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Know Your Purpose Before Your Company Takes a Stand


The pressure for companies to take stands on political, social and environmental issues is stronger than ever. But before your company embarks on such a journey, make sure everything your house is in order, advises the Toronto-based organization Canadian Business for Social Responsibility (CBSR).

For brands to take a stand for sustainability, they first need to identify their purpose and how they are effecting positive change, said Leor Rotchild, executive director of CBSR. Once that is clear, “the next step is to align themselves internally around that purpose and screen for inconsistencies,” Rotchild continued. “With their own house in order, purpose-driven companies have a responsibility to effect continued positive change through their supply chains, investor markets, industry associations and consumer base. It is not easy, so effectively taking a stand starts with a confident and inspiring purpose backed by measurable action.”

As a think tank and professional organization, CBSR’s role is to help accelerate sustainable innovation and inspire Canadian businesses to advance their corporate practices through peer-to-peer learning and best practice research, Rotchild added. CBSR works with a range of companies from different sectors including finance, energy, mining, and the food and beverage industry. The organization has recently been working harder to promote the Canadian way of doing business and share success stories, thereby being a partner to companies that seek to communicate their purpose.

One way CBSR helps companies evaluate their status and implement sustainable practices is through a framework it created called the Transformational Company Qualities, which is used to guide companies through a process that includes developing a social purpose and addressing supply chain risks and opportunities to engage staff, suppliers, investors, and industry associations, Rotchild noted.

CBSR supports employee activism as “an effective way to move employers toward a more inspiring purpose and/or a mechanism for holding employers accountable to their purpose,” Rotchild said. “When a company acts in a way that is inconsistent with that purpose, the employees are the first to see it and they have a responsibility to call it out and find solutions when it becomes apparent.” 

Canadian businesses have some unique challenges when it comes to implementing sustainability practices – starting with its history and demographics.

“Canada has a very different history with its indigenous population than does the U.S., and there are many more considerations and complexities when operating or building infrastructure in major parts of the country,” according to Rotchild.

One example would be Canada’s lucrative fossil fuels sector, the projects of which have often sparked protests as the country’s First Nations have said such developments encroach on their lands. At times, compromises have been reached to ensure Canada’s indigenous groups have a stake in pipeline or hydropower projects so they can have a voice and share the economic benefits. Disputes over various oil and natural gas pipelines continue to be contentious, however.

Rotchild also noted that Canada also long has been considered a responsible developer of natural resources; transitioning toward low carbon-based resources could have a significant impact on Canadian workers and the economy. Visible shifts are underway: Last month, a Calgary-based company got the green light to build what could be Canada’s largest solar power installation in oil-rich Alberta.

In addition, “Many leading American firms operate in Canada, but their Canadian subsidiaries often do not have enough resources or autonomy to carry out the same sustainability programs that they do in the U.S.,” he added.

Therein lies plenty of opportunities for CBSR to become a valuable partner in the Canadian business community.

An area CBSR is trying to address is improving sustainable practices in supply chains; Canada's public buying takes place at a more decentralized level than other OECD countries, according to Rotchild. A new system is emerging that involves companies partnering with government agencies to incorporate social and environmental criteria into public procurement decisions, he added.

CBSR is participating in this process through its work as a founding member of the Coalition for the Advancement of Sustainable Procurement (CASP) along with the Center for Greening Government (CGG), Espace Québécois de Concertation Sur Pratiques D’Approvisonnement Responsible (ECPAR), HP Canada, Municipal Collaboration for Sustainable Procurement (MCSP), Ontario Public Buyers Association (OPBA) and the Recycling Council of Ontario (RCO).     

“Influencing more centralization and sustainability thinking can reward sustainability leaders at the bid process and lead to improved social and environmental impacts,” Rotchild said. 

Earlier this year, CBSR began sharing some of the nation’s best strategies through a new Do Business Like A Canadian platform as a way to discuss national sustainability-related challenges and “create constructive spaces to discuss values-based solutions,” according to Rotchild. Several Canadian business case studies were developed as part of the campaign to launch the initiative, he added.

Don’t forget: In a few weeks, we’ll be hosting 3BL Forum: Brands Taking Stands – What's Next, October 29-30, at MGM National Harbor, just outside Washington, D.C. Together, our 90-plus speakers promise to make this two-day event one that is fast-paced, high-octane and invaluable with their perspectives on the latest in the environmental, social and governance (ESG) community. We're proud to have CBSR as a partner for this event.

We're pleased to offer 3p readers a 25 percent discount on attending the Forum. Please register by going to the 3BL Forum website and use this discount code when prompted: NEWS2019BRANDS.

Image credit: Alex Shutin/Unsplash

Ellen R. Delisio headshot

Ellen R. Delisio is a freelance writer and paraeducator who lives in Middletown, CT.  Over the past 30 years, her writing has focused on life science, sustainability and education issues. Ellen is an avid reader and beach-goer.

Read more stories by Ellen R. Delisio