The IBE survey of 12 December 2017 suggested the British public’s opinion of business behaviour appears to be improving, albeit slightly. Whilst the public’s general opinion about ethical business behaviour has improved with over half (52%) now saying they consider that business behaves ethically – a slight recovery from last year’s dip (48%) – the level is not yet back up to that of 2015 (59%).
But public mistrust of companies seems to be part of a longtime trend and one of declining respect for all institutions, not just corporations. According to the Edelman 2018 Trust Barometer report, the mistrust of media is actually far greater than the mistrust of business. In the 28 geographies that Edelman surveyed, the overall trust for institutions accrued most to NGOs, then to business, then to government, and finally to media. In 21 of these geographies, business is more trusted than government. Therefore in that context, when it comes to dealing with social issues and fostering overall economic growth, people are now increasingly expecting business to step up to the responsibility as other institutions just aren’t seen by them as capable enough of making the right things happen.
Therefore now, more than ever, is the time for business to step up to the mark and to make this work in both their and everyone’s favour and for the CEO to lead the way to being seen as the key sustainability game-changer for some of the most pressing problems of our time: inequality, and environmental damage. The public is rapidly starting to understand that government, media, and NGOs can’t fully address these issues without the involvement and support of business leaders. Given that the 2018 Trust Barometer highlights a ‘fast recovering belief in CEOs (up from 37 percent to 44 percent)’ by the 33,000+ who were surveyed for the report – it is vital for the CEO to leverage their position as the interface between the changing external environment and the internal hierarchy of their company in order to drive sustainability.
The new model CEO is now expected to endorse and champion a well-considered, robust sustainability strategy within their company infrastructure, one where the company harnesses the power of purpose to drive performance and profitability.
Unilever CEO Paul Polman is a prime example of a CEO who has defied conventional wisdom to lead one of the world’s biggest companies with a sustainability-first agenda, driven by morals and ethical principles. Thanks to Polman, Unilever has become synonymous with ethical business practices and what it means to be sustainable. Yes, Polman has met numerous challenges along the way, but hasn’t every trailblazer? Polman is a perfect example of why people are looking to the CEO and corporates to drive change: given the size and scale of companies like Unilever, with operations in 190 countries, the CEO really has the potential to deliver more than governments when it comes to championing the future of sustainability.