Best Practices for Establishing Your Brand as a Recognized Sustainability Leader

QIMA Sustainability Conference 2018 - Session 2: Environmental compliance and chemical management in China: a focus on compliance efforts of local and western businesses

Presented by Wander Meijer, Globescan
Director, Asia Pacific

Building on 20+ years of data collected by the strategy and insights consultancy Globescan, Wander Meijer shared practical insights to help brands better communicate their sustainability efforts to the consumer and become recognized sustainability leaders.


  • What do consumers worldwide think of, and expect from, large corporations?
  • The transformation of sustainability perceptions over the past 20 years
  • Priorities, challenges and advice for brands and professionals striving for sustainability leadership

At this time, global companies are among the least trusted institutions globally, according to the aggregated data of multiple annual surveys by Globescan, spanning the past 20 years and over 40,000 respondents. Public trust in corporations is the highest in emerging marks, while in the developed countries it is low and contains to diminish. At the same time, consumers present high expectations to brands, recognizing them as the most important players in making future progress on sustainability (even above national governments and NGOs).

Top consumer expectations of large companies are strongly tied to their supply chain and sustainability practices, with product safety closely followed by such consideration as fair wages, environmental stewardship and responsible sourcing. Consumers are also strongly interested in supply chain transparency, with an average of 55% saying that it is very important for them to know where their food comes from.

Globescan’s data also shows that among the main drivers of sustainability, “being open and honest” is viewed as the most important as well as an area in which businesses are strongly underperforming.

Changing landscape of sustainability leadership

Today, the list of perceived sustainability leaders is dominated by consumer brands, with Unilever and Patagonia ahead of the pack, followed by such brands as Interface, IKEA, M&S, Tesla, Natura, Nestle and others. However, in 1997, answers to the question “which companies do you think are leaders in integrating sustainability into their business strategy?” turned up such unexpected answers as Shell, BP and Monsanto, among others.

The main reason behind this shift is that the perception of sustainability has changed from a business risk to be mitigated to a valuable growth opportunity to be pursued, with the overall paradigm changing from “do no harm” to “sustainable growth.”

For businesses that want to become sustainability leaders and, importantly, be recognized as such by their consumers and the global community, this transformation highlights the need to integrate sustainability strategy in the core of their business, including at the highest level.

Best practices for recognized sustainability leadership

Based on the public perception, the following top characteristics will define sustainability leaders of the next ten years:

  • The ability to integrate sustainability strategy and vision in the core business and at the highest level
  • Innovative and visionary approaches with sustainability at heart
  • Honesty, transparency and trust, including honest discourse around problems and errors
  • Engagement in, advocacy of, and communication about sustainability issues

To achieve alignment and action on sustainability, leading from the top is paramount. CEOs need to lead on sustainability initiatives, interfacing directly with sustainability officers. In all brands currently perceived as sustainability leaders, the initiative and drive comes from the CEO, including such examples as Unilever, Patagonia, and Tesla. In fact, a brand’s commitment to sustainability can often be seen from where the relevant officer belongs on their organizational chart.

Executives invested in establishing their brand as sustainability leader must educate and communicate on sustainability issues, get management buy-in on all levels, have a clear strategy and a business case for sustainability, and last, but not least, be bold and prepared to take risks in order to bring their vision to life.