FEEM started investigating the relationship between companies and their stakeholders in the early 1990s, well before corporate social responsibility (CSR) became one of the buzzwords in the business sphere. In this early stage, FEEM developed groundbreaking methods to assess the environmental and social impact of activities in companies’ annual reports and assisted several companies in drafting innovative reports, including its own founder Eni. After the creation of the CSR and Sustainable Management Research Program in 2001, FEEM also established significant and systematic partnerships overtime with major institutions at an international level, such as UN Global Compact (FEEM is now the headquarters of UNGC Italian Network Foundation), Global Reporting Initiative, and OECD.

In 2013, as a consequence of its long experience in the field, FEEM launched the Sustainable Business and Social Change Initiative (SBSC-I), a cross-cutting research working group focused on social innovation and sustainable business. SBSC-I is both a collector of experiences and an incubator for new projects and research topics on corporate social responsibility, corporate sustainability and sustainable development. The goal of the initiative is to identify and to understand social change – becoming an observatory on the most relevant issues linked to sustainability. It is able to track and map the international and national best practices and to support companies by offering them innovative insights and effective and differentiated solutions.

Its research activities are focused on (i) the contribution of the private sector to sustainable development, with particular reference to the Post 2015 Sustainable Development Agenda; (ii) sustainability strategic planning and reporting processes; (iii) “shared value” as a key factor for innovative relationships between companies, organizations and citizens and as a driver of socio-economic innovation; iv) integrated thinking and reporting.

SBSC-I also supports private and public organizations by studying and planning internal and external sustainability communication strategies, with a focus on digital media, stakeholder mapping and engagement.

Within this research initiative, the long-lasting collaboration with Eni, the so called “Eni Sustainability project” plays a key role. In fact, thanks to SBSC-I studies on CSR and sustainable development, FEEM supports Eni’s Sustainability Unit on the most relevant sustainability topics within the energy sector. The aim of the project is to create a strict interconnection between research and action. In so doing, it works with Eni to continuously improve the ways in which the company can do business sustainably. At the same time the in-the-field experience of researchers from the daily interactions with a complex organization and business environmental enriches our research and the insight of the program. It acts as an ongoing reality check that creates positive feedback loops between theory and practice.

The aim of the workshop is to describe the activities and perspectives of the SBSC Initiative, focusing on the fruitful – even if difficult – search for a virtuous “research action” or “reflective practice”.

Positive examples, tradeoffs and biases will be analyzed in order to show the importance of interaction between different social spheres (business, academia, policy makers and international institutions) and the need for new approaches, matching scientific method, rigor, flexibility and concreteness.

This seminar has been jointly organized by ICCG and FEEM.