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Sustainability and Shared Value: FAQ

By Jonathon Hanks and Nicola Robins

Q: Is ‘shared value’ the same as ‘sustainability’?

A: No. Although the terms are often used loosely together, and generally share the same intended outcome (a more equitable society living within ecological boundaries) they differ in scope and application.

  • Shared value is overtly about business strategy and the decisions that companies take in pursuit of profit. It refers to a particular kind of business strategy – one that that delivers competitive advantage by addressing societal challenges. It works explicitly within the business framework, seeking to engage business in addressing societal challenges.
  • Sustainability, while admittedly meaning different things to different people, takes a broader perspective. It highlights the need for transformative, systemic change, informed ultimately by a values-based lens. As John Elkington has put it: “If Shared Value is essentially about creating new types of win-win outcomes, then sustainability—in addition—is about identifying and handling the inevitable win-lose and lose-lose outcomes that will cascade from the… grand challenges that the global economy will face in coming decades.”

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