The Governance of Corporate Sustainability: Empirical Insights into the Development, Leadership and Implementation of Responsible Business Strategy

Journal of Business Ethics 122 (1):1-21 (2014)

Abstract

This article explores how corporate governance processes and structures are being used in large Australian companies to develop, lead and implement corporate responsibility strategies. It presents an empirical analysis of the governance of sustainability in fifty large listed companies based on each company’s disclosures in annual and sustainability reports. We find that significant progress is being made by large listed Australian companies towards integrating sustainability into core business operations. There is evidence of leadership structures being put in place to ensure that board and senior management are involved in sustainability strategy development and are then incentivised to monitor and ensure implementation of that strategy through financial rewards. There is evidence of a willingness to engage and communicate clearly the results of these strategies to interested stakeholders. Overall, there appears to be a developing acceptance amongst large corporations that efforts towards improved corporate sustainability are not only expected but are of value to the business. We suggest that this is evidence of a managerial shift away from an orthodox shareholder primacy understanding of the corporation towards a more enlightened shareholder value approach, often encompassing a stakeholder-orientated view of business strategy. However, strong underlying tensions remain due to the insistent market emphasis on shareholder value

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