At the CBSR Summit, John Elkington, the “Grandfather of Sustainability,” gave the keynote address through which he illustrated the need for companies to become transformational in their approach to CSR and Sustainability.

By Christine Johnston

Realized Worth attended the 11th Annual CBSR Summit on November 6, 2013 in Toronto. It was a fantastic event, at which John Elkington, the keynote speaker, began the day with an important message for everyone involved in the CSR and Sustainability fields: global change is ripe but companies must become transformational to secure the breakthroughs necessary for significant and lasting change.


Elkington outlined in his presentation that societal pressure caused by shifting demographics and the increasing prevalence of cross-sector issues are the main forces currently driving change in CSR and Sustainability efforts. He credited “Shared Value“, a concept brought forward by these drivers, with being one of the most significant contributions to the field to date, but asserted that its full potential has yet to be realized due to a lack of transformational change contributing to breakthroughs.

Elkington outlined the 3 trajectories through which change happens:

  1. Breakdown Trajectory: change results in reverting to previous operating systems and goals.
  2. Change-as-Usual Trajectory: change results in incremental steps, out of touch with societal trends and with significant time lags.
  3. Breakthrough Trajectory: significant change and solutions are secured through new systems and goals.

Successful Breakthrough Factors

To jump from a Change-As-Usual Trajectory to a Breakthrough Trajectory, Elkington argued that companies must become transformative in their overall business approach. To do this, he suggested that a form of “integrated accounting”, which would incorporate different types of capital, (human capital and social capital, for example) into a company’s balance sheets to demonstrate the benefits of transformational business approaches. This concept is also advocated for in William Eggers & Paul MacMillan’s new book, The Solution Revolution (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). Elkington cautioned that if companies do not recognize the potential contribution of operating in a transformational way, breakthrough change will not be achieved and we will continue on the path of incremental “change-as-usual”.

Where are you?

Is your company transformational? Is it working to achieve breakthroughs, rather than change-as-usual in the CSR/Sustainability field?

Christine Johnston Project Manager


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