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Do Board-Level Sustainability Committees Impact Company Performance?


Do Board-Level Sustainability Committees Impact Company Performance?

Is it beneficial for corporate boards to continue to adopt and dedicate resources to sustainability committees when early findings from academic research have shown these committees have little to no performance impact? New research indicates yes. Bentley University Ph.D. Candidate Jenna Burke, along with co-authors Professors Rani Hoitash (Bentley University) and Udi Hoitash (Northeastern University), explore this topic in a paper to be published in the Journal of Business Ethics. 

Like many sustainability initiatives in modern corporations, some view the adoption of board-level sustainability committees as a mere symbolic action to appease disgruntled stakeholders and don’t believe they increase company performance. The authors found opposite results when they examined more than 1,200 sustainability committees during the period 2003-2013. They found evidence suggesting:

  • Companies can benefit from adopting committees that are relevant to their business model and focused on specific stakeholder groups.
  • Performance impacts vary with the stakeholder focus of and resource dedication to the committee, as well as the industry sustainability landscape
    • For instance, a committee focused on safety issues at an airline company benefits employees and consumers, while a committee focused on environment issues at a coal company mostly benefits the environment.
  • The most effective committees are larger in size, made up of independent directors, and meet on a more frequent basis.

“When a committee is relevant to business and industry needs, it is able to satisfy stakeholders and shareholders alike by pursuing sustainability opportunities and protecting value from risks,” explained the authors. “Our research provides support for public companies to consider board-level sustainability committees as a mechanism to improve sustainability performance.”

The paper will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Business Ethics and is also available to download here.

Media Contact: 
Meredith Mason, 781.891.2755,


Hands-On Learning
March 31, 2017

The Yawkey Foundations have recognized Bentley University’s longstanding commitment to service-learning and awarded the university $500,000 to educate students to effectively lead nonprofit organizations and expand student efforts to help community groups.