Just as 2015 has been a milestone year for climate change awareness, it has also been a game changer in the world of sustainable development. Starting with the May publication of the Papal encyclical Laudato Si, a blistering critique of contemporary capitalism and its corrosive effects on the environment and citizens, the conversation surrounding sustainability policy has been shifting perceptibly.


Next week, the United Nations launches its much-discussed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of 17 objectives that represent a significant expansion on the commitments of the UN’s earlier Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Following on the heels of President Obama’s announcement of tighter greenhouse gas controls just last month, the SDGs are perhaps the single most tangible example of a changing mindset in sustainability policy.

The expectations and potential for sustainability policy are shifting, and decreasing the environmental footprint of industry is no longer enough; companies are now challenged to pursue more fundamental innovations in their operations, leading ultimately to net-zero solutions and circularity. The SDGs also incorporate a strong social responsibility agenda: with their inclusion in the language of the SDGs, diversity, women’s empowerment, democratized access to capital and poverty reduction have all been given a prominent place in the discussion, as well as in plans for future development.

Nor is 2015 over: On November 30th of this year, the United Nations Conference of the Parties kicks off its 21st session in Paris, with a goal of forging a new international accord limiting greenhouse gas emissions. Though skeptics abound, expectations are high.

Motivated by public opinion, shareholder demands and the exigencies of risk management, businesses across all categories have joined the sustainability conversation with a full voice. Often, there are operational efficiencies to be gained with more sustainable practices. The more companies that share their successes, the more the marketplace is beginning to see good sustainability policy for what it is: a competitive advantage.

For more on this topic, read the recent the GreenBiz article here.