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Corporates ‘Ineffective’ at Sustainability, Experts Say

Only 17 percent of sustainability experts rate the performance of corporate leaders in addressing the sustainability agenda as effective, down from 24 percent last year, according to a report by SustainAbility and GlobeScan.

The survey of 825 sustainability experts across corporate, government, NGO, academic, research, and service organizations in 76 countries found that government leaders are even more poorly rated, with only five percent rated as effective, compared to six percent in 2011. Meanwhile, social entrepreneurs were rated as effective by 48 percent, and leaders in the scientific community by 43 percent.

In the survey, Unilever was named the corporate leader for its efforts to integrate sustainability into business strategy, keeping its top spot from last year. 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” – their frequency of being selected by experts in the survey – increase in each of the past two years.The report also found that Unilever has a significantly stronger reputation among corporate peers and service/media organizations than among other types of respondents.

GE was one of a number of companies that saw a marked decline in the proportion of mentions, from 12 percent in 2011 to seven 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 was the most frequent attribute cited (by 31%), followed by transparency/communication (12%), sustainable products and services (11%), and the integration of sustainability into the core business model (10%).

A survey by the two organizations last December found that financial short-termism presents a critical barrier to businesses’ transition to sustainability.

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3 thoughts on “Corporates ‘Ineffective’ at Sustainability, Experts Say

  1. We were disappointed to learn that the majority of corporations are not only lagging in addressing sustainability agendas, where money is both to be made and saved, but the numbers are down from years past. As a nation, whether a corporation, a university, a mom-and-pop store, or a household, we need to come together and realize that sustainability is very important not only to our environment but our bottom line. We should strive to do everything we can to protect our planet for future generations. It is however, great to see notable brands such as Patagonia and Walmart remain at the forefront of sustainability. Keep up the good work and continue to inspire us all as we head towards a greener future!

  2. As a sustainability professional, I find it disturbing that commitment (intentions) and communication are held in higher esteem by the ‘experts’ than substance (products and integration to the business model). Truly a case of symbolism over substance. No wonder progress is slow.

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