Ten years in, five things that matter most in sustainability

For me it’s pretty much a decade, give or take, of being interested in sustainability, and nine years since we set up Ethical Corporation.

What started as CSR has become corporate responsibility, and now is rapidly becoming sustainable business.

That’s a welcome evolution. A conversation this morning with a PR/Communications firm gave me pause for thought as I consider my more or less ten years in this area.

“What are you interested in?” asked the PR/Comms firm.

I came up with a few responses, such as:

1) Two way dialogue. Not one way communication. Not the evolution of one way communication either, which is often: “here’s our report/stuff, email us your thoughts or talk to our outsourced research firm” but engaged discussion.

2) Humility and transparency. Gone are the days when companies could claim to know it all. But the honesty message has still not got through to many. Many companies still present greener or socially better progress as ‘green’ or ’embedded’ when it definitely isn’t, yet. By engaging in real transparency companies, like Patagonia, show us the future of corporate communications.

3) New technology solutions. I won’t write about or publish on, most of the lower carbon efforts of oil and gas companies, for example. Most (not all) are quickly becoming pariahs and are simply determined to hang on as long as they can to a 19th century business model. Carbon capture and storage is the exception. New technology is fascinating. Some examples include wind, concentrated solar power, photo voltaics and tidal energy.

4) Lobbying for progress, not the status quo. Too many firms still rely on the old model of reacting to change, seeking the best short term outcome from preventing it, and fighting for narrowly-defined progress such as subsidy, tax breaks or less regulation. The new model, of pushing for progressive action (not just regulation/deregulation) on social and environmental issues, is still not being pursued by nearly enough bosses. The old attitude of ‘the politicians do their thing, we’ll do ours, just doesn’t cut it now. Here’s an example of a CEO who gets this new agenda:

5) Real progress, not just pledges. We’ve seen a massive shift in this area in the last five years. It’s now more of a governmental problem than a big corporate one. Nevertheless, it’s linked with the transparency and humility points above in that companies will still seek to make more out of promises than they do out of why they’ve not succeeded (i.e. using the line ‘tell us how to do it better’ for ideas as to how they can improve).

I look forward to your comments: As ever, I have probably missed an important point 🙂



  1. One of the best things is that by earning credibility you build a bank of 'reputational capital' that puts your organization's actions into context. If BP didn't have a track record of safety and environmental fines and problems, the spill, while tragic, would have been seen as an anomoly rather than an almost inevitable consequence of years of cutting corners to maximize profits.

    Your actions define who you are – even when no one is looking. A good program puts your values into action, embeds them in your culture – not just your language.

  2. RCC

    Great post and great things to think about sometimes we make things to complicated. No sense in that if you can't get the basics. Fundamentals win out.

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