March 5, 2024


What Is Corporate Sustainability and How to Achieve It

What Is Corporate Sustainability and How to Achieve It

Corporate sustainability is a business approach that creates added value for stakeholders focusing on various factors to improve quality of life outside of their products and services including ethical labor and sourcing, eco-friendly practices, and cultural and economic welfare. It involves integrating sustainable practices into the business strategy to create long-term value for not only the company but also for society and the environment. It involves aligning with several of the UN Sustainability Development Goals and oftentimes companies may focus on a certain philanthropy such as climate change. Corporate sustainability goes beyond simply complying with regulations and aims to contribute positively to the well-being of communities and the planet. The three pillars of corporate sustainability are economic, environmental and social.

Corporate sustainability is tied in with environmental, social, and governance (ESG), and it refers to a set of criteria that investors and analysts use to assess a company's performance and sustainability in these three key areas. ESG factors are considered non-financial indicators that can have an impact on a company's long-term success and risk management.

The three pillars of corporate sustainability: economic, environmental, social

Environmental - Companies strive to minimize their environmental footprint by adopting eco-friendly practices, reducing waste, conserving resources, and implementing sustainable supply chain management. There is especially a microscope on the journey to net zero. Climate change is one of the biggest concerns amongst Gen Zs and corporate sustainability reporting must carry a carbon reduction strategy to stay relevant.

Social - Corporate sustainability involves promoting fair labor practices, ensuring workplace safety, respecting human rights, and contributing to the well-being of local communities through philanthropy and community engagement. This also includes employing people with the same central values at their individual core as well. Work cultures in such an environment may include more benefits toward well-being and time off for community service projects.

Economic - Sustainable businesses focus on long-term economic success while considering the potential impacts on stakeholders, including employees, customers, investors, and local communities. Corporate sustainability must foster an environment that is financially stable and thrive for the internal good of the company and external good of the stakeholders.

Companies committed to sustainability uphold high ethical standards in their decision-making processes, governance structures, and interactions with stakeholders. Transparent communication about sustainability efforts is crucial. Many companies publish sustainability reports to share information about their environmental, social, and economic performance and promote transparency. Sustainable businesses also strive to innovate and develop sustainable products, services, and processes that align with the principles of environmental conservation and social responsibility.

three pillars of corporate sustainability venn diagram

How is corporate sustainability different than corporate social responsibility?

They are extremely similar in that they both are based on the same principles but corporate social responsibility (CSR) is not just about compliance with regulations; it reflects a voluntary commitment by companies to go beyond the minimum requirements and actively contribute to societal and environmental well-being. The expectation is that businesses should operate in a manner that balances economic goals with social and environmental considerations. CSR can enhance a company's reputation, build customer loyalty, and contribute to long-term sustainability. Responsible businesses also attract the best talent and retain employees that care about the same values. It's expected that 24 million jobs in the sustainability sphere will be realized by 2030 according to the International Labor Organization (ILO), providing all of those people opportunities and stability.

Related content

To learn more about regulations and reporting, read another article from our free library:

• Article: GHG Reporting: Everything You Need to Know
• Article: What Are Scope 1, 2, and 3 Emissions?
• Article: COP26: How It Will Affect Businesses

How is corporate sustainability related to climate change?

Stakeholders are increasingly emphasizing the importance of corporate sustainability. A growing number of Generation Z and Millennial consumers prioritize carbon neutrality when making purchases, driven by the realization that global warming will have a more significant impact on their future. Moreover, a notable shift is observed among investors who are reluctant to support companies lacking action plans toward the green economy. This reluctance stems from the understanding that such companies may struggle to remain competitive and aligned with impending environmental regulations.

Although corporate sustainability isn't reliant on government regulations, companies voluntarily report on emissions to organizations like the CDP to keep themselves transparent, competitive, and responsible. They can also report to regional directives which are mandatory for larger corporations like the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) in Europe. It is important that when reporting any ESG criteria, not only carbon management data, that the reporting is standardized, internationally recognized, and therefore comparable in their industry to avoid accusations of greenwashing and to provide credibility.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is voting on a rule that requires registered companies to report on their emissions if seeking investments so that investors are given transparent data regarding scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions. This encourages corporate sustainability on the carbon neutrality side. Along with mandatory ESG reporting for larger companies, the economy is moving toward corporate sustainability no matter what. Some of the criteria are quoted here:

"The proposed rules also would require a registrant to disclose information about its direct greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (Scope 1) and indirect emissions from purchased electricity or other forms of energy (Scope 2). In addition, a registrant would be required to disclose GHG emissions from upstream and downstream activities in its value chain (Scope 3), if material or if the registrant has set a GHG emissions target or goal that includes Scope 3 emissions. These proposals for GHG emissions disclosures would provide investors with decision-useful information to assess a registrant’s exposure to, and management of, climate-related risks, and in particular transition risks. The proposed rules would provide a safe harbor for liability from Scope 3 emissions disclosure and an exemption from the Scope 3 emissions disclosure requirement for smaller reporting companies. The proposed disclosures are similar to those that many companies already provide based on broadly accepted disclosure frameworks, such as the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures and the Greenhouse Gas Protocol."

Transparent companies with reporting tools that can verify what they are doing for the environment, and take action on the other UN Sustainable Development Goals, are more trusted amongst stakeholders than companies that don't go beyond their profitable function.

Examples of corporate sustainability

  • Vestas Wind Systems A/S was named the most sustainable company in the world in 2022 in the Global Knights Corporate 100 ranking, an assessment of 6914 companies with more than 1 billion US revenue. They are the most socially responsible company in wind energy, they aim for carbon neutrality by 2030 without offsets, and they have a goal to produce waste-free wind turbines by 2040.
  • GM - GM is investing in all-electric, zero-emissions vehicles by 2050. They have committed to all renewable energy by 2050 as well. In 2020 their reports stated a 23% decrease in energy use, 35% reduction in absolute emissions, 31% reduction in waste intensity, and 87% increase in wild habitat acreage. 
  • Microsoft - Microsoft is carbon negative, water positive, zero waste, and empowers customers in the scope 3 value chain to report their emissions.

Getting on your path to corporate sustainability

Adopting corporate sustainability practices not only contributes to the overall well-being of society and the planet but can also enhance a company's reputation, attract socially conscious consumers and investors, and foster long-term business success. As global awareness of environmental and social issues grows, corporate sustainability has become an increasingly important aspect of responsible business conduct.

Incorporating a carbon neutral focus into your corporate sustainability strategy will be easier with Net0. Our AI-driven analytics tools such as carbon reduction simulators and the marginal abatement cost curve (MACC) will guide you in a successful net zero strategy that will result in profitable decarbonization. After reviewing some of the ways your corporation can become sustainable, you can start planning your own corporate sustainability strategy. Book a demo with Net0 so you can experience how to calculate your carbon footprint and manage your carbon emissions all in one place.

Cover photo by Loïc Manegarium from Pexels

Written by:

Kristin Irish

As a content writer for Net0, Kristin harnesses her expertise and enthusiasm for carbon emissions reduction, merging it with her other passion: the B2B SaaS industry. Her global outlook and dedication enrich the sustainability sector with insightful perspectives.
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