A commitment to strengthened relationships

Reconciliation and sustainability, Part 1: Why we must challenge our current approach to corporate sustainability

The movement to incorporate sustainability considerations in business decision making has been swift, but it’s now time to pause and reflect on where to go from here. Principles of Reconciliation must be a driving force in setting the direction for corporate sustainability strategies.

To understand why corporate sustainability strategies should be rooted in Reconciliation, we need to ask ourselves what the word “sustainability” means. A common definition is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same.” How many companies are truly operating in this way today? Which raises the question, who is driving current approaches to corporate sustainability, and who is it intended to benefit?

By adding a Reconciliation lens to sustainability work, we can make sure that the true meaning of the word is respected. Indigenous rightsholders have successfully stewarded the land for millennia. Building relationships with communities and understanding their priorities is key for organizations to learn how to operate in a truly sustainable way.

Reconciliation also means making sure that any business operating on Indigenous territories has Free, Prior and Informed Consent of the rightsholders. Communities are diverse in identity and circumstance and must have autonomy in deciding how their Lands and Waters are used and impacted. Reconciliation includes creating opportunities for Indigenous project equity and benefit sharing − quite the opposite to the still common approach where Indigenous Peoples receive no or little compensation for the use of their resources, while non-Indigenous companies profit.

Perhaps true corporate sustainability needs more than the linear, one-size-fits-all approach we have been using for years – an approach that reminds us of the colonial thinking that contributed to our current climate crisis. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s sixth report has named colonialism as a historical and continuous driver of the climate crisis, which supports the need for Reconciliation action to lie at the heart of all corporate environmental action.

A reminder that engagement with Indigenous rightsholders must be done without placing the burden on communities to educate non-Indigenous businesses on how to “achieve” sustainability. In the same way the responsibility for Reconciliation falls on non-Indigenous people, the responsibility to use and replenish natural resources at a sustainable rate also falls on those who contributed to the problem.

Sheena Li and Tara Campbell contributed to this article. Our team is attending The FNMPC 5th Annual IEE: Towards Net Zero by 2050 Conference. We look forward to furthering our learning on this topic and connecting with other champions in this space.

Learn. Commit. Act.

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