3 minute read 23 Jun. 2022
Deforestation

Enough - A review of corporate sustainability, in a world running out of time

By EY Canada

Multidisciplinary professional services organization

Local contact

EY Canada Leader, Climate Change and Sustainability Services Leader

Passionate about building high-performing, multidisciplinary teams. Broad audit, industry, sector and geographic experience. Outdoors enthusiast.

3 minute read 23 Jun. 2022

Contributors: Adam Carrel, Tanya McKenna, Lauren Jones and Tara Duane

Corporate sustainability will need to get creative in repositioning itself for the crucial decade ahead.

Now, more than ever, society is leaning on businesses to lead us through the climate and ecological crisis. At the same time the corporate world has never expressed more willingness to rise to this challenge. This offers cause for great optimism, but it also forces the recognition of a significant problem – corporate sustainability isn’t working and needs to dramatically change to solve the problems the world needs it to.

Corporate sustainability is not new, and yet we treat it as such. We treat it as a discipline and movement that is too novel to be critically appraised and too subjective to be measured against real-world outcomes. In reality, corporate sustainability is a quarter century old, and we have more than enough information to measure its success against the real and urgent boundaries of planetary sustainability.

Our new report, Enough – A review of corporate sustainability, in a world running out of time, represents just that, a critical review of the ability of corporate sustainability to rise to the challenge it has set itself – embodying the goal of Sustainable Development.

In this report, we trace the idea of corporate sustainability back to its conceptual origins in the late 1980s and explore its course over the peaks and troughs of the next 30 years, looking at how it had to adapt in the face of these events. We look at the parallel rise of corporate management theory, and the tensions and paradoxes that have emerged as the former is slowly subsumed by the latter.

We look at the common structure and mandate of corporate sustainability functions, and the logic that underpins them. We look at the primary preoccupations of these functions, in particular the rationale and utility of ESG reporting and analysis and the extent to which they service a meaningful end.

As corporate sustainability professionals ourselves, we wholeheartedly acknowledge the extraordinary successes and resilience of our industry; however in this review we also call out clear aspects that need to change. More importantly, we propose a number of questions with which we want to engage civil society and the scientific community to inform a more effective and collective model of corporate sustainability for the crucial decades ahead.

We’ve reflected on our own collective experience working in and around corporate sustainability, and we’re questioning the status quo. Is business ready to properly internalise the true social and environmental cost of doing business, both directly and across its value chain? Or will corporations continue to mask the extent of the problem through incrementalism and self-congratulation? We hope that by sharing this report, we can learn from those who might already be engaging this problem, and from those who wish to contribute to solving it. 

This report is our best effort to start the much-needed conversation about corporate sustainability, in an attempt to openly explore new ideas on the shifts and transformations that we, and the business world, need to make, in a world running out of time.

Summary

We appreciate any time you take to read this report.  More importantly however, we value your feedback. We want this report to place some small role in galvanising a broad and inclusive examination of new ideas in support of a better, more transformative and scientifically anchored theory of corporate sustainability.

About this article

By EY Canada

Multidisciplinary professional services organization

Local contact

EY Canada Leader, Climate Change and Sustainability Services Leader

Passionate about building high-performing, multidisciplinary teams. Broad audit, industry, sector and geographic experience. Outdoors enthusiast.