Sustainability and Association Governance

You don’t need to be a member of Mensa, to realise that our world is facing significant social, environmental and economic challenges. Global trends like inequality, climate change and population growth, as well as hyper-transparency and growing consumer concern about the social and environmental impact of corporations, are currently profoundly reshaping the business environment and the role of associations.


For associations to succeed in the 21st century, it is becoming increasingly critical for association boards to broaden their governance agendas to include the oversight and development of strategies that address the association’s delivery of long-term value to society in financial, social, environmental and ethical terms.


However adoption and oversight of sustainability by association boards represents an area where vast improvement and gains can be achieved. Association board directors are uniquely positioned to ensure the full mainstreaming of sustainability into business strategy and practices in a way that will enhance member value, opening up opportunities for innovation, new revenue generation, enhancing brand reputation while motivating and retaining the association’s staff.


In September 2015, world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development including 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) to accelerate the transformative change needed to lead our world to a more sustainable future. This ambitious action agenda requires new and renewed global partnerships to address urgent global environmental and social challenges. Business associations are an essential enabler to scale up action. Through their extensive networks, business associations are able to serve as key platforms for developing and sharing knowledge on integrating sustainability measures into company operations, while catalysing collective action.

Over 61% of respondents to the UN Global Compact’s 2015 Annual Implementation Survey indicated that business associations are their preferred partner for collaborating on sustainability. Notably, 76% of the midcap companies (between 5,000 – 50,000 employees) indicated that they have undertaken sustainability partnerships with business associations.