From GlobeScan to BSR and Forum for the Future, many of SustainAbility’s peers are celebrating – or have recently celebrated – important anniversaries. We have asked three of our fellow organizations to reflect on the journey to date, the key achievements and lessons learnt, and what it will take to remain relevant and impactful in the rapidly changing field.
The publication of the Brundlandt Report Our Common Future in 1987 marked a major milestone in the history of sustainable development. By defining the term for the first time, it put sustainable development on the agenda of major institutions, making a strong case for urgent action to address environmental, social and economic issues and preserve rapidly deteriorating ecosystems.
The launch of the report also spawned the establishment of a range of organizations with sustainability at the heart of their mission. GlobeScan was founded in the same year as SustainAbility. Five years later, BSR was established with a similar mission to enable transition to a sustainable economy, followed by the launch of Forum for the Future in 1996 and Corporate Citizenship in 1997.
For their relatively small size, this handful of organizations shares many firsts. BSR was part of an effort to create the first website on corporate social responsibility in partnership with Levi Strauss & Co. in 1997 and also led an effort to conduct the first independent monitoring by NGOs of labor conditions in export factories. GlobeScan conducted the first global annual poll on environmental issues, and Forum for the Future was the first UK-based NGO to establish a partnership with business to work on sustainability.
But most importantly, along many other like-minded companies and NGOs, these organizations played a crucial role mainstreaming the concept of sustainability and making it part of business day-to-day vernacular. This was achieved through relentless persistence and bold thought leadership, building partnerships and alliances along the way. Launching new collaborations and creating networks of like-minded individuals also played a key role.
The rapidly changing landscape will also require new thinking and solutions. As Aron Cramer of BSR notes, it is important to challenge the orthodoxies in the field and “not to get locked into the frameworks that have served us well for the last decades.” The movement has made great progress pushing sustainability into the business mainstream, but organisations such as ours need to continually question our own if we are going to continue to make an impact in an increasingly dynamic, volatile and unpredictable world.