Walking the Talk
From Commitment to Action:
Progressing Past the CSR Plateau

Corporate social responsibility is stuck. When it emerged on the scene 20 years ago, businesses and other stakeholders had high expectations for what a focus on CSR could deliver. But the reality is that neither business nor society are on track to enable nine billion people to live well within the boundaries of the planet by 2050 - let alone 2030. There’s a lot at stake: Unless business collectively steps up to contribute substantively to embracing and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, many business models will be at risk.

Getting unstuck: a long-term approach

Against this backdrop of dwindling trust in business and corporate leaders, however, leading companies such as The Dow Chemical Company and building materials giant LafargeHolcim are resetting their sustainability course to tackle business risks, build value for shareholders, and contribute positively to society. They have adopted a longer-term approach: Dow plans to advance the well-being of humanity by helping lead the transition to a sustainable planet and society by 2025; while LafargeHolcim is aiming to provide solutions to address social, environmental and stakeholder challenges, with an ambitious goal to create shared value with society by 2030.

The trend to scaling and accelerating sustainability by setting a long-term sustainability vision and ambitious, bold goals, is one of the Qualities of a Transformational Company. This global framework provides 19 reference points – imperatives – for companies to pursue to both transform their business models and their operating conditions to steward their companies and society to a thriving future.

One of these qualities is setting a long-term sustainability vision.

Recent research conducted by the author reveals that leading companies don’t just adopt a vision statement, they create a “vision story,” which includes:

  • A summary of the long-term sustainability mega-forces that will affect their business, customers, suppliers and operating environment over the next 5-10 years;
  • A description of how their company will both adapt to and positively influence these sustainability forces; and
  • A long-term sustainability quest or north star that sets the course for how the company will create benefits for shareholders, its customers and the broader society.

From tinkering to bold action

These companies go beyond CSR as usual to create a new business as usual. As the diagram below reveals, they shift from internal directives to an external focus aimed at their entire value chain. They focus beyond internal projects, investing in measures to rethink and transform their entire industry. They collaborate with peers and competitors, suppliers and customers to influence standards and government policy to drive sustainability innovation in their sectors. They dump incremental change for bold action and accelerated systemic change at scale. Rather than merely tinker with their business models, they set a bold course to become truly sustainable in the future. To chart a sustainable course, businesses must pivot their sustainability models this way.

To learn more about what’s involved in updating your organization’s vision story and put your company on a path to a sustainable future, check out the full report here.

The Conference Board of Canada is hosting a webinar on this topic on June 22, 2017 — Details here.


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