At the September 2022 Harvard Law School-wide conference “Reimagining the Role of Business in the Public Square,” Brad Smith, vice chair and president of Microsoft, highlighted one of the most difficult tasks of operating in today’s shifting corporate landscape: “One of the things about being a business—certainly one of the things about trying to lead a business—is that decisions need to be made.” He continued: “All of us who are in business will need to decide, what is the mission of our company? How do we fulfill our broader commitments? How do we synthesize these different needs? And how do we do it in a way that makes sustainable tangible progress?”
Smith’s comments reflect a growing—albeit increasingly controversial—trend within business to better address the obligations they arguably owe to all their stakeholders: employees, suppliers, communities in which they operate, society at large, and even the planet. And not just shareholders. Concerns over environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues offer one particularly salient case study of this dynamic.