The Role of Industry Associations in the Promotion of Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility: Study Findings


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The Government of Canada is interested in gaining a greater understanding of the extent to which sustainability is advanced through industry associations in Canada and how it can support associations in the promotion of sustainability and CSR among their members. This report documents how industry associations are currently promoting sustainability and CSR and points to strengths and opportunities for improvement. The report also proposes sustainability roadmaps for industry associations and government interested in helping Canadian companies on their sustainability journeys.

The study findings presented in this report are based on reviews of publicly available information (e.g., association websites), and personal interviews with seven industry associations (selected for inclusion based on their significance to Canada’s economy) and fourteen member companies (two from each industry association as recommended by the association).

It is important to note that the study was not meant to evaluate industry associations or member companies on their uptake of sustainability.

General Study Findings
Study findings revealed that, generally, members find the sustainability outreach programs of their industry associations to be worthwhile. Members would like their associations to be on top, if not ahead, of emerging sustainability issues that will affect their performance. The study identified that some members seek more robust programming on the part of their association, and in some cases, look for associations to play a role in raising industry standards in sustainability and to challenge industry on best practice.

This study, although limited in its sample size, revealed that typically, leadership for the development of sustainability programs comes from the member company themselves. Key drivers for sustainability program development were thought to be the need to build reputation and to promote marketplace acceptance.

Of those industry associations with sustainability programs in place, half of them promote sustainability performance through mandated membership requirements; the other half promote sustainability through voluntary means, primarily workshops and information tools.

Associations and member companies pointed to a number of successes, including high participation rates and engagement of member companies, though it was acknowledged that in some instances this is a result of mandatory requirements. A number of challenges to participation were also identified; particularly the limited capacity of small firms. Awareness, education and capacity-building are perceived to be key activities to overcome these barriers, as well as building and communicating the business case for sustainability.

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