A brief overview on environmental summits and the history of CSR


Politicians have talked about our unsustainable consumption and production patterns for decades. The first Earth Summit took place in Stockholm in 1972 and resulted in a declaration of 26 principles meant to inspire and guide people to preserve and enhance the human environment – the summit also led to the establishment of the United Nations Environmental Programme. Sixteen years later, in 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was established, and in 1992 the UN conference on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro laid the ground for the yearly COP meetings on climate change, held for the first time in 1995 in Berlin.  These meetings are still running – COP 25 is planned to take place in Santiago, Chile, from 2-13 December 2019.

The business community has been concerned with its impact on society for centuries. However, the modern era of CSR is often said to begin in the early 1950s with the book Social Responsibility of the Businessman by Howard Bowen, who defined CSR as “the obligations of businessmen to pursue those policies, to make those decisions, or to follow those lines of action which are desirable in terms of the objectives and values of our society” (Bowen, 1953, p. 6). In the following years, numerous scholars published books and research articles on CSR, but it was not until the early 1990s that companies had an official CSR policy. Today, this has changed dramatically. According to an analysis from KPMG (2017), only 12 percent of large companies reported on their CSR activities in 1993 – in 2017, the number was 75 percent. Today, there exists a wide range of CSR and sustainability initiatives, including organisations like the UN Global Compact that present social and environmental corporate guidelines and provide ratings for companies, e.g., the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices that evaluate companies’ sustainability performance.

Bowden, H. (1953). Social Responsibility of the Businessman. New York: Harper & Row.
KPMG (2017). The road ahead – The KPMG Survey of Corporate Responsibility Reporting 2017. KPMG.