In today’s business landscape, corporate sustainability is becoming mainstream. As much as it feels like the new normal among an increasingly larger population of global business, it is easy to forget the seismic shift that has taken place in business in the last 25 years, and especially since the turn of the century.

The story of how corporate sustainability emerged to shape the business agenda has
been told many times. But to better understand why we are where we are today, we offer here a snapshot of the last 15 years – a story of the rise of the modern corporate sustainability movement within which the United Nations Global Compact was born.

The drivers that have influenced the evolving relationship between business and society are many, but can largely be grouped in two broad categories. First, major events such as the financial crisis or catastrophic industrial accidents, which are hard to predict but have a substantial and sometimes disruptive impact on the environment in which business operates. Second, longer-term global trends, such as population growth and climate change. These progress more gradually, but are no less influential in shaping the world we live in.

Against this backdrop, a wide range of organisations and initiatives were launched all over the world at the end of the last millennium, not only playing a part in moving the sustainability agenda forward but also helping to craft a more collaborative atmosphere between business and civil society.

Established in 2000, the Global Compact epitomised this new approach, and has come to represent a new paradigm in collaboration between the United Nations and business – playing a fundamental role in the tidal wave of change we have seen in the past decade.