Unilever vaulted to the top spot in a list of global corporate sustainability leaders, according to results released today of the latest SustainAbility Survey conducted by research firm GlobeScan Incorporated and SustainAbility Ltd., a think tank and strategy consultancy.
Some 559 sustainability experts from corporations, government, non-government organizations, academia and entities that provide services, such as consultancies, participated in the online survey last month that focused on perceptions of sustainability leadership.
Participants were asked to name companies they consider sustainability leaders, why they think a firm is a leader in sustainable development and what types of leaders have done the most to advance sustainability in the past year.
In addition to Unilever, the experts named General Electric, Interface, Wal-Mart and Marks & Spencer as the top five firms (in descending order) when it comes to sustainability leadership. Last year, just 5 percent of the respondents named Unilever a top sustainability leader; this year, 15 percent did so. By comparison, GE and Interface each were recognized as leading firms by 12 percent of respondents this year; Walmart, by 11 percent; and Marks & Spencer, by 8 percent.
While Unilever, like others in the upper tiers of the list, had made the roster before, it appears that the firm's striking ascent to the No. 1 spot is largely due to the company's Sustainability Living Plan -- unveiled just four months before the survey.
Under its ambitious 2020 sustainability plan, Unilever intends to improve the health of 1 billion people, buy 100 percent of its agricultural materials from sustainable sources and slash the environmental impact of its products by half -- all while doubling its revenues.
The strong alignment and deep integration of sustainability values into company operations, the articulation of those values and the synthesis of all sustainability efforts in a clear and cohesive framework resonated with the experts, according to GlobeScan Senior Vice President Chris Coulter.
"The stakes for sustainability leadership have been raised to a new level -- these are the new table stakes," said Coulter.