A month ago,\u00a0181 US companies announced\u00a0that shareholder interests would no longer be the primary driving force behind all corporate decisions. Those who signed the statement included large companies such as JPMorgan Chase, General Motors and Apple.\nFive new priorities were outlined: delivering value to customers, investing in employees, dealing fairly and ethically with suppliers, supporting communities and generating long-term value for shareholders.\nGiven\u00a0the challenge that the liberal economic system is facing with the rise of anti-capitalism, it is perhaps not surprising that the largest corporations are responding.\u00a0\nConscious that most people do not go into second or third order thinking (for more on this,\u00a0I recommend Ray Dalio) about who \u201cshareholders\u201d really are and why focusing on them does actually translate into benefits for all, this new approach makes those benefits explicit. It expands upon and actually simplifies the idea of \u201cshareholder value\u201d to show that it doesn\u2019t just mean monetary value.\nThe sustainability of a corporation\nSustainability has always been part of the corporate purpose. Without profits, companies eventually go out of business. They must create a sustainable business that can continue for the long term. The challenge that the new priorities are intending to address is that the means of achieving this has often been at odds with certain long-term goals.\n\n"Sustainability involves more than \u201cthe environment\u201d; it is equally interested in social sustainability (often summarized as well-being, equality, democracy, and justice) and sensible economics but, above all, in the interconnectedness of these domains. \u2013Jeremy L Caradonna, \u201cSustainability\u201d (2014)\n\nIt is the interconnectedness that has often been missing from the discourse around the profit motive. That is, profit was assumed to be at the expense of everything else because the idea of pure \u201cshareholder\u201d value was too ambiguous.\nGovernments have been pushing corporations to consider sustainability as a specific, board level concern for some time. The UK has required reporting for all quoted companies since 2013 and the Greenhouse Gas reporting standards are already used by 9 out of 10 Fortune 500 companies.\u00a0\nWhilst the word \u201csustainability\u201d is not being used, the reverse definition of the new corporate priorities outlined by The Business Roundtable announcement is: sustainability.\nThe second step isn\u2019t as easy as the first\nThe easiest change large corporations can make is about how decisions are made in the future. Internal policy changes drive decisions and so\u00a0making changes to things like vendor requirements for purchasing and procurement\u00a0are a good way to exert pressure on the market.\nCorporate investment into startups is another way large cash resources can be put to work.\u00a0$49bn has been invested in cleantech since 2006\u00a0and there are a number of new funds starting up.\u00a0Breakthrough Energy Ventures\u00a0is a $1bn fund leading the way, backed by Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Richard Branson and many others. Corporate investors like National Grid, Shell and BP are also actively investing in (and acquiring) startups.\nCorporates have a few areas of low hanging fruit they can start with, but the next step involves making potentially costly changes to existing systems and infrastructure. Startups have an advantage because they can consider sustainability from the beginning, but this has to be a board level issue for large businesses as well as small.\u00a0\nWith the old approach of a singular focus on \u201cmaximizing shareholder value\u201d, it could be difficult to argue for adopting more sustainable practices. But now there are four other corporate priorities, executives should find it easier to build the case for taking real action.\n\u201cHow sustainable is this?\u201d\nRedefining the purpose of a corporation means reconsidering how decisions are made. A standard part of business decision making includes considering financial costs. That now has to extend to sustainability costs as a key part of how decisions are made. This could even come down to questioning whether \u201cgrowth\u201d itself is sustainable.\nGrowth is relevant for startups but is it really the right goal for large corporates?\n\n\u201cThe verb \u2018to grow\u2019 has become so overladen with positive value connotations that we have forgotten its first literal dictionary denotation, namely, \u2018to spring up and develop to maturity.\u2019 Thus, the very notion of growth includes some concept of maturity or sufficiency, beyond which point physical accumulation gives way to physical maintenance.\u201d Even Adam Smith and Keynes had suggested that a society could, in theory, reach a level of wealth at which point growth would take a back seat to human happiness. Yet to question the benefits of growth in the 1960s was tantamount to telling a sixteenth-century pope that the Earth orbited the sun.\u201d \u2013Herman Daly, \u201cSteady-State Economics\u201d (1977)\n\nReconsidering the fundamental driver of corporate valuations is perhaps too much to expect in the short term, but it is a useful way to frame the question of how sustainability can be built into decision-making.\nThis will likely start with investigating the economic benefits of considering the environment.\u00a0Renewable energy is already cheaper than fossil fuels\u00a0so switching suppliers and investigating building energy usage will already have an immediate cost saving impact.\nOver the longer term, we will see executive teams include sustainability considerations when deciding broader corporate strategy. Whether that is choosing a cloud provider for their IT, selecting a new office location vs\u00a0remote working\u00a0or adjusting HR policies to include better conditions for workers, sustainability is now an implicit part of the purpose of a corporation.