainability agenda. However, when asked about the long-term, an accelerated shift to renewable energy is the most widely-cited expected impact of the conflict on the sustainability agenda.
Mark Lee, Director of the SustainAbility Institute by ERM said: “While experts anticipate that the war in Ukraine will reduce focus on the sustainability agenda in the near-term, survey respondents globally continue to underscore the urgency of action on climate change, biodiversity, inequality, and a host of other sustainability issues, calling on companies to provide more evidence of how they are embedding sustainability in their business models.”
Chris Coulter, CEO of GlobeScan said: “There is a sharpening of the urgency around climate and nature for stakeholders and a shifting expectation for leading companies to be focused on delivering impact, not only on their own performance but also for the broader sustainability agenda.”
Institutional performance on sustainable development
The survey also found that national governments, the private sector, and multi-sectoral partnerships are expected to lead the sustainable development agenda, with expectations of governments in particular increasing in recent years. However, experts have become less prone to expect sustainable development leadership from the United Nations and NGOs.
Unilever continues to top the list of companies recognised as sustainability leaders (named by 31 per cent of respondents for the way it integrates sustainability into its business strategy), with Patagonia in second place at 22 per cent. Microsoft makes the top five for the first time, behind Natura &Co and IKEA.
While the list of globally recognised sustainability leaders has changed only modestly in recent years, different names emerge when experts are asked to identify sustainability leaders among companies headquartered in their own regions. Experts in Africa and the Middle East highlight Nedbank, Safaricom, and Woolworths as sustainability leaders, while those in Asia-Pacific point to Tata. In Latin America and the Caribbean Natura &Co is the stand-out recognised sustainability leader, named by 55 per cent of experts in that region.
Among NGOs, sustainability experts overwhelmingly recognise the World Wildlife Fund as the leader in sustainable development (named by 35 per cent of respondents), followed by Greenpeace (named by 13 per cent) and the World Resources Institute (named by 10 per cent).
About the SustainAbility Institute by ERM
The SustainAbility Institute is ERM’s primary platform for thought leadership on sustainability. Its purpose is to define, accelerate, and scale sustainability performance by developing actionable insight for business. The Institute identifies innovative solutions to global sustainability challenges built on ERM’s experience, expertise, and commitment to transformational change.
As the largest global pure play sustainability consultancy, ERM partners with the world’s leading organisations to create innovative solutions to sustainability challenges and unlock commercial opportunities that meet the needs of today while preserving opportunity for future generations.
ERM’s diverse team of 7,500+ world-class experts in over 150 offices in more than 40 countries supports clients across the breadth of their organisations to operationalise sustainability. Through ERM’s deep technical expertise, clients are well positioned to address their environmental, health, safety, risk, and social issues. ERM calls this capability its “boots to boardroom” approach – a comprehensive service model that allows ERM to develop strategic and technical solutions that advance objectives on the ground or at the executive level.
GlobeScan is a global insights and advisory consultancy working at the intersection of brand purpose, sustainability, and trust. We partner with leading companies, NGOs, and governmental organisations to deliver insights that guide decision-making and build strategies that contribute to a sustainable and equitable future.
We combine over 30 years of data-driven insights with a global network of experts and the ability to engage any stakeholder or consumer. Our unique research programs and global capabilities help to know what’s new, what’s next, and what’s needed. And our advisory services help turn that knowledge into smart, strategic decisions
Established in 1987, we have offices in Cape Town, Hong Kong, London, Mumbai, Paris, San Francisco, São Paulo, and Toronto. As a proudly independent, employee-owned company, we’re invested in the long-term success of our clients and society. GlobeScan is a Certified B Corp and a participant of the United Nations Global Compact. Learn more on www.globescan.com.