A very thought-provoking article in sustainablebrands.com last month highlighted the fact that ‘as we approach the 2020 deadline for many corporate sustainability pledges, [and not forgetting, of course, the UN Sustainable Development Goals] sustainable business practices are front and center in the minds of decision-makers.’ These are the words every sustainability and CRS professional wants to hear or read about. After all, business sustainability has come a long way since of the modern environmental movement and the establishment of environmental regulations in the 1970s when Earth Day also came into being. As a consequence of this and other international movements addressing political, economic, socio-cultural and technological issues, responsible business practice has also fast become a strategic concern driven by market forces. Corporations have a number of stakeholders that put pressure on them to invest from the triple bottom line perspective. Societal stakeholders – governments, NGOs, stock exchanges – along with shareholders, investors, trading partners and customers are now all demanding higher transparency on a company’s ESG performance.
But does this mean business alone can ‘save’ the planet and build the sustainable world everyone wants?
In silo, no, but as a key player as part of a larger team, corporations and business are and will continue to be, the sustainability game-changers.
Corporations have great financial, technological and human capital; the global footprint; and the profit incentives and market forces necessary to make change on the level needed as we face so many problems at once. By comparison, governments are limited by borders, and the challenges of meeting binding and actionable intercontinental agreements. Non-governmental organizations and non-profits have made laudable strides in advancing the human condition, but they lack the resources and scalability sufficient to make transformational progress.
This being the case, companies are key players in taking the lead in the short term for issues like that of climate change action, but government is essential to creating a policy framework in the long-term. Government also sets regulatory boundaries and ultimately hold companies accountable for their business practices. NGOs and non-profits have been and will continue to be keepers of the flame, focusing society on pressing issues, providing experience and expertise, and ensuring that all members of society are included.
But the most significant opportunity we have to solve our most challenging problems comes from multinational corporations, some of which are already becoming the most powerful drivers in building a better, sustainable world.
In short, a new age of corporate responsibility is here.