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New poll of business leaders highlights sustainability priorities for global companies

October 18, 2012
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sustainabilityResults from the fourth annual “BSR/GlobeScan State of Sustainable Business Poll 2012,” released today, outline the progress global business has made on 14 key sustainability challenges over the past 20 years, the areas where business is likely to make the most progress over the next 20 years, and key priorities for the year ahead—including human rights and climate. 

BSR and GlobeScan surveyed more than 500 business leaders drawn from BSR’s global network of nearly 300 member companies. 

Sustainability Progress: 20 Years Forward, 20 Years Back

To examine the progress made in sustainability over the 20 years since BSR was founded, the survey asked executives to evaluate the past and likely future progress on 14 key sustainability challenges. Considering the next 20 years, respondents rated sustainability reporting, water, and responsible supply chains as the areas in which business will likely make the most progress. In contrast, respondents were least optimistic about future progress being made in public policy, governance, and employee treatment. 

Looking at the same list of challenges over the past 20 years, the poll reveals that business believes the most progress has been made in health and safety, sustainability reporting, and community/social investment. It shows that corporate practitioners believe the least progress has been made in sustainable consumption, public policy, and water. 

Looking back and looking forward, two findings become clear:

  • Though respondents found comparatively less  progress on water in the past, they are confident that business will make strides on this challenge over the next 20 years.
  • Business believes other issues—including sustainable consumption and public policy—will remain ongoing challenges over the next 20 years. 

“The survey reinforces our view that business has made great strides to integrate sustainability into their activities, and that much more progress is required for truly sustainable outcomes,” said BSR President and CEO Aron Cramer. Cramer also stated that the survey “underlines the essential need for renewed business leadership to mobilize and engage consumers, investors, and governments to enable sustainable prosperity for all.”  

Main Leadership Challenge: Integration of Sustainability

For the second year in a row, 62 percent of respondents identified the integration of sustainability into core business operations as the most important leadership challenge for business today. 

“Integrating sustainability into business operations and throughout the value chain is a necessary step in accelerating progress, and we work with business leaders to achieve exactly that outcome,” said Cramer. “But that alone won’t get the job done. It’s also important to develop powerful partnerships with policymakers, civil society, and industry partners to create change at the scale it’s needed.”

Chris Coulter, GlobeScan President, added: “This survey of corporate sustainability practitioners has identified some critical gaps in the sustainability agenda in the coming decades. Long-term success for global business is predicated on building societal trust, accelerating integration across the enterprise, and exerting greater leadership in key areas—sustainable consumption, public policy, and climate change—that, if not attended to, will disrupt long-term growth opportunities.”

Other BSR/GlobeScan poll findings include:

  • Sustainability priorities for the year ahead: For the second year in a row, respondents identified the same three sustainability issues as top priorities for their companies: human rights (66 percent, up 10 points since 2009), workers’ rights (63 percent, up 7 points since 2009), and climate change (61 percent, down 5 points since 2009). 
  • Climate change challenges: Respondents (42 percent) identified the top climate challenge for business as working effectively with operational units and throughout the value chain to achieve solutions. The second biggest challenge is establishing a strategy that achieves the greatest impact (29 percent). 
  • Sustainability reporting: Respondents identified sustainability reporting as an area of significant progress over the past 20 years. More than half of respondents (55 percent) said they either currently produce or will soon produce reports that integrate financial and sustainability data. 

To access the complete report and all findings, visit

About the Research 

The “BSR/GlobeScan State of Sustainable Business Poll 2012” was conducted between September 6 and 24, 2012, among a sample of 556 professionals from BSR member organizations from around the world. The sample includes representation from 63 percent of BSR’s member organizations. 

About BSR

BSR works with its global network of nearly 300 member companies to build a just and sustainable world. From its offices in Asia, Europe, and North and South America, BSR develops sustainable business strategies and solutions through consulting, research, and cross-sector collaboration. Visit for more information about BSR’s more than 20 years of leadership in sustainability. 

About GlobeScan 

For 25 years, GlobeScan has helped clients measure and build value-generating relationships with their stakeholders, and work collaboratively in delivering a sustainable and equitable future. Uniquely placed at the nexus of reputation, brand, and sustainability, we partner with our clients to build trust, drive engagement, and inspire innovation within, around, and beyond their organizations. Please visit

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