By The Delphi Group’s Hayley MacVicar, Analyst, and Hannah Lacey, Intern Analyst, Corporate Sustainability
“ESG” – which stands for environment, social and governance – is just the latest iteration of what is also known as corporate sustainability and the triple bottom line. At the heart of these philosophies is a re-definition of corporate success: it’s not just about profits, but about people and the planet, too. The environment has historically received the lion’s share of attention – and with climate change looking as our biggest economic and societal threat, there are a lot of good reasons for that.
However, we shouldn’t count the social components of sustainability out. Why?
It’s a component of how ESG investments are screened and is increasingly on the mind of investors.
There is a lot of overlap with environmental priorities. For example, part of successfully getting to net zero means leaving no one behind – a just transition.
The past couple of years have been monumental in shifting awareness about justice, equality, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) issues. Millennials and Gen Zs, in particular, are holding organizations accountable on social media for making JEDI-related statements and commitments that seem performative versus making real changes. They’re also interested in working for organizations that are leaders in this space. In the corporate world, 55% of people said they would opt to work for a socially responsible company, even if it meant earning a lower salary (ReCharity).
Additionally, and most significantly, there are inequities in our society that need to be addressed if we’re going to build a truly sustainable future. For example:
The UN Global Compact has stated that social sustainability can benefit businesses in a variety of ways including:
Tending to the “S” in sustainability will not only benefit you now but will help future-proof your organization and help us build a better future in the long run. In this blog, we’ll lay out what social sustainability is and how you can position your organization for success.
In a nutshell, social sustainability is about your impacts on people. It includes:
Companies that are at the beginning of their journey in social sustainability may want to form a committee or working group to discuss and manage how their business operations impact people. While the focus of these committees for many companies has ranged from health and safety to community betterment, they are now focusing more heavily on JEDI and associated initiatives.
The first step in this process is to select committee members with differing perspectives and lived experiences so that a range of values and insights may be represented. Next, these committee members identify goals or areas of concern. This step often includes a company-wide survey to help define the focus areas. The committee should then seek to address company policies affecting these areas by implementing and communicating initiatives. As an example, these initiatives may include reviewing benefits, recruitment procedures, or company events with an equity lens. Once approved by senior management members, the policies are communicated company-wide and implemented (US Chamber of Commerce).
Companies wanting a more advanced look at their social sustainability landscape should consider performing a materiality assessment. These projects can provide a view of all ESG topics material to the business, based on stakeholder feedback. Once an organization has assessed material issues and their impacts, they can begin drafting an ESG report. The current best practice for these comprehensive reports is to include issues related to all three components of ESG that are deemed material to the business and to use Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) and/or Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) requirements as a content guide. as a content guide.
While this may seem overwhelming, there are organizations setting frameworks, guidelines, and standards to help businesses understand their social sustainability practices. The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is a highly regarded independent international standards board that sets standard ESG topics — from climate change to human rights and corruption. The Initiative aims to make social sustainability less nebulous by defining what businesses should be disclosing and by providing corresponding measurement mechanisms. Examples of the GRI’s guidelines for social sustainability disclosures are outlined below.
Social sustainability is an ongoing process, not a destination. Additional, meaningful steps can always be taken to advance your actions. This can include improving the lives of the people that the business affects, such as by creating decent jobs, goods and services that help meet basic needs, and more inclusive value chains; making strategic social investments and promoting public policies that support social sustainability; and partnering with other businesses, pooling strengths to make a greater positive impact.
Canadian Business for Social Responsibility (CBSR) is part of a constellation of organizations, including Delphi. CBSR is an intra-industry association that brings together some of Canada’s biggest brands and companies across industries to enable businesses to understand and embed sustainability principles into their strategies and practices. This fall, CBSR will be hosting an in-person roundtable meetup in Toronto at the end of October. The facilitated roundtable will focus on justice, equity, diversity and inclusion – taking a deep dive into how to effectively and sensitively advance your company’s social sustainability practices.
To learn more about the roundtable and CBSR’s corporate and SME membership program, don’t hesitate to contact Julia Zeeman, CBSR’s Program & Operations Director, at email@example.com.
Hayley MacVicar is a Corporate Sustainability Analyst, and Hannah Lacey is a Corporate Sustainability Intern Analyst. For more information on how The Delphi Group can help you meet your ESG and net-zero goals, reach out to Adam Schwarz, Senior Consultant of Sustainability and ESG Reporting, at firstname.lastname@example.org.