Researchers have identified six specific actions that large transnational corporations could take to steer environmental stewardship actions in the right direction. Combined with effective public policies and improved government regulations, these actions have the potential to make waves around the world.
James Watson, a co-author of the new paper and an assistant professor of sustainability at Oregon State University, believes that these corporations in key sectors such as agriculture, forestry, fossil energy, etc. have a large environmental impact but an equally large ability to have a positive influence on industry changes that can insure long-term sustainability.
“The leaders of these companies should be at the table when we’re talking about issues of global sustainability…to create sustainability around the globe, we can’t act alone in one place. We have to act in concert.”James Watson, College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences
Most companies aim to maximize profit for shareholders but what many do not realize is that if the methods used are unsustainable, the profits will be zero at some point in the future. The long-term profitability of companies runs parallel to issues of sustainability and the sooner they are regarded as going hand-in-hand, the better for future generations.
The researchers have identified six features of systematic change in their paper that could initiate the shift towards corporate biosphere stewardship that emphasizes both social and environmental sides of caring for the planet.
1. Alignment of Vision
As societal mindsets and values are changing, there is mounting evidence that new norms are emerging from some of the largest corporations and brands.
450 companies were sampled and over half reported that they use at least one sustainable sourcing practice. These companies can be found in the food, wood, and textile sectors. Role models can be found in progressive CEOs of these corporations that have a large influence over their sector and the ability to challenge established norms and develop new visions. Pressure by non-governmental organizations, consumers, and investors can lead to firms that are more socially and environmentally sustainable.
2. Mainstreaming Sustainability
Frameworks are needed to guide society and define problems within which innovation can flourish to find sound and sustainable solutions.
Creating incentives for companies to enable change is a promising approach to rapidly increase sustainability success in these sectors. Sustainability is no longer a choice but becoming increasingly recognized as a necessity.
3. Licence to Operate
Corporate global licenses must be developed to help operate in a democratic, ethical, and sustainable manner around the world. Governments in some countries have already taken initial measures towards achieving this goal.
4. Financing Transformations
Major pension funds and other institutional investors have begun to redirect capital away from unsustainable practices and towards biosphere stewardship.
The systematic incorporation of sustainability criteria in more traditional financial sectors could have a large influence for those contemplating transformative change.
5. Radical Transparency
Novel technologies make it easier to follow supply chains and monitor production, harvesting and the distribution of supplies for environmental impacts.
Global trade flows have also become more transparent thanks to these technologies as well and if dominant actors are engaged in this transparency, they can inspire other corporations to follow their sustainable lead.
6. Evidence-Based Knowledge for Action
The scientific community can play a key role in facilitating and monitoring these corporate changes by independently investigating, defining problems, and engaging companies to develop sustainable solutions.
This science-business engagement will become increasingly important to ensure that companies/ sustainability agendas are framed by science rather than the private sector alone.
How Does This Relate to Me?
While this paper focuses on large transnational corporations, these six actions can also apply to smaller businesses and individuals who are part of the economic chain. Corporate biosphere stewardship is about caring for, looking after, and cultivating a sense of belonging in the social and environmental spheres and taking ownership of your own position in the global economic marketplace.
“Ensuring the long-term viability of the planet is a collective action problem that everyone must participate to solve”James Watson, College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences