How Brazil, India and China are redefining sustainability

This article was originally published in the BSR blog and is reprinted with permission. 

In India, family-owned enterprises like the TATA group occupy a place in citizen’s hearts and minds that is not easily shifted. They are viewed as the “go to” institutions to build schools and other social institutions, and fulfilling these social needs guarantees these companies’ license to operate.

In Brazil, corporate sustainability is strongly influenced by international institutions focused on climate change and governance of the Amazon rainforest. Beyond the Amazon, domestic attention is focused on social issues, including the country’s pending “talent blackout,” and what it will take to create a competitive Brazilian workforce.

And in China, which continues to be the “world’s factory,” CSR traditionally has centered on compliance with corporate codes of conduct imposed by multinational brands. However, sustainable investment–particularly in clean-tech–is an emerging part of CSR in China.

For the past 20 years, corporate sustainability largely has been defined by people and institutions in the West, but with the current global shift in economic balance, countries like Brazil, India, and China are redefining the landscape of sustainability. These emerging markets are facing the most fundamental economic, environmental, and social questions of our generation, making them laboratories for sustainability solutions that will shape our world for a long time to come. As these countries are increasingly recognized on the world stage through events like the World Economic Forum in Tianjin and Rio+20 happening this week in Brazil, more companies are beginning to understand the difference in sustainability issues, how they are prioritized, and how they are addressed in these regions.

BSR recently explored this new geography of corporate sustainability in depth through a series of workshops organized by the UN Global Compact LEAD with input from A.P. Moller-Maersk, Novo Nordisk, and Novozymes, and additional research funded by Novo Nordisk.

During our research, we discussed three key questions with thought leaders in business, government, and civil society:

  • How is corporate sustainability being defined in emerging markets?
  • Who is shaping the discourse and action in these regions?
  • What’s the trajectory of corporate sustainability in these countries?

What follows is a snapshot of trends in corporate sustainability in each country–and a look at what this means for the evolution of CSR in new geographies and the world at large.

Photo of Indian children provided by zeber via Shutterstock

Next page: Moving from risk management to capturing opportunities in China