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Sustainable business frameworks

Recently, I wrote about the concept of shared value, a business strategy under which organizations consider the needs of their communities alongside those of their shareholders, in order to improve conditions for business (and communities where they operate) and maximize profit. What a crazy idea, right? Healthier communities mean more profitable businesses? So crazy it just might work.

Shared value is a more focused strategy than corporate social responsibility (in my humble opinion); it asks organizations to build their business around community as a motivator to profit, whereas CSR is often considered an add-on, an initiative organizations can use to “give back” to a certain community. According to some, shared value is also more effective at its stated goals: developing sustainable communities and improving profitability. However, for an established business, it is much easier to add on than to rebuild, so it should come as no surprise that businesses that do consider these things focus on individual CSR efforts.

At any rate, if your organization is trying to navigate the uncharted waters of sustainability and social responsibility, there are frameworks to guide your way. Isn’t that just what you wanted to hear?

For example, the Global Reporting Initiative:

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is a network-based organization that produces a comprehensive sustainability reporting framework that is widely used around the world. GRI is committed to the Framework’s continuous improvement and application worldwide. GRI’s core goals include the mainstreaming of disclosure on environmental, social and governance performance.

Sustainability reports based on the GRI Framework can be used to demonstrate organizational commitment to sustainable development, to compare organizational performance over time, and to measure organizational performance with respect to laws, norms, standards and voluntary initiatives.

And another, Ceres:

At Ceres, our mission is to integrate sustainability into day-to-day business practices for the health of the planet and its people.

Changing capital market practices to incorporate long-term environmental and social risks instead of merely relying on short-term returns as a measure of economic health is a key component of our work.

Now is probably a good time to emphasize the long-term aspect of building a sustainable business. Certainly, some motivated individuals will want to do everything they can all at once, and some organizations might even have the capacity to do so, especially if they are just starting out or if their mandate is explicitly based on sustainability. However, most established businesses that are interested in sustainability will start smaller and attempt to make changes over time. This is certainly a realistic approach, and organizations shouldn’t feel discouraged at the potential work involved in moving toward a sustainable business model.

It will take time, but it will never happen if you don’t start. But if proponents of CSR and shared value are right, the process will provide ample return on investment.

Adam Gorley
First Reference Internal Controls, Human Resources and Compliance Editor

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Adam Gorley

Editor at First Reference
Adam Gorley, B.A. (Phil.), is a researcher, content provider and editor. He contributes regularly to First Reference Talks and Internal Control blogs, HRinfodesk and other First Reference publications. His areas of focus include broad human resources issues, corporate social responsibility, corporate governance and government policies, information technology and labour market trends.Read more
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