Special edition of International and Comparative Corporate Law Journal: Countries, companies and possibilities and barriers for sustainability

Climate change makes it necessary for companies to work sustainably. In this special issue, three scholars raises the questions of what possibilities and barriers enable or hinder corporate sustainability in Norway, Poland and the UK.

Climate change is a case in point for the necessity of working towards a sustainable development; towards achieving economic development and social justice within the non-negotiable limits of our planet, as is the biodiversity crisis. Norway, home of Gro Harlem Brundtland, chair of the UN-appointed Commission that through its report “Our Common Future” put sustainable development on the global agenda, prides itself on being an environmentally-friendly nation.

Findings from the Sustainable Companies project

This special number stems from the large project Sustainable Companies. The Sustainable Companies Project commenced in 2010 and involved a team of more than 40 legal scholars mapping the law in 26 jurisdictions across the globe. The company law analysis was based on such mapping and on further extensive research into the barriers and possibilities company law provides for sustainable companies. The research was conducted by the head of the project, Professor Beate Sjåfjell, together with Professors Andrew Johnston and David Millon, and research assistant Linn Anker-Sørensen. The focus was on the environmental dimension of sustainability, with climate change as the case in point. Analyses from the project are also published in the book Company Law and Sustainability - Legal Barriers and Opportunities, edited by Professor Beate Sjåfjell and Benjamin Richardson. 

In the case of Norway, although the country does have a good international repute, its oil-based economy makes the challenge of achieving a smooth transition to a sustainable economy (in the environmental and social sense as well as the economic) no less for Norway than for other countries. In such a transition, business will inevitably need to play an important role. This is highlighted in the article written by Professor Sjåfjell.

Companies the main contributors to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions

The vast impact that the operations of companies today, on an aggregated level, have on the global economy, on society in general and on the biosphere and the atmosphere, means that a critical analysis of the purpose of companies and the regulatory framework within which they operate is crucial to a deeper understanding of the correlation between society and sustainable development. The company is the most important private legal vehicle to gather capital, generate profits and redistribute income in the world. In the case of Poland, Radwan’s and Regucki’s research enlighten the relations between the free-market economy, climate change and company law from both economic and legal perspective, as well as the “main doctrinal approaches by Polish legal scholarship to the notion of company’s interest – the shareholder and stakeholder value theories and their reception in the academia and by the judiciary”.

Focus on profit maximisation for the benefit of shareholders

Companies are the main contributors to anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through their choices concerning research and development, their use of resources, their production and transportation, and their – and the end users' – use and recycling or discharge of products. In other words, companies are a major contributor to the problem. They can also become a key factor in finding the solution. The discussion of how to resolve this should rise above and go beyond the corporate social responsibility (CSR) debate. With regards to Charlotte Villiers’ article on the UK, she shows how there is “very little reference within company law to the issues of climate change and sustainability”. Corporate Social Responsibility remains largely voluntary in the UK and the focus is on “enabling profit maximisation for the benefit of shareholders”.

Exploring an ignored area of company law

As a part of the work in the Oslo-based research project Sustainable Companies, these articles map the possibilities and barriers in the Norwegian, Polish and UK legal framework for companies for promoting sustainable companies in the environmental sense. The aim of the project is to find out how to better integrate environmental concerns into the decision-making in companies. The core focus of the papers, as of the project itself, is the hither-to to a great extent ignored area of company law.

Read the article ‘Sustainable companies: Possibilities and barriers in Norwegian Company Law’ on SSRN

Read the article ‘The Possibilities for and Barriers to Sustainable Companies in Polish Company Law’ on SSRN

Article by Sjåfjell, Beate (ed)

International and Comparative Corporate Law Journal, Volume 11, issue 1, (CMP Publishing, 2015), s. 1 –58, which includes the following articles:

Published Jan. 26, 2016 12:08 PM - Last modified July 1, 2020 9:24 AM