The Embedding Project: The Embedding Sustainability Working Group

The Embedding Project is a public-benefit research project launched by the Network for Business Sustainability and hosted at the Beedie School of Business at Simon Fraser University. Relying on strong social science research methods, we bring together thoughtful sustainability change agents from across industries and around the world, and harness their collective knowledge to develop rigorous and practical guidance that benefits everyone.

We started by developing a framework for embedding sustainability that helps companies inventory, prioritize, and focus their efforts to embed sustainability.

We continue to work with companies to help them apply the framework while facilitating a safe space for companies and change agents to effectively and efficiently share their knowledge and ideas.

We are using this knowledge to develop additional embedding resources and tools that are tailored for sustainability practitioners and supported by a rigorous, longitudinal research process.

…and we built an interactive website to make it available online, for free.

Our work is anchored in a review of prior academic and practitioner work on embedding sustainability, conducted by Dr. Stephanie Bertels in 2010 for the Network for Business Sustainability. The review resulted in the development of a framework that charts a portfolio of organizational practices that lead to embedding sustainability into an organization’s operations.


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The initial embedding framework was enthusiastically received by the business community. In response to requests from companies for more information and guidance on implementation, Dr. Bertels, in partnership with the Network for Business Sustainability, brought together a dozen leading global companies to form an Embedding Sustainability Working Group (ESWG). The 3-year (2012-2015) project aimed to help the companies understand what practices they were undertaking to embed sustainability and understand the sequencing and effectiveness of these practices, as well as engage in peer-to-peer knowledge-sharing and collective learning.

Our work continues in what has come to be called the Embedding Project.


Working together over the 3-year term of the ESWG, our research team and our member organizations were able to:

  • Pilot, test and refine the embedding framework and develop it into a comparable diagnostic tool that helps global companies assess their level of maturity on 60 different embedding practices.
  • Help all twelve participating companies prioritize their efforts towards embedding sustainability and facilitate genuine knowledge sharing between them.

In the words of our past members:

“The Embedding Project helped me understand that in order for a company to be truly sustainable – there are very few “quick wins” or “low hanging-fruit”.  Not for the faint of heart, sustainability is a process that needs to touch every aspect of how we operate as a business and requires patient, persistent effort.   

 Sustainability initiatives often run the risk of being disconnected from the business or being inherently too general to be impactful.  The embedding “wheel” helps categorize the practices, procedures and principles required to break down “sustainability” into more achievable, tangible, realistic steps.  It also gave insight into the prerequisites needed for initiatives to be successful and how to track our progress over time.  

Having access to 10 leading Canadian companies to share lessons learned and the pitfalls to avoid added immense value and real community to the 3-year project.”

“As a Strategic Change Professional, I know that what I do adds value. I can talk about it, I can describe it, but how do I measure what I’m doing? The Embedding Project provides a measurement – a credibility – to all the sustainable business change work I’m doing.

Our relationship is about learning together. There’s a real sharing and a trust that develops. I underestimated how much I would learn about what our company needs to do, what we could be doing, what I could be doing by working on the research project. I think there’s tremendous value in the Academic – Practitioner pairing. Our minds are different, so are our styles and what we hear.

I also learned a lot from the peers I interacted with. The best way to learn is from mistakes, not successes. And here, you learn not only from your own, but from other people’s mistakes, other people’s long journeys so you can save departmental load, save money, save organizational load and speed up innovation. Ultimately, it saves me time, it’s learning in the fast track with leaders in the field. 

My sense is that if I stay alongside the Embedding Project, I’ll be able to learn and subtly adapt my processes over time and stay alongside the leaders in a very time and cost effective way. This is very valuable.”


Through renewed support from an expanded set of global companies and new funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Embedding Project will:

1. Develop an online knowledge portal that will facilitate the gathering and analysis of data on corporate efforts to embed sustainability and house publicly available toolkits, guidebooks, case studies and other knowledge products on embedding sustainability.

2. Pilot global ‘Communities of Practice’ that bring together an international community of practitioners supported by researchers, with the goal of knowledge sharing and co-creation of rigorously derived, yet practically relevant tools such as guidebooks, workbooks, self-assessments, workshops and webinars.


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