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July 22, 2014
Professional Institute for Sustainability Practitioners Launched in UK
    by Robert Kropp

Members of the UK-based Corporate Responsibility Group launch the Institute of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability, a professional body for sustainability practitioners.

It's been noted in the past that the ultimate success for sustainable investment will be when its practices are subsumed in the mainstream to the extent that it is no longer necessary. When the many trillions of dollars now engaged in short-termism and investment in fossil fuels, to cite but two examples, are instead directed by environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) criteria, the necessity for such a specialized branch of the industry will cease to exist. When that day comes, it will I'm sure be cause for celebration among those who have prioritized social and environmental justice for decades.

Until I was alerted to it by a recent article in The Guardian, it hadn't occurred to me that the same conditions might have been contemplated by corporate sustainability professionals as well. In the article, author Jo Confino writes, “I remember a time not so long ago when one of the key features of corporate responsibility conferences was the insistence of speakers that the purpose of sustainability professionals was to put themselves out of a job by mainstreaming the concept into the heart of business.”

The occasion for the article was the launch of the Institute of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability (ICRS), a UK-based professional body for corporate responsibility (CR) and sustainability practitioners. Formed by the Corporate Responsibility Group (CRG), a membership organization of 400 individuals from more than 80 companies, ICRS is the first organization to establish standards and otherwise support sustainability professionals.

“We want to help and provide those in the sector with the skills and development opportunities to raise their ambition and achievement,” ICRS project director Rowena Webster said at the launch in London. “As well as supporting individuals, we will work to ensure corporate responsibility and sustainability is recognized as a profession and provide it with a single voice.”

The organization has launched a series of webinars devoted to corporate sustainability, and the professional development of members will be further enhanced by online learning provided by the Ashridge Business School.

In his article in The Guardian, Confino offered the following caveat.

“Those joining the institute would do well to remember that the corporate sustainability movement grew out of a small band of radical thinkers who challenged the notion that business was separate from broader society and that profit maximization was acceptable at any cost.”

Confino, who is the chairman and editorial director of the highly regarded Guardian Sustainable Business, is certainly not waxing nostalgic in his observations. I’ve been writing for for seven years, and in that time the changes in the field of sustainability have been monumental. Most important for sustainable investors and corporate professionals as well has been the degree to which the subject has become a mainstream preoccupation.

For sustainable investors, it has been years since they expanded their investment decision-making beyond negative screening to assess corporate business practices according to ESG considerations. And sustainable investors in most major markets enjoy the benefits of sustainable investment forums where ideas for best practice can be shared.

Sustainability professionals have likewise seen the influence of their contributions grow, as more and more corporations publish sustainability reports. And as the trend toward integrated reporting increases, the likelihood is that that influence will continue.

So that great day may come when job descriptions specific to sustainability will no longer be necessary. Until then, well-designed professional support mechanisms can only help.


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