The History of Sustainability

Karin Laljani

In the run up to Corporate Citizenship’s 20 years’ anniversary this week, we wanted to look back in time – back into the history of our company founded by Amanda Jordan, Mike Tuffrey and David Logan, and all the way back to the concept of sustainability being born. A history timeline was the outcome and it laid clear the multiple events – some small and others really significant – which have got companies to where we are and what we face today in our relationship with the wider society.

While there were hundreds of events – some were of course more significant change agents than others. Starting with the year 1713, when the expression ‘sustainability’ was born as we know it today. Though it has expanded quite remarkably. Hans Carl von Carlowitz from Freiberg in Germany raised his voice in concern about deforestation and a plea for conservation of Saxony. Nachhaltigkeit in German translates to Sustainability, the term Carlowitz used to describe the rule that for every tree species, prescribed felling rates were defined – namely annual maximum quantities of wood that were permissible to cut in a section of forest – in his document Sylvicultura oeconomica. Significant because it started setting boundaries for what sustainability meant – it has of course expanded over the years multiple times.

Then 120 years later regulatory changes abolished slavery in the British Empire in 1833 and the modern slavery act was established in 2015, including a clause requiring all large companies to publish an annual statement on the measures they are taking to address the risk of modern slavery in their supply chains.

And last year an encouraging development in the investment community – Larry Fink, the CEO of asset management firm BlackRock, writes to company CEOs, stressing the real and quantifiable impact of ESG issues. Meanwhile a survey of globally managed assets finds that 26% now integrate ESG aspects. Now we are getting to the core of company purpose – encouraging corporations to think beyond short-term profit maximisation to long term value creation to thrive.

And while we as a consultancy often provide traditional support to our clients like reporting, impact measurement, assurance and policy scoping, it is never far from our hearts and minds how we might use this to help our clients respond strategically to the changing nature of society and pro-actively become role model corporate citizens to thrive longer term. Understand your impacts and be pro-active in reducing the negative and increase the positive impacts, including that of your business and society.

If you want to see the many other events that shaped the relationship between company and society, do check out the history timeline. Should you have events that you find significant going forward, give us a call at +44(0) 20 7861 1616, or email us directly at Our editorial team would be happy to evaluate for inclusion!

Comment (1)

  1. Steve Workman says:

    Really like the timeline Karin – very engaging and informative. Many congratulations to Amanda, Mike and David for their insight in being at the leading edge 20 years ago and for Corporate Citizenship maintaining that lead through to the present day. I hope a few bottle of Krug have been opened to celebrate!

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