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Values key to sustainability leadership says survey

LONDON/TORONTO: Leadership in sustainable development is not possible without making sustainability part of a company's core business model claims a new survey.

After asking 800 expert stakeholders from 82 countries which companies lead in integrating sustainability into their business strategy, the latest Globescan/SustainAbility survey found Unilever once again the top mentioned company by a significant margin (38 percent - up five points from last year).

Patagonia is the only other company to be mentioned by more than 10 percent of experts and remains in second place followed by Interface (8.0 percent), Marks & Spencer (6.0 percent), Natura (pictured - 5.0 percent), IKEA (5.0 percent), Nestlé (4.0 percent), and GE, Nike and newcomer BASF (3.0 percent respectively).

naturaChris Guenther, director of Research at SustainAbility commented: "We see an emerging pattern of more evenly balanced expectations for leadership across a range of actors. In particular, as expectations for national governments continue to decline, other institutions such as the private sector, NGOs [and] the United Nations are expected to take a bigger share of the responsibility."

Guenther said the new research shows a continuing consolidation around a few leadership companies worldwide with values (26 percent); sustainability part of the core business model (22 percent); and sustainable products and services (12 percent); as the top three reasons why experts think such companies are leaders.

As a result, Unilever retains a leadership position throughout much of the world – Asia (33 percent), Africa/Middle East (36 percent), North America (39 percent) – with the margin being the largest in Europe (44 percent). Natura is perceived as the sustainability leader in Latin America/Caribbean (33 percent) and Interface leads in Oceania (14 percent).

Asked about government leadership in sustainable development, respondents listed Germany (25 percent), Sweden (21 percent), Denmark (16 percent), and Norway (13 percent) with Costa Rica being the highest-ranked country (8.0 percent) outside Europe followed by China at 7.0 percent.

Eric Whan, director of Sustainability at GlobeScan, added: "While the ability to engage and collaborate drives the reputation of NGOs, respondents primarily measure the leadership performance of governments and companies by how well their values align with their sustainable development goals. [Increasingly] experts believe that corporate leadership requires integration of sustainability into core business models.

"For governments, effective action on energy and climate change is viewed as the second most important quality of a true leader—a timely finding as Paris looms," he added.

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