The sustainability landscape has undergone dramatic change over the past year, let alone since the first version of the GlobeScan / SustainAbility survey was conducted in 1997. At the mid-point of 2023, the global economy is still feeling the ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine continues changing geopolitical perspectives, and backlash against sustainability and ESG is gaining traction, all complicating progress on the creation of a more sustainable global economy and society. Even so, the efforts of governments, companies, and other actors demonstrates the determination of sustainability leaders to achieve this goal.

The perceived urgency of most sustainability issues remain on an upward trend, demonstrating the enduring importance of issues such as climate change, biodiversity, and water scarcity. Newly asked or previously lower-priority issues are also gaining traction among sustainability professionals. For example, deforestation was added to this year’s survey as a sustainable development challenge and is ranked as the fourth most important.

When asked to identify the most important actions taken over the last year to address sustainable development challenges, respondents overwhelmingly cite legislation as the primary driver in affecting change. The legislative actions referenced the most include the EU Green Deal, European Disclosure Laws, and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in the U.S.

Corporate leadership rankings have remained quite similar over the past few years, but 2023 delivered one major change, with Patagonia now perceived to be the top corporate sustainability leader. The overall top five companies remained the same in this year’s survey, albeit in a different order as follows: Patagonia, Unilever, IKEA, Natura &Co, and Microsoft.

There is less variation in which NGOs are perceived as leaders: the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) remains the clear favorite among respondents across all sectors and geographies. NGOs are mostly considered leaders based on their ability to successfully collaborate and engage with stakeholders.

The fluctuation seen in the sustainability landscape in 2023 presents short-term challenges to advancing the sustainability agenda. However, the trends are clear: experts see sustainability issues as long-term high priorities, and companies, governments, and NGOs are taking more and more action to address them. As we look forward to the rest of 2023 and beyond, continued efforts to address these issues will be needed to ensure we meet our collective goal to create a more sustainable world.