Liam Dowd, sector head of Reuters Events Sustainable Business, assesses the magazine’s progress, and looks forward to the future
December 2001 marked the first-ever edition of Ethical Corporation. For 20 years the magazine has assisted thousands of the world’s leading professionals and brands – in sustainability, procurement, finance and more – with insight, ideas and case studies on how to make a responsible and sustainable business environment a reality.
It is said that the past is an unreliable guide for what the future might hold. But I’d like to look back at our first-ever issue and understand whether what we covered then is markedly different to what we cover now – as one would hope that in 2041 The Ethical Corporation magazine will be covering different topics than it is currently.
If not, then where’s the progress against the UN SDGs and Paris Agreement that we all desperately want and need to see?
The December 2001 issue talked to the business case of integrating corporate social responsibility into leadership roles, creating global benchmarks for corporate responsibility, a growing trend to socially responsible investing (SRI) funds in the finance space, and the benefits of clear, concise and transparent communications around corporate responsibility, to name a few. One could argue that these topics are still ever-present in discussions in our field, though maybe slightly more advanced, and with the replacement of “sustainability” for “corporate responsibility” and ESG for SRI.
We also covered the Rio +20 conference and COP17 in Durban. Neither made mainstream news front pages or headlines on national TV channels
Fast forward nine years to early 2010, which is when I joined the team, overseeing subscriptions for the magazine and our reports. Around this time, we were publishing 10- to 20-page briefings on the state of CSR in chosen countries, we were regularly writing features on the impacts and risks within corporate supply chains – although most focus was on social issues – and published a very successful intelligence report on embedding CR across different parts of your company.
We also covered the Rio +20 conference on Sustainable Development and COP17 in Durban. Whilst both were covered extensively by us, and no doubt others in the sustainability space, neither made mainstream news front pages or headlines on national TV channels.
A stand-out development from what we were covering then, and now, is we wouldn’t be able to cover the state of CSR in select countries in such few pages. There are now so many issues, complexities and focus within our space I genuinely believe a full 40 to 50-page issue wouldn’t cover all the key issues within a given country.
So, what am I trying to say? It could be easy for us to look at past magazine issues and the topics we covered and be disheartened by the apparent lack of progress. But looking at it from a different angle we can see considerable progress, and more importantly, a lot of exciting opportunities ahead of us.
The Ethical Corporation magazine itself is in a very different place now to where it started. We are now owned by Reuters, the world’s largest and most trusted news provider. This brings a lot of opportunity for us to bring our analysis, and new insights and ideas to an audience that’s frankly not part of the sustainability/ESG/climate echo chamber.
And I’m excited to say that next year we’ll be doing just that. We have some very exciting developments for 2022 as we embark on a journey to help support business as a whole transform behind a net-positive ambition.
Will I still be here for the 40-year magazine issue? Maybe.
Will the sustainability function still exist in 20 years’ time? I hope not. By then, if we’ve succeeded, it’s part of an overall business strategy and integrated within skillsets of other parts of the business.
I genuinely feel in the next couple of years we’ll see a sea-change in action and investments
Will we have met the UN SDGs and be well on track to meet the 1.5C target? The eternal optimist in me says yes, I genuinely feel in the next couple of years we’ll see a sea-change in action and investments. Partly due to the increasing pressures placed on business from society and the environment. But also due to the innovation and business opportunity that is unfolding across several industries.
We are on the cusp of the sustainability revolution, and I look forward to the magazine being a place where you can learn how your company can help lead this revolution.
I’d like to thank some people for helping us get to where we are now: Toby Webb for having the vision and determination to create the magazine back in 2001 and Ian Welsh for steering the editorial coverage for many years. To the present, Sarah Redman for her excellent work in designing our monthly publication and Karen Luckhurst, who sub-edits the magazine and helps to ensure our content is of the highest quality.
I also want to thank the writers who have reported on the issues with such depth and insight over the years: Oliver Balch, Peter Knight, April Streeter, Rajesh Chhabara, Claire Manuel, Eric Marx, Ellen Delisio, Elaine Cohen, Mallen Baker, Jeni Bauser Yaghoubi, Andrea Bonime-Blanc, Nadine Hawa and Stephen Gardner, and more recent contributors such as Martin Wright, Catherine Early, Mark Hillsdon, Maxine Perella, Mike Scott, Sarah LeBrecque and Angeli Mehta.
And finally, I’d like to thank our editor-in-chief Terry Slavin for taking this publication to new heights. Terry has been instrumental to some recent changes to the magazine and will be again in 2022. The four in-depth issues that we’ve published this year have been some of the best in our history, and I look forward to reading our 2022 issues and more.
Liam Dowd is sector head of Reuters Events Sustainable Business.
This article is part of the Winter 2021, and anniversary issue, of The Ethical Corporation. See also:
Why business journalists need to challenge the ESG orthodoxy
In 20 years, Ethical Corporation hasn’t lost its pioneering spirit
‘Ethical Corporation has been a beacon of light in a sea of CSR dross’
Slim Pickens and wooden water pipes: Tales from a U.S. sustainability consultancy
‘By 2041, I suspect most major brands of today will be unknown’
To fight greenwash, brands need to become advocates for change
Nine business trends that will power us to a more sustainable future
Why all MBA graduates need to be part of the sustainability revolution
Why nature is the secret, under-priced sauce of the global economy
‘As climate change takes an increasing toll, it will be a case of adapt or die’
Hope for achieving the SDGs lies in a new generation about to take over the boardroom
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