Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


Corporate Sustainability Management

March 2012

This rigorous and in-depth book makes an apparently simple claim about non-financial reporting and sustainability management: that all risks, opportunities and practices must be embedded in their context.

Though the definition of ‘context-based sustainability’ (CBS) is frustratingly nebulous in the book, the practical advice emerging from it is eminently sound and, at times, original.

The authors’ contention regarding sustainability context, which is traced through a varied philosophical tradition extending back to John Stuart Mill and beyond, is that CSR management must be situated in the context of whom it effects. That is, sustainability should be thought of as a set of relationships with stakeholders rather than a set of abstract, standalone targets.

The originality of this idea is certainly overstated in the book, but its advice on how to ‘do’ context, and how the larger organisations responsible for standards should facilitate it, illustrates the strength of its assumptions.

Reporting, for example, is pertinently addressed through the lens of CBS, allowing the authors to explore how non-financial performance can be made to resemble financial reporting, comparable across businesses and of concrete, practical value.

Most of the other guidance focuses on identifying and engaging with stakeholders, and its attempts to expand this constituency are invaluable.

One question remaining having read the book, however, is how stakeholders themselves form a uniform mass. It is not easy to see, for example, how easily each group can be universalised across similar metrics and practices: those with a stake in the survival of the planet surely form a category different in nature to those working for a small company.

Ben Hickman

Corporate Sustainability Management, by Mark McElroy and Jo van Engelen. Routledge, 2012. 240 pages. $49.95.

Ben Hickman | UK & NI Ireland | Sustainability


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