University of Edinburgh Business School
Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability in 2017 and beyond
March 6, 2017

This CRS Network event featured industry and academic insight on the current issues regarding Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability.

The Sustainable Business Initiative (SBI) Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Network (CRSN), in collaboration with the Institute for Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability (ICRS), were delighted to host an event exploring the future of Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability with guest speakers from Diageo Plc (Michael Alexander), and the University of Edinburgh Business School (Dr Sarah Ivory).

View videos and insights from the CRSN experts

Following an unexpected and unpredictable 2016, the first event of the year aimed to explore what lies in store for Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability in 2017 and beyond. Brexit, Trump and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change will all certainly have positive and negative long-term impacts on CRS and Sustainability both locally and globally. The CRS Network met to listen to expert industry and academic perspectives as well as reflect and discuss the topic.

After welcoming remarks from Aidan Hetherington (Corporate Engagement Manager, University of Edinburgh Business School) and introductions from Tatiana Rodionova (Lecturer in Finance and Deputy Director of the Sustainable Business Initiative, University of Edinburgh Business School), the Network heard from William Pickett (Junior Partner, Institute for Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability (ICRS)) who set the scene for the evening’s discussions.

He outlined the following:

  • ICRS’ role, their approach to engagement with members, their accomplishments and their professional development support
  • He outlined the various annual benefits and activities for their 64 patron and organisational members and their 300+ individual members
  • He went on to outline the ICRS’ Competency Framework, which is at the heart of what they do, and includes competences and guiding principles that help equip CR and sustainability practitioners and sustainability teams with the knowledge and skills needed to address their current and future sustainability challenges
  • Finally, he outlined the main areas that their members work in and what challenges and opportunities they foresee in 2017 and beyond.

Following William, the CRS Network welcomed Michael Alexander (Head of Water, Environment, Agriculture Sustainability, Diageo Plc) to provide some industry and private sector insights into CRS and Sustainability going forward. The key take-away points included:

  • Diageo’s role as a global leader in the beverage industry and how a long-term perspective is vital to sustainability
  • He outlined Diageo’s vast global footprint and reflected on the fact that by working across various territories, they need to be aware of an array challenges and opportunities in diverse contexts
  • His focus then shifted to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which he feels provide a great global focal point and quantifiable targets for companies, and the importance of the private sector in collaboratively striving towards ensuring the goals are realised
  • Accompanying the SDGs, Diageo are corporate signatories of the Paris Agreement and they join other world leading companies who are committed to 100% renewable power
  • Michael then elaborated on two of Diageo’s priority areas as they continue on their sustainability journey, namely:
    • Building sustainable supply chains, with a specific focus on sustainable agriculture which will cover all of their international territories
    • Sustainable packaging is also a top priority going forward
  • Finally, Michael explained Diageo’s Social Impact Measurement Toolkit, which they utilise to transparently measure impacts and outcomes of their initiatives.

Dr Sarah Ivory (Early Career Fellow: Climate Change and Business Strategy, University of Edinburgh Business School) complemented the industry perspectives with current research, trends and thinking in academia. Her presentation focused on the following main points:

  • Organisations face tensions but there are various options for them to address these including win-win and trade-off approaches
  • Different cognitive frames reflect decision makers assumptions and Dr Ivory touched on the business case and paradoxical frames
  • She went on to explore alternative organisational forms other than the traditional shareholder model and asked the question of how else can business organise itself?
  • Looking forward to 2017 and beyond she outlined and reflected on some of the major challenges and opportunities and discussed in more detail her thoughts on Trump’s election, the Brexit referendum, how business can focus more on the medium to long term (rather than short term) and how challenges can be transformed into opportunities
  • Further and relevant reading suggested by Dr Ivory includes:
    • Van der Byl and Slawinski (2015) Embracing Tensions in Corporate Sustainability: A Review of Research from Win-Wins and Trade-Offs to Paradox and Beyond, Organization and Environment 28(1):54-79
    • Hahn, Preuss, Pinkse and Figge (2014) Cognitive Frames in Corporate Sustainability: Managerial Sensemaking with Paradoxical and Business Case Frames, Academy of Management Review 39(4): 463-487.

As always, attendees asked an abundance of challenging and thought-provoking questions and continued the discussions over a drink at the networking reception.

Please keep an eye on the SBI website to find out when our next Network events are taking place, and if you would like to find out more please contact