2017 SCC Conference

Working Lunch Interest Group Summary

“Sustainability as Policy”

The discussion group on “Sustainability as Policy” was led by Ira Feldman.  Each member of the group articulated his/her own specific interest in the policy arena and the ensuing discussion revolved around certain themes that emerged.  As a jumping off point, the group sought to distinguish between “policy” and “politics” based on examples that had been raised by participants.  Policy in the context of governance was contrasted with policy positions in electoral politics.  From the initial examples presented, it was a clear there was a need to differentiate between environmental policy and sustainability policy.  While sustainability includes an environmental dimension, “full spectrum” sustainability (as suggested by the 3E’s or the 3P’s) does not equal “going green.”  The group then sought to identify successful examples of sustainability policy and found that it was important to identify the relevant scale, whether local, regional, state, national or international.  One example discussed was the emergence of “benefit corporations” and the B Corp certification, the former a corporate formation option in many states, the latter a voluntary program coupled with a certification.  The policy significance of benefit corporations is that it signals a shift from traditional fiduciary responsibilities to shareholders, i.e., profit maximization, to a new model that allows an organization to articulate a mission with commitments to social and community goals. Finally, the group discussed how activities in business world — not just lobbying — can influence sustainability policy.   The example of voluntary standards and eco-labels adopted by business for competitive advantage rather than legal mandate, demonstrates that “soft law” tools can, over time, be incorporated into “hard law” such as policy, law and regulation.  It was pointed out that environmental policy is not the only place to look for advances in sustainability policy.  For example, in the financial regulatory space, SEC policy and regulations call for environmental and climate disclosures, and in the mainstream financial sector, the use of ESG (environmental, social, governance) factors has become widely accepted in the valuation of publicly-held companies.  Voluntary sustainability reports, many produced according to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) protocol, have helped establish new norms and best practices.