In August of last year, the Business Roundtable, a membership organizations of the largest corporate entities in the world, loudly and publicly proclaimed the end of shareholder hegemony and the dawning of a sustainable stakeholder economy.
Corporate sustainability professionals the world round yawned in response. We have heard that particular song many, many times before.
Has anything changed since the Roundtable’s announcement? Yes, no, and yes.
Yes. Big, new corporate sustainability promises have been made and commitments targeted. So, yes, potentially more and better positive impacts on climate, biodiversity and economic equality may be seen in the near future.
No. Abetted by increasingly clever modes of disinformation and a global economy still dominated by shareholders demanding a lion’s share of profits, recent past corporate behavior suggests if anything, most large companies remain more adept at side stepping than making meaningful sustainability change.
Yes. There has been a dramatic uptick in the catching out corporate malfeasance and misinformation, which while disheartening, provides hope that the klieg lights of accountability are glaring harder than ever before on the gap between promises made and performance achieved.
What could the Roundtable do at Davos to launch meaningful change in 2020? Two among several things stand out:
- First, member companies could fully, publicly and (less likely) legally commit to reporting on and be held accountable for the social, economic, and environmental impacts across their company and supply chains (and not the standard sustainability report blather either…).
- Second, their members must commit to verifiable sustainability performance targets, particularly on climate, that radically decrease negative impacts both within their own operations and those of their suppliers.
Conclusion: There is cause for well-deserved cynicism abounds, yet ironically, for growing hope as well.