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If you work in sustainability, you can, in large part, thank John Elkington – one of the fathers of modern sustainability. Perhaps no one has more strongly advocated for 40+ years that sustainability and business are (must be) linked. I don’t know John personally, but I certainly know of him. He recently posted some new bits of his wisdom that are worth sharing.

Due to the passage of the CSRD, “we may now see the supply of sustainability data and information forcefully outpacing meaningful demand.” I agree. Data “push” is being created by IT providers while demand is led by emerging regulations, investors and ESG ratings organizations. But how meaningful is it all, especially considering that companies determine what is material.

On the role of lawyers in sustainability/ESG:

“Don’t allow lawyers to run the show … My concern is that we will end up trying to tackle systemic challenges with incremental and increasingly compliance driven solutions. Lawyers are fine, in their place, but – time and again – I have seen their influence hugely cramp innovation in major companies. So perhaps it’s time to look well beyond what keeps the legal profession happy to the sorts of disruptions needed to prepare today’s markets for tomorrow’s realities?”

His pessimism about the role of lawyers in sustainability may be somewhat misplaced. In every presentation and conference I attend, sustainability staff and lawyers agree – today, attorneys must be business problem solvers, not just legal risk managers. Even so, that shift may be hard for all involved.

He also offers thoughts on a new publication from Generation Investment Management that focuses on the global spread of sustainability disclosure:

“I am struck by the four main conclusions…

  • First, reporting must be integrated
  • Second, reporting must be context-related
  • Third, reported performance must be comparable
  • And, fourth, critically, key reporting and disclosure standards must be mandatory…”

Elkington also announced his 21st book, Tickling Sharks: How We Sold Business on Sustainability, due out June 18th June: “One theme that threads through the entire book is that of the long-running – and in now intensifying – battles to open up business to discussions around safety, health, environment, sustainability and, specifically where, climate.”

I’m looking forward to reading it.

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The Editor

Lawrence Heim has been practicing in the field of ESG management for almost 40 years. He began his career as a legal assistant in the Environmental Practice of Vinson & Elkins working for a partner who is nationally recognized and an adjunct professor of environmental law at the University of Texas Law School. He moved into technical environmental consulting with ENSR Consulting & Engineering at the height of environmental regulatory development, working across a range of disciplines. He was one… View Profile