We are at least 10 years into the corporate sustainability journey now, so what really significant changes have we achieved?
Perhaps the business world has focused on the wrong tasks? Could it be that, despite all the carbon neutrality claims, hundreds of Global Reporting Initiative [GRI] A+ reports and sustainability teams of ten or more people, companies have still not radically redesigned their core products and business models?
I believe that there has been far too much focus on companies wanting to look good, and not nearly enough attention paid to actually performing well.
It’s in the blood of companies to compete, to strive to be better than their peers. That has been the reason for the success of corporate sustainability, because businesses like to vie with each other to be the best in this area. But the end result of all the competition has been to encourage companies to give the impression of looking good while barely changing their ‘business as usual’ model. It’s hard to change the direction of a business, especially in the short term, but a disappointingly low level of achievement has nonetheless characterized the corporate sustainability beauty contest.
An entire industry has been created around this beauty contest, including thousands of labels, corporate responsibility (CR) report design agencies, boutique assurance providers, hundreds of awards with infinite categories, materiality matrix mavericks, investor questionnaires consultants, professional stakeholders looking to ‘engage’ with companies and all manner of membership organizations offering support networks for a hefty fee.