Tuesday, December 10, 2013
SJD student Carol Liao speaking at podium during the conference

By Carol Liao, SJD candidate

How do we integrate environmental concerns into the decision-making of companies? This question brought together a league of world-class scholars from across the globe, culminating into a final conference of the Sustainable Companies Project on December 5-6 in Oslo, Norway.

Led by Dr. Beate Sjåfjell at the University of Oslo, the project began three years ago with a dozen or so members and grew into a global consortium of more than 60 scholars committed to the idea of a more sustainable world. I was privileged to be invited as a member of the research team at the start of its third and final year.

Several inspiring speakers spanning various disciplines presented their reform proposals at the conference, where policy-makers, government officials, NGOs, trade unions, and business leaders also attended. I discussed the emerging global development of new hybrid legal corporations designed to support the burgeoning field of social enterprise. I spoke about how hybrids are potentially better designed to house “disruptive innovations” that promote social change for entrance into the marketplace, forcing companies to alter their business strategies to compete with more sustainable goods and services.

conference attendees sitting in University of Oslo lecture hall

The project seeks to change the language of how we talk about companies and their obligations to operate within planetary boundaries. Among a number of publications originating from the research team, my chapter “Limits to Corporate Reform and Alternative Legal Structures” will appear in the forthcoming book Company Law and Sustainability: Legal Barriers and Opportunities, edited by Dr. Beate Sjåfjell and Dr. Benjamin Richardson (Cambridge University Press, 2014). Another article, “Disruptive Innovation and the Global Emergence of Hybrid Legal Structures,” will appearing in a special 2014 edition of the Journal of European Company Law which will showcase many of the reform proposals presented at this final meeting of the project.

As we move into 2014, it was nice to end the year with a group of inspiring scholars dedicated to a common goal. The project is winding down, but there are ambitious ideas aimed at ensuring the spirit of the project will continue on in an even greater form. I look forward to ongoing collaborations, and working toward a better future for my children.

Carol Liao is an SJD/PhD candidate at the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia (Joint Program), where she specializes in corporate law. She can be contacted at carol.liao@mail.utoronto.ca.

Photos: Dr. Beate Sjafjell