We Asked the Experts: Corporate Performance Lags, Urgency Increases

11 Dec 2013JP Leous

Experts feel the urgency of issues like food safety is on the increase but corporate performance is still lagging behind. Image © David W Oliver, Flickr

What issues are sustainability experts most concerned about? How well is the private sector addressing these challenges? Which sectors are most accountable for tackling these vexing problems? After analyzing responses from nearly 900 sustainability experts in 91 countries, the recently released 2013 Issues Survey, Challenges, Performance and Accountability, dives into these thorny issues, with mixed results.

It’s been nearly two years since The GlobeScan / Sustainability Survey explored how our international pool of sustainability experts see issues—ranging from climate change to food safety—and the urgency and corporate performance surrounding them. In 2011 our survey (Key Challenges and Industry Performance) found urgency regarding several leading issues was in a slightly downward trend, and industries received mixed reviews about their ability to manage the transition to sustainable development—with no sectors receiving high marks for sustainability performance.

This year’s survey updates these data points. Based on the results, there is still much work to be done across all parts of the global economy—with experts viewing corporate performance far below what is needed to successfully transition economies and societies toward sustainability. Of note, when compared to their colleagues around the globe, experts in emerging markets reported higher urgency regarding nearly every top issue.

Mapping the “problem space” is certainly a step in addressing sustainability challenges. However, understanding the “solution space” landscape is equally critical in charting a course forward. As such, the 2013 GSS Issues Survey asked experts to share their thoughts on corporate accountability vis-a-vis key sustainability issues, a notable first for this survey series.

With this data we produced a series of sector-specific “accountability/urgency” maps that identify areas for corporate leadership to address specific sustainability challenges—as well as areas for cross-sector collaboration. The report contains an overview of these maps that aggregates ratings of urgency and accountability across all issues. For example, when a given issue (e.g. food security) receives high scores in both urgency and accountability for a sector, there is a clear opportunity for sustainability leadership within that industry. That said, relatively low scores for urgency and accountability do not necessarily let a sector off the hook for addressing a given issue. These may mark important moments for cross-sector collaboration—where industries with different forms of expertise and materiality work together to address key sustainability challenges. In fact, as outlined in Changing Tack, these sorts of unconventional partnerships are going to be critical to finding the sustainable solutions society needs.

As a snapshot in time, this year’s Issues survey highlights the need for enhanced corporate sustainability performance. Yet looking through the lens of accountability (and dare we say, responsibility) we see opportunities for enhanced leadership and action across industries.

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