Six growing trends in corporate sustainability

The public sector isn’t playing a key role

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For several years now, government's role in promoting corporate sustainability has been, at best, neutral.

Companies need certainty to make investments and other major decisions.

The uncertainty that comes from a political stalemate is seen by many companies as detrimental to business planning, risk management, research and development agenda, and corporate sustainability strategy.

For many of the world’s largest corporations, this stalemate is a source of endless frustration.

Which groups have a positive impact on advancing sustainability on a global basis?

The multilateral institutions haven’t helped much

The annual series of United Nations-led climate summits known as COPs (for “Committee of the Parties”) has been a globe-hopping failure — from Copenhagen and Cancun to Durban and Doha, not to mention 2012’s Rio+20 summit.

What just a few years ago had been a strong sense of optimism that these meetings could push the world’s governments to agreement and action on some of the planet’s biggest challenges has devolved into disarray and disappointment.

Others have stepped in to fill the void

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), for example, have stepped up to prod both companies and governments to take action.

Some NGOs have pushed for transparency and accountability and implemented “name and shame” campaigns that rank companies on one or more issues. Corporate rankings, like those published annually in some magazines, are highly watched, if not always well regarded, by companies.

Some executives also see NGOs serving as an early-radar system, identifying issues likely to rise in public (and media) concern — chemicals of concern, for example, or biological hotspots from which companies may be sourcing raw materials.

And then there are the stock exchanges, which are slowly awakening to sustainability issues and, in some cases, viewing these issues as material to their listed companies. This is on top of the substantial corps of institutional investors that are now screening investments using some sustainability or corporate responsibility criteria.

All of these groups comprise much of today’s “regulatory” agenda, an emerging new set of standards to which companies must comply.

 

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