Simon Fraser University, Beedie School of Business

Simon Fraser U

Embedding Project

Innovation Statement

The Embedding Project is a global public benefit research project that helps companies advance their sustainability efforts by embedding social and environmental factors across their operations and decision-making.

Call to Action

While an increasing number of senior executives have recognized the need to embed sustainability into their companies' operations and decision-making, most still struggle to do so. Globally, a set of leading companies has begun to integrate social and environmental factors into their core decision-making, and their growing knowledge and experience is ripe for broader application; if only it could be effectively harnessed and adapted for more wide-spread use.

The overall goal of the Embedding Project is to facilitate a multidirectional flow of theoretical and practical knowledge among researchers and practitioners by co-creating resources and tools that help companies make sustainability a regular part of their operations and decision-making. The Embedding Project is becoming a globally recognized source of knowledge for organizations seeking to advance their sustainability performance through collective learning grounded in high-quality research.

Innovation Description

The Embedding Project began with a systematic review of nearly 14,000 academic articles, books, and reports to bring together the best available knowledge on how to embed sustainability into business, conducted by Stephanie Bertels, associate professor and director of the Centre for Corporate Governance and Sustainability at SFU’s Beedie School of Business. From this research, she developed the embedding “wheel” framework that outlines a portfolio of business practices that help companies embed sustainability. Firms found value in the rigorous approach and sought guidance on how to implement it.

In response, Bertels formed the Embedding Project, bringing together leading business sustainability researchers and dozens of companies across North America, Europe, and Africa in regional peer networks. The companies benefit from the project’s systematic work to gather, rigorously compare, and learn from their strategies and tactics, seeking out the best and most relevant knowledge to produce guidebooks and toolkits that further their progress. Leveraging financial commitments from these companies, Bertels successfully secured 2.5 million CAD in funding through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. As a result, the Embedding Project will continue to develop new diagnostic tools, assessments, guidebooks, workbooks, and case studies that help chart a path to good business.

Innovation Impact

The Embedding Project has helped dozens of companies benchmark their efforts to embed sustainability and has helped them develop action plans to further their maturity. As one long-time member describes it, “… it saves me time, it’s learning in the fast track with leaders in the field.” Research data from the project has supported five PhD dissertations and nine articles in top management journals. The guidebooks, workbooks, over 50 case studies, and other resources from the project are being used in business classrooms around the world.

In 2018 alone, the Embedding Project shared its work at over 18 conferences in five countries, reaching thousands of sustainability professionals. The project has helped companies set ambitious new goals that include credible contributions to building and enhancing the environmental, social, and economic resilience of the communities in which they operate.

After the release of the latest guide on Developing Position Statements on Sustainability Issues (based on a review of over 3,200 statements and interviews with almost 300 CEOs and directors), five companies have already reached out to create or update board position statements on environmental and social issues.

The project received the 2018 Academy of Management’s inaugural International Impactful Collaboration Award for its practical and scholarly impact. The project has also been recognized with two Clean50 Top Project awards (for 2016 and 2019), which annually recognize leading Canadian projects with an impact on sustainability.

Reference Links

Innovation Partners

The Embedding Project brings together academic researchers from six institutions: SFU’s Beedie School of Business (where the Embedding Project is hosted), Cambridge University’s Judge Business School, MIT’s Sloan School of Management, Rotterdam School of Business, HEC Montreal, University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business.

The project also partners with dozens of global companies, including Teck Resources, TD Bank, the Port of Vancouver, and QuadReal, Woolworths, Santam, Nedbank, and AngloGold Ashanti.