Handbook of Sustainable Development
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Handbook of Sustainable Development

Second Edition

Edited by Giles Atkinson, Simon Dietz, Eric Neumayer and Matthew Agarwala

This timely and important Handbook takes stock of progress made in our understanding of what sustainable development actually is and how it can be measured and achieved.
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Chapter 35: Corporate social responsibility, sustainability and the governance of business

Andy Gouldson, Rory Sullivan and Stavros Afionis


Companies are hugely important actors in modern society and clearly have a critical role to play if we are to make the transition to a more sustainable economy and society. To some extent, it is hoped that their contribution to such a transition will be motivated by their commitments on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Such commitments are normally made voluntarily and are delivered through various forms of self-regulation or corporate governance. But they are of course also motivated by market opportunities and driven by different stakeholder pressures and policy demands. The climate for CSR therefore encapsulates many dimensions of broader debates on governance in that it emphasizes the importance of public, private and civic action in shaping the conditions for the governance of business ‘from the outside’ and the role that self-regulation can play in enabling the governance of business ‘from the inside’. Under the banner of CSR, many (particularly larger and higher profile) companies have taken a variety of actions such as reducing their consumption of energy and other resources, reducing emissions, effluents and wastes, and developing products and services with better environmental or sustainability characteristics. CSR commitments and actions are often presented by companies as voluntary or beyond compliance initiatives that are delivered through various forms of self-regulation or corporate governance. In practice, however, these commitments and actions are usually motivated by policy pressures, market opportunities and stakeholder demands.

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