Research from the ERM Sustainability Institute and GlobeScan finds that new legislation such as the SEC climate disclosure rules and EU Green Deal is considered the most significant sustainability development during the last 12 months.

According to the Sustainability Leaders 2024 Survey <insert link>, which has tracked expert opinions on sustainable development leadership for more than 25 years, one-third of experts (33%) point to legislative action as the top sustainability breakthrough, while new sustainability disclosure standards are cited by one-fifth (19%). Action around climate and nature, and renewables and low-carbon initiatives are considered the most significant developments by 13 percent and 9 percent of sustainability experts, respectively.

However, despite these positive developments more than half of sustainability experts surveyed (57%) claim there is a significant backlash against the sustainability agenda (including ESG), with over eight in ten North American experts (83%) saying this is the case. Furthermore, over half (52%) of the experts surveyed globally believe that this backlash will slow the transition to sustainability in the next few years.

Forest products and life sciences are the sectors rated most positively in terms of how they are managing the transition to sustainability, while the chemicals and extractive sectors are seen to be performing worse than they did a decade ago.

Assessing the business landscape, more than one-third of experts (34%) name Patagonia as a corporate sustainability leader. One-quarter of experts (24%) name runner-up Unilever, while just over one in ten spontaneously mentioned Natura &Co and IKEA. The top tier of most-recognized sustainability leaders is rounded out by Interface, Danone, Nestlé, Microsoft, Ørsted, Schneider Electric, Tesla, Apple, Amazon, Google, Siemens, and Walmart.

Integration into business strategy is the top reason for corporate sustainability recognition (cited by 24% of experts), followed by evidence of impact and action (cited by 16%).

Northern European countries are the most recognized leaders in advancing the sustainability agenda, with Sweden named as the leading national government by 28 percent of experts. World Wildlife Fund continues to be the most recognized NGO and is cited as a leader on sustainable development by 40 percent of respondents.

Mark Lee, Global Director, Thought Leadership at ERM said: “The sustainability landscape is continuing to shift, with significant progress around legislation and disclosure tempered by concerns around the sustainability backlash.

“However, despite the uncertain environment there is widespread evidence of positive momentum for sustainability leadership across sectors, and we look forward to seeing these leaders continue to forge a path forward in pursuit of their sustainability goals.”

Chris Coulter, CEO of GlobeScan said: "Expanding sustainability-related legislation and standards is clearly viewed as a critical development according to the hundreds of expert stakeholders we surveyed across the world.

“To stay at the forefront, leading organizations must transform compliance into concrete actions that drive meaningful impact. The evolving sustainability landscape requires a collaborative, innovative approach from governments, NGOs, and corporations."

Notes to editors

The Sustainability Leaders 2024 Survey captures insights from sustainability experts and tracks the shifting sustainability agenda over time.

It is part of The GlobeScan / ERM Sustainability Institute Research Program. As the largest and longest-running survey of its kind, it has tracked expert opinions on sustainable development leadership for more than 25 years. The research draws from bi-annual surveys of our global panel of experienced sustainability experts (including leaders in business, government, NGOs, and academia) on topics such as recognized leadership, climate change, biodiversity, inequality, the SDGs, and key emerging issues.

A total of 484 qualified sustainability experts in 65 countries across all regions of the world completed the online questionnaire from 4 April to 30 May 2024. The survey was offered to respondents in Arabic, Chinese, French, Portuguese, and Spanish, in addition to English.‚Äč

About the ERM Sustainability Institute 

The Sustainability Institute is ERM’s primary platform for thought leadership. The purpose of the Institute is to define, accelerate, and scale sustainability performance by developing actionable insight for business. We provide an independent and authoritative voice to decode complexities. The Institute identifies innovative solutions to global sustainability challenges built on ERM’s experience, expertise, and commitment to transformational change. 



About ERM

Sustainability is our business.

As the world’s largest specialist sustainability consultancy, ERM partners with clients to operationalize sustainability at pace and scale, deploying a unique combination of strategic transformation and technical delivery capabilities. This approach helps clients to accelerate the integration of sustainability at every level of their business.  

With more than 50 years of experience, ERM’s diverse team of 8000+ experts in 40 countries and territories helps clients create innovative solutions to their sustainability challenges, unlocking commercial opportunities that meet the needs of today while preserving opportunity for future generations.   

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Meryl Hanlon
PR and Brand Communications, ERM
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About GlobeScan

GlobeScan is a global insights and strategy consultancy helping companies, NGOs, and governmental organizations know their world and create strategies to lead a sustainable and equitable future.

Established in 1987, we have offices in Cape Town, Hong Kong, Hyderabad, London, Paris, San Francisco, São Paulo, Singapore, and Toronto. GlobeScan is a Certified B Corp and a participant of the United Nations Global Compact.

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Stacy Rowland
Director, Marketing and Communications, GlobeScan