Stephanie Bertels – Companies Need to Think About Their Long Term Strategy, Not Just Their Quarterly Returns




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Oct 23, 2017
by Mirva Villa
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Stephanie Bertels – Companies Need to Think About Their Long Term Strategy, Not Just Their Quarterly Returns

Embedding Project founder on why sustainability is important for corporate governance Stephanie Bertels participated in the third session of the Salzburg Global Forum on Corporate Governance.

Toward the end of 2015, leaders representing more than 200 nations approved a set of goals to transform the world for the better. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aimed to tackle issues such as poverty, education, hunger, and climate change. It was agreed at the time – and remains the case – that for these goals to be achieved, everyone will have to play a role.

The topic of how corporations have embedded sustainability to their agenda came up in discussion during the third session of the Salzburg Global Forum on Corporate Governance. This was in part thanks to Stephanie Bertels, the director of the Centre for Corporate Governance and Sustainability at Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business and founder of the Embedding Project.

The Embedding Project, founded and led by Bertels, is a community of practitioners and researchers who are working together to help companies include environmental and social factors into their operations and decision making.

“The partner companies come to us with their needs what they’re grappling with and then using rigorous research methods we help support their understanding of those issues,” Bertels said. The Embedding Project team will help organizations to re-determine their core strategies with their new goals in mind.

“By that I mean, what would your core strategy look like if you took seriously the idea that you, as a company, need to meet and help contribute to strong social foundations, and that you need to adhere to a set of planetary boundaries?” said Bertels. The tools created by the community assist the company in deciding what their thinking is around a social or environmental issue, and what kind of commitments the company will need to adhere to reach their long term goals.

While big companies have often taken part in philanthropic efforts in one way or another, the concept of corporate social responsibility first started to take form in the 1950s, with companies beginning to be seen obligated to address the social issues around them. Since the early 2000s the movement has grown into a global phenomenon, as consumers and job seekers are increasingly pushing for companies to take steps toward more ethical behavior. Sustainability’s place in today’s corporate governance is “pretty fundamental”, according to Bertels.

“As fiduciaries of a company, you need to be thinking about not just the quarterly returns, but the longer term strategy, the survival and thriving of the organization. Understanding societal expectations and how environmental constraints are going to shape that strategy is completely crucial.”

According to Bertels, the environmental constraints on business have become increasingly clear in the recent years. Issues such as climate change present both challenges and opportunities – and boards are starting to understand that they have to be aware how these issues might impact their business.

“It’s hard in this day and age to manage a company, direct, oversee, provide a strategic oversight to an organization without asking questions about – and expecting good quality disclosure about – the risks and opportunities of social and environmental issues.”

The Salzburg Global program The Courageous Director: Can Corporations Better Serve People, Planet, and Profit? is part of the multi-year series, the Salzburg Global Forum on Corporate Governance. The session is being supported by Shearman & Sterling LLP, BNY Mellon, UBS, Barclays, CLP Group, Goldman Sachs, and Teledyne Technologies. More information on the session can be found here.