Founded in 1987, SustainAbility has helped
define and evolve the sustainable development
agenda and the role of business within it.
Throughout our history, we have worked with business and its stakeholders to foster trust – a fundamental enabler of a more just and sustainable economy, leadership – the courage and ability to go first and farthest, to rally others to do what’s required; and innovation – new ideas, new tools, and whole new ways of creating and delivering value.
EXPLORE OUR TIMELINE
1987 - 1999Risk and Engagement
SustainAbility was founded by activists John Elkington and Julia Hailes in 1987, the same year that the Brundtland Commission published Our Common Future and its foundational definition of sustainable development as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
In 1988 John and Julie wrote the Green Consumer Guide which sold over 1 million copies worldwide.
John Elkington - A cartoon from a Marketing Week article in 1989
Our first decade saw business awaken to the strategic implications of the Brundtland Report in a world of growing economic and political integration and complexity. The World Business Council on Sustainable Development, Business for Social Responsibility, the ISO 14001 environmental management system, Brazil’s Ethos Institute and the Dow Jones Sustainability Index entered the landscape, while controversies surrounding companies like Shell, Nike and Monsanto signaled strategic evolution of the agenda.
2000 - 2009Value and Collaboration
The first decade of the new millennium brought fresh economic, political and social dynamics. The 9/11 attacks and the resulting “war on terror” heightened global tensions, while the deepening penetration of the Internet and social media forever changed the nature of business, collaboration and accountability.
Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth brought the dangers of climate change to mainstream audiences, while worldwide food price spikes called attention to the fragility of global supply chains and their sometimes devastating impact on the most vulnerable.
Sustainability awareness accelerated, and with it came a growing emphasis on business solutions and opportunities for value creation. Companies from Dupont to Unilever to Walmart established ambitious company- and portfolio-wide sustainability targets. More than 230,000 megawatts of non-fossil fuel-based energy was installed worldwide. Net Impact, the business student and professional network for sustainable business, grew to 200 chapters around the world.
2010 - 2015Mainstreaming and Complexity
Amidst the slow, uneven recovery from the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-08; political turmoil ranging from the Arab Spring to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, from the grinding conflict in Syria and the resulting migrant crisis in Europe; and the profound disruption of markets by energy and other commodity price fluctuations, as well as the pervasive impact of technology, the world began to recognize uncertainty and volatility as the new normal.
Meanwhile, record temperatures, deepening droughts and other extreme weather events, and worsening inequality in many regions of the world underscored the linkages among all these challenges, bringing sustainability further into the mainstream and encouraging wider adoption of systems-thinking and other ambitious approaches to accelerating progress.
We also continued to understand and challenge evolving practice in the sustainability sector, such as with ratings and rankings (the Rate the Raters series), corporate transparency (See Change) and certification and labeling (Signed, Sealed… Delivered?).
And we continued working side-by-side with business and sustainability leaders in an increasingly global range of companies, helping them to earn and maintain trust through convening diverse stakeholder groups, understanding key risks and opportunities, setting ambitious goals, and developing and implementing high-quality strategies and programs to meet them.
2016 AND ONWARDSIntegration and Transformation
Following adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate Agreement in late 2015, global companies and other key actors are more committed than ever to the urgent, generational challenge of sustainability, and to the large-scale social, political and economic transformations it requires. In response, SustainAbility is increasingly focused on driving deep integration of business and sustainability imperatives, both within individual companies and industries, and in the systems that support and govern them.
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