The importance of sustainability as a business issue has steadily grown over the past two decades. Most businesses understand that their sustained success depends upon the economic, social and ecological contexts in which they operate. But the stability of those contexts can no longer be taken for granted. The physical environment is becoming more unpredictable, a more interconnected global economy is altering social conditions, and technological innovation is transforming the nature of consumption and production.
Sustainability has got to be something that we all care about. We need groups to collaborate that never have … everybody’s got to work together. We need to begin to manage this planet as if our life depended on it — because fundamentally, it does.
— Jason Clay, senior vice president, WWF
Corporate sustainability has evolved from expressing good intentions and looking for internal operational efficiencies to addressing critical business issues involving a complex network of strategic relationships and activities. As sustainability issues have become more global and pivotal to success, companies are realizing that they can’t go it alone. Through their strategic networks, business can, and arguably must, tackle some of the toughest sustainability issues, such as access to stressed or nonrenewable resources, avoiding human rights violations in value chains2 or moderating climate change.
Given the implications of sustainability’s evolution within the corporate sector, we — MIT Sloan Management Review (MIT SMR) and The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) — focused this year’s research on the critical role of sustainability collaborations that address systemic issues, and on the role of the board of directors in guiding their companies’ sustainability efforts. To better understand these two topics, we surveyed nearly 3,800 managers and interviewed sustainability leaders from around the world (see About the Research).