As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause devastating social and economic impacts across the globe, companies are continuing, if not elevating, their efforts to become more sustainable. Some of these companies are now being recognized for their efforts.
A survey put out this year, titled the 2020 Sustainability Leaders, revealed which companies are perceived to be leaders on sustainability during this unique and challenging time by sustainability professionals representing business, government, non-governmental organizations, and academia. Over 700 experts were surveyed online across 71 countries in May.
The results showed that Unilever continues to be a recognized leader among the sustainability community, securing the leading position for the 10th year in a row, with Patagonia and IKEA following in the second and third spots, respectively.
While environmental issues such as climate change, water scarcity, and water pollution dominate the list of issues that have been deemed most urgent, the perceived urgency of social issues is also on the rise. Experts express significant increases in concern about poverty, economic inequality, and discrimination, and growing attention is also given to accessibility of needs such as education, food, and energy. Although the issues the world is facing are becoming more urgent, over half of the experts surveyed believe that the pandemic will have a negative impact on the sustainable development agenda over the next 10 years, potentially making the transformation to sustainable business much more challenging.
The pandemic and its economic aftermath are expected to further impact inequalities and poverty, emphasizing the importance of the social aspects of the sustainability agenda. However, almost a third of experts also believe that the pandemic will lead to a renewed focus on environmental issues, and some point to shifting supply chains and changes in consumer behaviors and travel as potentially positive outcomes.
In this challenging context, experts in North America as well as globally, continue to recognize the efforts made by Unilever to advance the sustainability agenda. Unilever has dominated perceptions of sustainability leadership among sustainability professionals for a decade, but there are some signs that the leadership landscape may be beginning to shift.
North American experts’ views on which companies are leaders largely line up with the global average, although recognition of both Unilever and Patagonia is even stronger among this group. Experts based in North America also recognize additional North American-based companies as top-tier sustainability leaders, including Mars, Nike, Walmart and Maple Leaf Foods. While having sustainability as part of the core business model continues to be a major factor of recognized sustainability leadership, setting ambitious targets and committing to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are the top issues in the eyes of experts.
 Malmqvist, T (2020, November 2). Corporate sustainability leadership during a pandemic. GreenBiz. https://www.greenbiz.com/article/corporate-sustainability-leadership-during-pandemic
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