Sustainability expectations for the 21st Century Corporation

Sustainability expectations for the 21st Century Corporation

   By Colleen Theron, Environmental solicitor and consultant.

Ceres, the investor led organization, has published a report setting out a roadmap for sustainability for companies. The 21st Century Corporation: The Ceres Roadmap for Sustainability. They emphasize that a 'license to operate' can no longer be taken for granted by companies in the 21st Century.  Instead, companies are faced by the challenges of climate change, HIV/ AIDs, water scarcity and poverty. These issues have reached a point that society is demanding a response from business, which they see as being best positioned to address these issues. Companies, instead of acting reactively have the opportunity to lead the way in turning the challenges into opportunities. The global awareness of the impact of companies is driving the internationalization of sustainability and CSR standards.

 Business must integrate sustainability into strategy. It is not to be regarded as a separate discipline. Sustainability issues are viewed as central to high quality business. The report also points out that a 2008 survey of 1,040 directors of U. S companies, found that 39% of the respondents expected that the board would be spending more time on sustainability issues during the current year than in the past.

The report recognizes that new standards and expectations should be set for business. It sets out 20 key expectations related to governance, stakeholder engagement, disclosure and performance.  The aim of the report is to be practical and the report suggests that business should create a roadmap formulating a strategy for addressing sustainability issues.  For example Ceres suggests that businesses should:

  • Assess the company's baseline environmental and social performance
  • Analyze its corportate management and accountability structures and systems
  • Conduct a materiality analysis of risks and opportunities.