Growing expectations for businesses to make a positive contribution to society

Leor Rotchild, Executive Director of Canadian Business for Social Responsibility (CBSR)

Leor Rotchild, Executive Director of Canadian Business for Social Responsibility (CBSR)

Q&A with Leor Rotchild, Executive Director of Canadian Business for Social Responsibility (CBSR)

Do you believe that the expectations of employees, investors and customers are influencing how organizations approach and implement their corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies?

Absolutely. Canada and the rest of the world are in the midst of significant cultural and economic transitions and there are growing expectations that businesses demonstrate leadership and action. Large publicly traded companies are especially exposed to high expectations.

Earlier this year, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink wrote an open letter to the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies to say that if they cannot articulate how their business is making a positive contribution to society, then there is a strong chance those companies will soon cease to exist and are therefore not a safe investment for BlackRock's $6.3-trillion. BlackRock is only one of many investors collectively channelling $23-trillion into companies with a clear set of business values backed by demonstrable results.

In late 2017, GlobeScan released its annual global study, which concluded that trust in major corporations is at an all-time low and, for the first time since 2009, more consumers say they have punished companies for their behaviour (28 per cent) rather than rewarded them (26 per cent), and the number of those punishing companies is up by nine per cent since 2013.

Small and medium-sized enterprises have typically avoided the kind of scrutiny faced by larger corporations, but that is beginning to change as new evidence is emerging that Canada's 1.2+ million small and medium-sized businesses have direct control over roughly 200 million tonnes of carbon pollution, the same amount produced each year by every car, truck, train, plane and ship in the country. Climate Smart recently released a report on the subject and identifies this area as a significant opportunity for Canada to shrink its overall carbon footprint.

How can companies make sure their sustainability initiatives are aligned with up-to-date practices and standards?

If you are looking for a North Star, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a good place to start. They represent the overall ambition of 196 countries for what they want the world to look like in 2030. However, we are hearing from companies that while the SDGs are helpful, they are difficult to operationalize and use as an engagement tool.

That is why we at CBSR are working to simplify available resources to engage the unengaged and equip sustainability and corporate responsibility professionals with practical, useful tools they can use within their companies. One such example is the Transformational Company Qualities, which CBSR uses to advise companies looking to move from good to world class.

What are some of the outcomes businesses can expect when they "do it right"?

I think with investors pushing for change, the economic business case is clearer than ever before, but sustainability and corporate responsibility is about more than just attracting investment. It's about attracting trust. Right now, companies building infrastructure recognize how valuable trust can be.

An example I like to use is from Enbridge, the North American energy giant who understood it wasn't enough to invest in early leak detection technologies for their assets. Rather, through collaboration with their competitors, Enbridge and other operators combined resources to use drone technology and cover more ground for detecting any pipeline integrity issues. If a concern is raised at any of the sites, the companies work together to solve it. They do this because they realized it is no longer enough to be a clean fish in a dirty pond. Companies are expected to clean up the whole pond and one way to do that is to move beyond competition and collaborate towards a cleaner ecosystem for all.

Is there anything you'd like to add?

CBSR is currently preparing to launch a national public engagement campaign called 'Do Business Like A Canadian' with the hashtag #DoBusinessLikeACDN. This campaign aims to collapse several important national conversations about Canada's global competitiveness, innovation and our role in meeting the SDGs into one important national conversation about Canadian business values. The campaign will include a multi-city speakers series, national polling and digital storytelling. Stay tuned for more on this ambitious campaign at CBSR.ca.


Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.


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Tanya Camp