In the last several decades there has been a growing realisation that businesses need to adopt a longer-term focus and balance value creation with broader social and environmental needs. For many of the world's leading businesses this process is already in train through the adoption of techniques such as 'triple bottom-line' reporting, corporate social responsibility (CSR), corporate citizenship, organisational sustainability, and 'creating shared value' (CSV). Innovative businesses have embraced new practices and processes to respond to these concerns, including voluntary reporting of their economic, social and environmental performance (e.g. UN Global Compact, Carbon Disclosure Project, Dow Jones Sustainability Index), a greater focus on stakeholders including customers, suppliers, communities and non-government organisations, and the establishment of specialist sustainability managers and executives often in senior strategic roles.
The Balanced Enterprise research network was created in April 2013 as one of the University of Sydney Business School's research priority areas. The network consists of a range of scholars interested in the balance between the economic, social and environmental implications of business activities. While the ambit of the network is broad, the following issues are indicative of our focus:
- Business sustainability and creating shared value (CSV): Sustainability has become a core focus of business evident in strategic planning and operational processes. Sustainability and the related concept of shared value emphasise the need for businesses to look beyond short-term shareholder concerns and identify activities which create long-term financial as well as social and environmental value. This extends beyond established business models to 'social enterprises', co-operatives and new corporate forms such as 'benefit corporations'.
- Corporate environmentalism and climate change: Businesses are key actors in society's response to climate change as major producers of greenhouse gases, but also in their key role in the transition to a low-carbon society. Concepts such as 'corporate environmentalism' promote the idea that through improved efficiency and the development of 'green' products and services, businesses can not only benefit their shareholders through improved returns, but also improve the environment and society though carbon emissions mitigation.
- Corporate reporting and sustainability ranking: The growth of new forms of business reporting, such as triple-bottom line and integrated reporting, highlight how a broader range of metrics are now considered in assessing business performance. This includes the growth of sustainability rankings of business behaviour in areas such as environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG).
- Community engagement and corporate citizenship: The relationship between businesses and their communities has become increasingly important particularly in areas of contested development (e.g. NGO activism over the social and environmental impacts of corporate activities). Businesses have responded through more active community and political engagement, however this highlights the tensions implicit in balancing competing objectives.
- Organisational culture and employee well-being: A core feature of business sustainability is the development of workplace trust and a work environment that generates high performance and employee satisfaction. Related issues of job insecurity, work intensification and work design emphasise the internal challenges of the balanced enterprise.
- Gender and diversity: Leading businesses are recognising the advantages of greater workforce diversity and gender equity. These include improved innovation, employee engagement, stakeholder management and productivity. Indeed, community expectations in relation to gender equity and diversity in employment, careers and organisational leadership have changed dramatically in the past decade, with a growing emphasis on progressive, relevant business practice and the potential for government regulation of, among other things, board diversity. Smart businesses are taking steps to build greater gender equity and diversity in their workplaces in order to sharpen business acumen and improve organisational performance.