Publications & Thought Leadership

Setting a Long-Term Sustainability Vision

Sustainability mega-forces are changing the operating conditions in which companies can succeed and thrive. To address these issues and ensure business continuity, leading companies set ambitious long-term sustainability visions to guide corporate growth in ways that contribute to a prosperous future for themselves and society. This is a briefing note Coro wrote for the Conference Board of Canada’s Corporate Sustainability and Social Responsibility Institute on the approach leading companies are taking to create a long-term sustainability vision.

It builds off research she produced for Canadian Business for Social Responsibility into the qualities of a Transformational Company. A key quality identified in the global research is “long-term vision.”:

“Transformational companies commit to an ambitious long-term sustainability vision that includes bold goals and a precautionary approach that takes into account the needs of present and future generations, as well as the natural and social systems on which they rely.”

As the briefing note on Setting a Long-Term Sustainability Vision describes, leading companies adopt long-term, multi-generational, ambitious, overarching, and aspirational quests to guide their sustainability and corporate investments. Their visions go beyond organizational boundaries, current capabilities, and the reach of their products and services—even the foreseeable future and known solutions—to describe an end state, which shows how the company will contribute to a future sustainable society.

To move toward their long-term sustainability visions, companies adopt stretch targets that require a response beyond business as usual. They set shorter-term commitments to operationalize the steps to achieving their ambition. They understand and set targets that ensure they do not exceed environmental and social boundaries, thresholds, norms, and limits.

Breakthrough companies now set their level of ambition based on the aspirations of the UN Sustainable Development global goals and define what is a “reasonable contribution” for their company, depending on their industry, geographic location, and size. Leaders also commit to a precautionary approach, an internationally recognized concept that stipulates that precautions should be taken when the effects of a product or action are unknown, especially when there is the possibility of irreversible damage. This principle informs their long-term sustainability vision and investments, as does an understanding of how the company relies on, improves, destroys, or changes human, social, or natural capital in how it conducts its business. These sensitivities, which inform the company’s long-term sustainability vision and strategy, put the company on a course to realize a sustainable future for itself and society.

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