SustainAbility and GlobeScan: The Sustainability Survey


By Deborah Fleischer of Green Impact

GlobeScan and SustainAbility just announced the initial results of their inaugural expert opinion tracking study, the Sustainability Survey.
Replacing the Survey of Sustainability Experts that GlobeScan has produced for years, the new survey draws on a much larger and more robust panel of experts – over 1,600 experts responded to an on-line questionnaire, representing various sectors in more than 90 countries across the globe. Respondents included thought leaders from government, non-governmental organizations, consultancies, academia and the private sector.

The survey covered topics such as critical sustainability issues, the impact of the economic downturn on sustainability, sustainability leadership, international climate change negotiations and carbon markets.
As a participant in the survey, I received a short report summarizing some of the highlights from the survey. While I can’t share the summary report, I can report on a few of the most interesting highlights. The final report will be available only to full subscribers to The Sustainability Survey Research Program.
Key Findings
Some of the findings are not so surprising. Most of us already know that climate change, clean water and poverty are the most urgent sustainability challenges facing society today. However, there are a number of compelling findings.
The Economic Downturn may Catalyze Progress on Sustainability
The current economic crisis is seen as an opportunity for new sustainable practices and systems. Whether we take advantage of this opportunity is another story – some experts, especially Europeans, are skeptical and believe we will not capture the potential opportunities from the economic downturn.
Compared with 2008, an increased proportion of experts believe that the economic downturn will have a positive impact on progress toward sustainability.
Opportunities for new economic systems, development of renewable energy sources and lifestyle changes were the main reasons given for why the economic downturn could positively impact progress on sustainability. North American experts were more confident that new, more sustainable opportunities will arise from the downturn.
The Mantle of Corporate Leadership is Changing
Familiar corporate sustainability leaders continue to be recognized, but new leaders are emerging.
Over the last four years, perceptions of “old” corporate sustainability leaders (e.g., BP and Shell) have significantly declined and new names are rising.
I can’t name the new rising stars yet, but stay tuned for this information late next week.
It is interesting to note that this survey is not a ranking that looks at an organization’s initiatives and performance, but is a reflection of stakeholders’ perceptions about corporate leadership.
As reported earlier by Sarah Harper in Do Consumers Know What They are Doing?, in the recent results of a consumer survey, the Corporate Citizenship Study (CCS), consumers ranked several corporations (including Microsoft and General Mills) over other companies (including Pepsi, Coca Cola, Apple, and McDonald’s) deemed more socially responsible by the CRO 100 (a CSR policing agency that annually ranks corporations in its “Best Corporate Citizens” list).
Will sustainability experts opinions be more closely aligned with the CCS rankings? Or will perceptions once again be different than the “facts”?
The Sustainability Survey summary report concludes, “This new mix of leaders may reflect a shift in expectations about the type of companies, and sustainability strategies, which will drive the necessary change.”
A Few Final Questions
The summary leaves me with a few questions:
* What are the rising expectations stakeholders have of companies?
* What sustainability strategies are expected of leading companies today?
* What relevance does the opinion of sustainability experts have on companies?
I’m not sure if the final survey report will dive into these issues or not.
For more information on the Sustainability Survey Research Program, please contact: Chris Coulter ( or Jeff Erikson (
Deborah Fleischer is the founder and president of Green Impact, providing strategic environmental consulting services to mid-sized companies and NGOs who want to launch a new green initiative or cross-sector collaboration, but lack the in-house capacity to get it up and running. She brings expertise in sustainability strategy, program development, stakeholder partnerships and written communications. And you can follow her occasional tweet at GreenImpact.

Deborah Fleischer is founder and president of Green Impact, a strategic sustainability consulting practice that helps companies walk the green talk. She helps companies design and launch new green strategies and programs, as well as communicate about successes. She is a GRI-certified sustainability reporter and LEED AP with a Master in Environmental Studies from Yale University and over 20-years of direct experience working on sustainability-related challenges in both the public and private sectors. She brings deep expertise in sustainability strategy, stakeholder engagement, program development and written communications.Deborah has helped to design and implement numerous successful cross-sector partnerships and new green initiatives, including the California Environmental Dialogue, Curb Your Carbon and the Institute at the Golden Gate.She has helped create lasting alliances among such organizations as Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy with companies such as Disney, Arco, Bank of America and Passport Resorts.You can follow her occasional tweet @GreenImpact or contact her directly at

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