How can Corporates Integrate Sustainability Principles in Their Strategy? Discuss with Examples.
The report discusses the question of ‘How can Corporates Integrate Sustainability Principles in Their Strategy?’ By reviewing the history, purpose, and drivers behind sustainability, it gives a 4-step framework towards integrating sustainability principles into corporate strategy. The 4 steps include understanding business model, embed culture from high executives, process and action planning, and monitor and integrated reporting. The report later tests the framework by analysing the case of Taiwan’s Delta Group. The reasons behind the successful implementation on sustainability and CSR for Delta are its fully understanding of business model, clear corporate culture and management, good process and action plan, and comprehensive monitoring and reporting, which align with the framework. Last, the report concludes with four management implications which are embed sustainability principles into business operations, organisational culture is the key towards corporate sustainability, integrate company culture into action plans, and establish mechanisms to assess sustainability progress.
Table of Contents
This report will first introduce a 4-step framework to integrate sustainability principles into a company’s strategy. Then give an example of Delta Electronics, which is the leading corporation that integrates sustainability concepts in Taiwan, analysing how their successful integration relates to the framework.
In 1987, the Brundtland commission of the United Nations states that ‘Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ (IISD, 2017) Through this statement, sustainable development can also be categorised into three pillars: Economical, Social, and Environmental. It involves not only the financial aspects, but also in human well-being. All the three subjects need to be considered, which relates to the triple bottom line approach (Elkington, 1997). Many companies are now integrating sustainability principles in their strategy, pursuing further goals than just retaining reputation, but also on energy preservation, green products development, and employee satisfaction (Bonini, 2011)
The concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has often been linked with corporate sustainability. The two terms─CSR and sustainability have been often mentioned together in corporate sustainability reports and are being used as comparable concepts (Emerson, 2003; Mazon, 2004). According to Hopkins, CSR covers issues related to sustaining a corporation as well as issues which companies are responsible for (Hopkins, 2016). Both terms analyse sustainability with economic, social, and environmental aspects, and include multiple levels of analysis and relationships with stakeholders (Petrinil & Pozzebon, 2010). In the report, both terms will be used, and examples of Delta Group implementing CSR will be mentioned in the case study in section 3.
Since the industrial revolution, business, science and technology have evolved considerably. Human population has grown rapidly and overly used environmental resources. Also with the economic crisis, accounting and financial scandals occurring, sustainability has become an important topic. In the past few decades, corporate sustainability has been considerably discussed and set as a strategic goal in corporations. As companies grew into a larger scale, it is also important to think about the future and help it last longer. According to an Accenture report, ‘97% of CEOs believe sustainability is important to the future success of the business.’ (Accenture, 2016: p.4) However, achieving this goal has been hard for most companies. Study shows that only 2% of the sustainability programs are successful (Bain, 2016). Thus, the importance of forming a plan to integrate the principles to achieve an efficient and value-creating outcome.
At the very beginning, the activities related to sustainability are about companies doing philanthropy, which is giving back to communities as they gain profits. Later on, it turns to investing in businesses that do not bring negative impacts to society. For example, companies avoid investing in tobacco brands as smoking is bad for health. Recently, the term has evolved and added with a more value-driven aspect, which are company growth and value creation (PwC, 2012). Businesses now are managing the sustainability risks and even seek opportunities to long-term growth: A McKinsey survey shows that companies are putting emphasis on environmental and social issues which could generate growth and return on capital to help companies capture value, and 57% of the companies have integrated sustainability strategy in their businesses with an emphasis on company mission and values (Bonini, 2011).
A strategy typically includes both external and internal factors. External drivers regard to the outside of the company such as business or nature environment, company position, and competitors; Internal includes risk management, competitive advantage, and cost/profit analysis (Bansal & Roth, 2000). By understanding the drivers behind companies encouraging sustainability would be useful to build a solid strategy. Figure 1 is a list of the ‘Organisational Influences and Drivers for Corporate Sustainability’ (Bansal & Roth, 2000; Lozano, 2013; Engert et al., 2016).
Figure 1: Organisational Influences & Drivers for Corporate Sustainability
(Bansal & Roth, 2000; Lozano, 2013; Engert et al., 2016)
The above drivers, however, cover a more passive side of enforcing sustainability into practice. The active side, as mentioned in section 1.2, is about being aware of the social, environmental and economic impacts and build a better world for the future.
After knowing the fundamentals that motivate businesses to be more sustainable, this section focuses on the ways and plans to incorporate strategies. The following is a 4-step approach towards integrating sustainability principals into businesses. This framework is based on Oertwig et al’s original 5-step Sustainable Industrial Value Creation Model (Oertwig et al., 2017) with two changes: (1) Highlight the importance of the top management team for strategy development and sustainability culture embedding; (2) Rearrange the last three steps into two. The changes were made to highlight the significance of the influence which high executives can have on building a sustainable company culture, also to simplify the last three steps to make the process more straight forward as some concepts are overlapping thus could be put at the same category.
The model follows a planning cycle of plan, do, assess, and adjust, and provides an approach for corporations to integrate sustainability concepts that could create value not only in the short term, but in the long run as well.
- Step 1. Understand the Business Model
Business model is ‘the fundamental structures for how companies create, deliver and capture value’ (Osterwalder, 2010). A business model presents a clear picture of how company operates (Oertwig et al, 2017). Knowing the cause-effect of how companies create financial and non-financial value, can help provide a clear picture of a business’ value proposition and purpose. It also helps businesses to identify how and where sustainability can be embedded. Giving a business model mapping can provide a clear vision and set values for the business, which helps to create a more comprehensive plan and gain insights to where sustainability can be integrated in the future, which will increase the possibility to succeed (Mosher, 2015). Thus, having a clear idea of the company’s business model is the fundamental step to other measures.
- Step 2. Embed Culture from the Top Management Team
After having a fundamental concept of the business’ strength and weakness, and knowing of where to integrate sustainability measures, it is time to develop an organised strategy. To implement the strategy and reach great goals, it is likely to succeed by using a top down approach─execution from the top management team.
According to Bain’s survey report on sustainability success factors, leadership support contributes to sustainability success the most compare to others (Bain & Company, 2016). CEO and executive level often have the most power and the ‘lift-off energy’ (Davis-Peccoud, Stone, & Tovey, 2016) to form fundamental and long-lasting changes. Hence, if company TMT can set an example and form a strategy, it would form a path to success. To develop a sound strategy, there are two factors which needed to be considered by the TMT: changing the mindset of the employees and building a sustainability culture.
Changing the Mindset
Many company internal stakeholders believe that setting sustainability goals are bad for business (finance-wise). In Bain’s survey, 62% think that having sustainability goals are nice, but not essential (Bain & Company, 2016). However, this is not true nowadays. It also indicates that many thinks in a short-term sense and ignore the social and environmental factors of the sustainability concept. Recent studies have shown that enforcing sustainability measures can create value and even profit in the long-run (Bonini, 2011). In Nielsen’s Global Corporate Sustainability Report, brands that have put in sustainability efforts have grown four times faster than those who have not (Nielsen, 2015).
An effective way for CEOs to start changing the mindset and integrate sustainability concept to a corporate culture is by forming a win-win situation for both business and sustainability (Davis-Peccoud, Stone, & Tovey, 2016). Take Walmart as an example, the first step Walmart took to embed sustainability principles in their products is to reduce the use of packaging, which not only saves the environment (trees), but also money and transportation cost (fuel). After the success, it later implemented more sustainability measures with the board’s approval.
Building a Sustainability Culture
Culture is at heart of the success to a company’s strategy. In this case, it is also important for the success of integrating sustainability values (UN, 2017). An organisation culture can be seen as a set of values and beliefs shared by employees, and the actions of high executives often have huge influences on the organisation’s culture as they might even be the one who created the culture (Mustafa, 2013). Thus, the values should be carried out by the top management and let the employees know not only why the company is aiming for sustainability, but how their roles are related to it (Mosher, 2016). Forming a company culture takes time, and so does adding a new aspect to it. It is quite challenging to build a culture with sustainability values without fully knowing its original culture. Therefore, it is also better to align the new concept with its original ones to create a lasting impact.
- Stage 3. Process and Action Planning
After understanding where the company stands and aligning employees’ mind, management team can integrate the concept into their strategy based on its current business model and implement innovation.
Business Model Innovation
Innovation has been seen as a key for sustainability (Clausen, 2011) And one of the ways towards corporate sustainability are to innovate the business model, which provides companies to differentiate themselves in the market, creates customer value and pursue a long-term competitive standpoint (Ludeke-Freund, 2010).
Bocken et al provides a sustainable business archetype that includes technological, social and organizational aspects which can help to embed sustainability into current business models. The model is as the following figure (Bocken et al, 2014).
Figure 2: Sustainable Business Model Archetypes (Bocken et al., 2014)
Sustainability Concept Included in Products and Services
Products and services are a company’s core to compete in the market; hence is also the key leverage to integrate sustainability (Mosher, 2016). Study shows that there was a 91% increase in revenues from sustainable products and services with only 15% increase in overall sales from 2010 to 2013 (Conference Board, 2015). By applying and embedding sustainability into a company’s different departments and incorporate into its operations, and product and service design lifecycles or even further to customers and suppliers can embed the idea more deeply (Mosher, 2016). The more parties are attracted by the idea, the more demand for the integration of sustainability.
- Stage 4. Monitor and Integrated Reporting
A plan would not be an effective one without measurement systems to monitor progress. Recently, performance measurement and reporting has raised significance (Taticchi & Balachandran, 2008), with emphasis not only on financial performances, but also non-financial areas (Taticchi, 2013). The forth step is to build a good system to assess and improve the process. The evaluation methods, which includes interaction between different departments, matrix and operation data (Maas et al., 2016), monitoring the outcome of the plan is essential to the success of sustainability integration (Dekker & Singer, 2011), which also lead to improving the efficiency and effectiveness (Oertwig et al, 2017).
Given that there are various kinds of reports, companies have to unify the reporting standards and methods. Also, companies have to find a method of measuring non-financial data in order to set a standard. Therefore, integrated reporting should be used. Integrated reporting is defined by Eccles and Saltzman as ‘a single document that present and explain a company’s financial and nonfinancial—environmental, social, and governance (ESG)—performance’ (2011: p.57). This method includes not only the financial aspects, but takes environmental and social issues into account as well. It is a reporting process that ‘results in a clear, concise and understandable communication’ (King & Hopkins, 2016: p.432).
Business can refer to the International Integrated Reporting Council’s (IIRC) International Integrated Reporting Framework to understand the principles and guidelines. Integrated reporting forges a link across a company’s strategy, sustainability aspects and corporate governance. According to IIRC, there are seven guiding principles and nine content elements to form an integrate report (2013). The list is shown at figure 3:
Figure 3: Guiding Principles & Content Elements for Integrate Report (IIRC, 2013)
The IIRC framework links the tangible and intangible resources of the company and bonds strategic action and results together (Oertwig et al., 2017). To conclude, the 4-step approach is summarised in figure 4.
Figure 4: 4 Steps toward Integrating Sustainability
Section 3 will discuss a case on Delta Group and analyse how the success of the company’s CSR and sustainability measures relate to the 4-step framework.
Delta Group is a Taiwanese corporation founded in 1971 with businesses across power electronics, automation, and infrastructure. Over the years, Delta has been highly praised for its involvement and dedication to CSR and its organised governance on integrating sustainability principles in its corporate strategy. In May 2017, Delta Group is once again being awarded in Global Views Magazine’s Global Views CSR Awards, winning three first prizes. With a total of 14 first prizes, 3 model awards, and multiple other awards under the group (Delta, 2016), Delta is now the leading company in Taiwan on CSR and integrating sustainably.
Delta Group is a company within the power electronics, technology, and energy sector. Its core business is around energy, which closely relates to natural environment. Therefore, the most direct and influential way to go into sustainability is by continuous innovation of technologies to reduce waste and generate energies through their products, services, and operation procedures. Having a clear picture of the company’s position, Delta Group started its advantage in building innovative products and integrating technologies to implement energy-saving measures (Wang, 2009).
Throughout the years, Delta has implemented ways to achieve their goals in their products and operation process, which can be seen in two aspects: generating more power and saving more energy. Both are under the preconditions of causing no harm to the environment. The strategy of Delta Group is to be an innovator and stretch its business through technology integration. The core competitive advantage for Delta is its leading technology. By gaining multiple patents for their technology and integrated them together helped them achieve a new level efficiently. For example, measures like enhancing efficiency between power provider and adaptor, improving technology on electricity generator and cooling system, designing new engineering system for solar panels, and integrating internal web communication and systems are taken. According to Delta’s 2016 CSR report, the company have helped its customers save approximately 17.3bn kWh of electricity and 9.2 million tons of CO2e emissions in the past six years (Delta, 2016). The measurements taken by Delta not only reduces the waste of energy use, but also generates more power at the same time.
While environmental aspect is the core of its business due to Delta’s involvement with energy sectors, as social and economic topics raised concern, Delta Group has also found ways to implement measures. On the social side, Delta has actively participated in social activities. Based on their own values toward a green Earth, the company is dedicated to energy and environmental education. Delta Group has established education programs on green buildings, saving energy methods and climate change issues. To catch up with online platform learning, Delta also built the award-winning DeltaMOOCx to make more people learn through internet. The influence of the education programs is enormous, with more than 15 million people participating (Delta, 2017a). Regarding research, Delta has worked extensively with academic institutions to keep up with new research and methods on sustainability issues. One of the projects they are working with Massachusetts Institute of Technology is related to power electrics R&D solutions. On the economic aspect, Delta Group not only generates revenues, but also reduces cost by taking sustainability actions. Since 1971, Delta Group’s revenues have increased with a 31% compounded annual rate and until last year has created a brand value of 225 million USD (Delta, 2016). Delta also creates company value growth through technology innovation and patenting. With a percentage of 6-7% of revenue to R&D investment each year and 10% of patents gained (Delta, 2016).
Delta Group has a very clear mission: ‘To provide innovative, clean, and energy-efficient solutions for a better tomorrow’ (Delta, 2017b). This sustainability culture is deeply rooted in the business because of the beliefs and values from the high executives. Bruce Cheng, the founder and honorary chairman of the Delta Group, is also the Chief of Environmental Protection, and has been leading Delta Group in building a sustainability culture and initiating CSR in the company.
In the 1970s when Delta was founded, the environmental crisis raised serious concerns globally. This made Bruce realise the importance of energy issues and led him to embed the sustainability value in his company and corporate governance from the start. As the CEO of the company, he led the action and continue to educate the employees about the value of being the most environmental-friendly company in Taiwan. He also includes this particular concept in the Delta Code of Conduct, which every employee has to abide by. In employee training and learning, Delta has multiple programs such as Environmental Exhibitions and Education, Energy Education Involvement, and Green Building Visits etc., to embed a sustainable culture across their staffs. In 2016, Bruce published a book─Delta’s Plan for Action on Climate Change to address his ideology and methodology on implementing CSR. To strictly carry out the governance of energy-saving practice, Delta also sets up an energy-saving technology task force, working with external and internal specialists on building better procedure systems, such as energy management system and energy on-line system (Delta, 2016).
In addition to educating employee for sustainability values, the company’s decisions and products have to meet the global standards and align with United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. Delta Group has been actively participating in global conferences, too. For example, it attended the 2014 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris and joined organisations to work with over 500 businesses around the world aiming to lower carbon emission (Delta, 2016).
After the foundation of clear corporate values, in the 1990s, Bruce started to set up action plans. He established Delta Electronics Foundation to implement CSR and formed a CSR board (Delta’s CSR Organisational Structure is presented in appendix 1). The board carries the company’s core values of sustainability. It helps manage the risk and opportunities, and is also a research centre for Delta to study and follow the global trends on the topic (Delta, 2016). Aside from the board, there is also a CSR Foundation that help manage the CSR governance. The foundation serves as the implementation centre that focuses on the execution of their CSR policies.
With a clear corporate mission and an organised execution team, Delta has successfully innovated its business model and applied sustainability lens to its products and services. On technological aspect, Delta has taken the strategy to innovate new procedures and technologies by investing in R&D to improve energy efficiency. For example, it has built electronic cars, smart buildings, and industrial automation, which helped saved electricity usage and CO2 emission for both their factories and clients. Between 2009 and 2014, Delta has already reduced 50% of their factory electricity usage, and it promises to save 30% more by 2020 (Delta, 2016). Other than inventing new technologies, Delta also adopts recycle measures on four of their operations, which are process electricity, solar energy applications, solder recycling, and water recycling. It also has eco-labels, which is verified by third parties, to set a standard and provide information for customers. In each stage of their product, Delta has a comprehensive plan for reduce, reuse, and recycle materials. For their products, Delta has committed to include green designs into products. Delta has also completed a carbon footprint on many of its products. One of the products, the notebook adaptor, was the first product in power supply to complete the carbon footprint verification in Taiwan (Delta, 2016)
Delta also values the communication between its stakeholders, including internal stakeholders such as employees to external stakeholders such as suppliers, customers, investors, and communities. Through conducting material analysis, Delta gets to know the stakeholders’ needs and provides a channel for communication. Delta also makes sure that the stakeholders are align with their ideas and sets a strict policy for being environmental friendly. In social aspect, aside from education dedication (as mentioned above), Delta is also devoted to constructing green buildings. Delta Group has built 24 green buildings, one of which is donated to Ming Chuan Elementary School, which the usage of electricity is less than 7 kWh /m2, saving more than 70% of energy compare to similar buildings (Luo, 2017).
Delta has always been Taiwan’s pioneer and leader in CSR measurement and reporting. In 2005, Delta Group is the first company in Taiwan to publish sustainability report, which provides measurements and information on both financial and non-financial performances to external parties. The way it monitors and reports their performances gives Delta a clear picture of how to modify and improve in the future.
The group follows a process of identifying sustainability development topics, prioritising shareholders materiality, validating report completeness, reporting the inclusiveness of stakeholders, and reviewing the previous processes to assess the material and boundaries for sustainability (Delta, 2016). The scope of Delta’s sustainability report covers the whole group’s activities and include (a) corporate governance: financial performances, strategy focus, environmental protection and product development; (b) stakeholder activities: employee welfare and training, suppliers and consumers’ interactions, investors’ communications; (c) social participation: CSR activities, progress, and educational programs (Delta, 2016). Each section provides clear measurements and compliance rules to monitor and assess performances. And the structure of the report follows GRI’s G4 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines, and refers to Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) and Carbon Disclosure Project. From 2011 to 2016, Delta is on the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices World Index in the ITC Electronic Equipment, Instruments, and Components industry (Delta, 2017a).
Risk management and analysis is also a crucial part of Delta’s monitoring mechanisms. It not only identifies related risk, but also realises future opportunities. Delta has reduced its operating risk through effectively allocating responsibility to identify risk in different areas (Delta, 2016). Looking at Delta’s risk analysis on climate change, by mapping out ten potential risks on the issue, Delta gets to keep track of the trends, come up with an adaption mechanism, and even see some opportunities to build better sustainable management strategies. For example, Delta has observed the opportunity in transportation. As electric vehicle is likely to be the future trend, Delta has developed a set of charging solutions and automotive electronics technology in order to be the innovator in this field. This example showcases that sustainability measures are able to generate value and return on capital for a company in the long term.
The case of Delta Group’s integration of sustainability principles into its corporate strategy echoes with the 4-Step Framework. The success of the Delta case is initially built on a clear understanding of their business model and the values of founder Bruce Cheng. Through the devotion and leadership from the high executives, the management team has rooted the sustainability concept into its culture. Delta also constructed a unique organisation structure by establishing a CSR board, energy-saving technology task force, and adding a position of President of Environment Protection to fully execute sustainability concepts. With a solid foundation of organisation atmosphere and market position, Delta has innovated its business model and merged sustainability ideas into its products and services. Finally, to monitor and assess the progress, Delta has a comprehensive integrated reporting method, which complies with multiple international standards and provides measurements towards economic, environmental, and social engagements to external stakeholders.
The study discusses the question of ‘How can Corporates Integrate Sustainability Principles in Their Strategy?’ along with providing examples of the successful case of Taiwan’s Delta Group. To unfold the question, the report firstly gives a definition of sustainability and CSR, which in this report are mentioned and used interchangeably, and looks back on the history and the evolution of the rise of importance in sustainability. Secondly, the report analyses the motivations and drivers for sustainability. In this section, it is discovered that company CEOs are now putting emphasis on sustainability not only for protecting brand reputation, but also for potential value creation and long-term growth. The environmental and Social aspects of sustainability are being valued considerably. The section also discusses the external and internal drivers under a strategy development for corporates towards sustainability. With the concept and history of sustainability, section 2.2 provided a 4-step framework towards Integrating Sustainability and analysis of literature reviews. Each step in the framework is linked with each other and built through the foundation of one another, evolving through the core sustainability concept of environmental, economic, and social values. Last, to test the practical usage of the framework, section 3 gives an example on Delta Group. Through the case study, it is suggested that the success progress of Delta’s CSR parallel with the framework. The 4-step framework, however, is more applicable to big corporations instead of small or medium businesses as the research and relative references are aimed at corporations with a larger organisational structure.
Throughout the report, four management implications are observed:
- Embed sustainability principles into business operations
Through comprehensive understanding of its business model, a company can integrate sustainability principles into corporate culture and further apply relative concepts into products and services.
- Organisational culture is the key towards corporate sustainability
A good company culture is the key for companies to survive obstacles and go far in the long term. To enhance employees’ sense of belonging and loyalty, companies should form communication between managers and employees, and encourage employee participation.
- Integrate company culture into action plans
Companies like Walmart, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, and Coca Cola are actively implementing sustainability principles into their strategy and goals. The key reason underlying the positive action is that the sustainability concept has merged with the business culture and further embedded in the business’ DNA. This comes with the help from employees. Hence, training and education are crucial to cultivate elites with sustainability mindsets, who will then further help company develop methods and procedures toward better sustainability integrating in the future.
- Establish mechanisms to assess sustainability progress
Companies should form strategy on sustainability plan and assess internal or external risk with scientific methods. Also, investing a certain percentage in R&D to come up with innovative technology solutions to establish a balance between economic, environmental, and social goals.
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Taticchi, P. (2013) Sustainability Measurement and Reporting: Impacts on Finance, Stakeholders Communication and Internal Measurement Practices. In: Taticchi, P., Carbone, P., & Albino, V. (eds) Corporate Sustainability. Milton Keynes, UK,Springer, pp. 221-231
Wang, C. (2009) Delta Group’s Innovation on Saving Energy. Available from: https://www.hbrtaiwan.com/article_content_AR0001208_2.html [Accessed 7th August 2017]
Appendix 1: Delta’s CSR Board Structure (Delta, 2017)
 Top Management Team
 Global Reporting Initiative
 Delta. (2017) Commitment and Organization. Available from: http://www.deltaww.com/about/csr_CommitmentOrg.aspx?secID=5&pid=6&tid=3&hl=en-US [Accessed 13th August 2017]