How to Launch a National Dialogue on Sustainability

Mar 12, 2014 12:30 PM ET
Civic Dialogue's Role in Building Sustainability

LONDON, ON, March 12, 2014 /3BL Media/ - Can we expect business to solve today’s most pervasive problems, like sustainable energy and consumption? New research from the Network for Business Sustainability (NBS) at the Ivey Business School shows how businesses can drive widespread change on sustainability issues. A guide for executives identifies civic dialogue as a tested way to move society from awareness to action on sustainability issues. A companion best practices guide provides detailed steps and checklists firms can use

These resources address one of the 2013 top Canadian business sustainability challenges identified by a roundtable of top companies including LoyaltyOne, TD Bank Group and Unilever.

“Leading businesses think they’re reaching a glass ceiling for sustainability,” said Dr. Tima Bansal, Executive Director of NBS and Professor at Western University’s Ivey Business School. “They often want to do more than many of their customers or shareholders are asking of them. For these business leaders to be able to act, society needs to also show leadership.”

Civic dialogues are an effective form of public conversation, capable of achieving fundamental change. Business historically has played little role in civic dialogues, yet its involvement can advance sustainability goals. They also help businesses understand customers, build brand and market and change the rules of the game. Companies learn about customers’ values and needs, shape market perceptions and interact directly with decision makers.

NBS’s resources detail:

  • The value of civic dialogue to business
  • Different models of civic dialogue
  • Different ways companies can be involved and key steps for effective engagement

Movement toward sustainability happens in three stages: awareness, shared understanding and action. Civic dialogue builds shared understanding by developing knowledge about an issue and promoting appreciation of others’ perspectives. The resulting consensus enables broad, lasting change.

This project represents an innovative collaboration between research and practice. Researcher Dr. Thomas Webler summarized the best academic and practical research available on civic engagement. A working session of leaders from the business, non-profit and academic communities provided extensive feedback, which Dr. Webler incorporated into the final documents.

“There’s no other way to really bring sustainability about without changing civil society,” says Webler. “The only way to change it in a democratic society is by changing public understanding. You can only do so much with regulatory processes or voluntary agreements. You need the rest of society to be behind it: to have a collective vision of where we want to go.”


Civic Dialogues on Sustainability: A Business Briefing (17 pages)

How to Engage in Civic Dialogue: A Best Practices Guide for Business (45 pages)


For more information, please contact Jessica Kilcoyne, Communications Coordinator, NBS at 519-661-2111 X88932 or

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About the Network for Business Sustainability
A Canadian non-profit, the Network for Business Sustainability (NBS) produces authoritative resources on important sustainability issues with the goal of changing management practice. We unite thousands of researchers and professionals worldwide who believe passionately in research-based practice and practice-based research. NBS is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), the Ivey Business School (Western University) and the École des Sciences de la Gestion (Université du Québec à Montréal). We also receive funding from private sector partners in our Leadership, Industry Association and SME (small and medium enterprise) Councils.

NBS Leadership Council Members
3M Canada, BC Hydro, Canadian Pacific Railway Limited, The Co-operators Group Limited, Environment Canada, Holcim (Canada) Inc., Industry Canada, International Institute for Sustainable Development, LoyaltyOne Inc., Pembina Institute, Suncor Energy Inc., Target Canada, TD Bank Group, Teck Resources Limited, The Home Depot of Canada Inc., Tembec Inc., Tim Hortons Inc., Unilever Canada Inc., Westport Innovations Inc.