Research collaboration can boost business sustainability: CISL

Research collaboration can boost business sustainability: CISL

A business-focused synthesis report from the Cambridge Institute for Sustainable Leadership (CISL), Nexus2020: The most important research questions for business sustainability, shows the importance of collaboration between businesses and academics to ensure that academic research is informed by business and enables more rapid progress towards sustainability. It builds upon a CISL-led academic paper published in the scientific journal Sustainability Science in October 2016. Research collaboration can boost business sustainability: CISL

One of the themes picked up by the Nexus report is the interplay between policy, business and academia. Businesses are constrained by policy, which should be based on sound data provided by independent sources. Using the example of the demands for finite resources such as food, water and energy, the conference considered the co-creation of research question by business leaders and academics. The idea being that scientific research surrounding important sustainability questions have significantly more utility if they identify problems, provide meaningful data and model possible solutions germane to industry. To that end, the conference identified five emergent themes from the sorts of questions that came out of that collaboration:

  1. Incentives for change, including determining factors that are most effective in motivating action. This can take the part of government regulation, although the marketplace and financial instruments may also create an impetus for change;
  2. Collaboration and stakeholder engagement enable companies to identify investment opportunities but may require organizations to take a longer-term view;
  3. Investing in sustainability makes sense over time as it safeguards resources, but companies must be properly incentivized to look beyond short-term profiting;
  4. Supply chains taking a collaborative landscape approach manage their impacts more comprehensively, consider the effects on other stakeholders and understand the impacts of other stakeholders; and
  5. Making better policy, in which business must work with the public sector to ensure legislation strikes a balance between sustainability and opportunity.

The conference concludes that co-production can go beyond asking the right sorts of questions to developing projects that deliver on the key insights from research, and that organizations involved in investing in academics should insist on cross-sector partnership to drive greater value.

CISL has also developed a framework to measure the various forms of capital, outlined in a May 2016 report, intended for investors to understand, quantify and report the social and environmental impact of their investments. It distils the U.N. SDGs into six impact themes relevant to investors, and it piloted two themes which are particularly timely for society and relevant across all sectors - climate stability and decent work.

Image source: MIT Sloan Management Review, Joining Forces: Collaboration and Leadership for Sustainability

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