Communicating Corporate Sustainability Research
Research is complicated, specific and narrow and probably intends on contributing to society in its unique ways. My research area is the same. I research corporate sustainability, an area of business and management that specifically focuses on firms’ efforts to contribute towards sustainable development goals. Since I started the PhD in 2016, I have been communicating about it. Though I think explaining the idea ‘corporate sustainability’ to the man in the street or other researchers can be complex for several reasons.
1. So, are they sustainable?
Some time back, I was asked what my PhD was about. My easy answer to the question was “I study sustainability in business”. Then, the guy asked the simplest yet the most important question: “So, what did you find? are they sustainable?”. Easy to ask, difficult to answer. The intention is clear; the person who asks the question wants to make it clear that they are very sceptical that this is useful research. I understand.
Though, what they don't probably know is that there is no single type of business. There are those organisations that make a lot of progress. Some that lie about their progress and others that genuinely take some steps, however slow. There are also some that we consider as start-ups that are designed from the beginning to respond to many societal challenges.
There is also not a single definition of sustainability. There are some shared notions around sustainability contributing to society and protecting the natural environment. But, really, when we go deep- I am not even sure if we can agree on a single definition that would please everybody.
Then, as much as it sounds like a clever question to ask, in the end, I could only answer this ‘clever’ question with a normative statement that ‘I believe they should become’ or I can say that ‘no!-the majority of them are not sustainable, but some are, and we are trying to understand exactly why some are, and some are not’. In other words, the fact that I study sustainability in business does not mean I believe they are all sustainable, if they were, then we probably wouldn’t need the sustainable development goals to give us some direction. Then, I guess there would be no need to research ‘corporate (un)sustainability’ either.