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Corporate sustainability initiatives: Their use and results
Corporate leaders and employees have been increasingly recognising their role in contributing to sustainability. In this context, different voluntary tools, approaches, and initiatives have been developed by and for corporations to engage with sustainability. Each initiative has advantages with respect to scope and focus for the sustainability dimensions and the company system’s elements, but it has certain disadvantages when it comes to dealing with the complexity and broadness of sustainability. Relying on one initiative can result in a limited and narrow contribution to sustainability and curtail coverage of the company’s system and using too many tools wastes resources and energy due to duplication in tasks. The paper provides an analysis of the use of twenty-four of the most widely used initiatives (e.g. life cycle assessment, eco-design, cleaner production, corporate social responsibility, and sustainability reporting) by companies. A survey was developed for investigating the importance of how sustainability has been embedded in organisations. Most of the questions were on a five-point scale (extremely important to not at all important or completely agree to completely disagree) and rankings. The survey was applied using the online survey tool Qualtrics (2018). The survey was sent to a database of 5,299 contacts from different organisations (of which 3603 were companies) obtained from the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) database, and personal contacts. Of the responses 215 were from companies, but only 189 provided useable responses for the tools and approaches used, of which 27 were from Sweden.The tools most widely used were Corporate Social Responsibility, Corporate Sustainability, and GRI reports (in the top quintile) by all companies, and Corporate Sustainability, Corporate Social Responsibility, Eco-efficiency, and Socially/Sustainable Responsible Investment by Swedish companies. The tools least used (in the lowest quintile) were Factor X, The Natural Step, SA8000, and ISO 26000 by all companies, and Factor X, SA8000, Industrial ecology, ISO 26000, EMAS, AA1000, and The Natural Step by Swedish companies. For all the companies, 5.6 tools in average provided good results, 6.5 some results, 2.5 no perceived results, and 0.1 negative results. There are some initiatives that are well known and provide results (some and good) when used, such as corporate social responsibility, corporate sustainability, GRI reports, and eco-efficiency). There are some initiatives that are not known/not used (e.g. Factor X, The Natural Step, SA8000, and ISO26000). The most widely know initiatives focus mainly on management and strategy, and assessment and reporting with a broad sustainability perspective. In general, the four more widely known initiatives have a good ratio of results versus no results. The cluster and analysis and PCA groups can serve as guides to decide which initiatives to combine in order to address the company system and sustainability dimensions. A combination between four to six initiatives should provide the most efficient way to address sustainability. There have been many initiatives proposed to contribute to sustainability by and for corporations. To better achieve this, the initiatives need to be combined efficiently in a holistic way to address the company and sustainability dimensions.