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The Social Purpose of Associations

Organizations are examining what they do and how they serve

Right now, we’re in a moment of awakening about the role of organizations in society. Organizations are examining what they stand for in a world undergoing fundamental transformation. This includes associations who are at the interface between their members and the stakeholders whose expectations are evolving rapidly as the world grapples with the challenges wrought by the pandemic, climate change, growing social divides and systemic racism. 

To better understand the role associations are playing to help their members address these intersecting challenges, a survey was conducted of 13 national U.S. associations representing plastics, forest and paper products, consumer products, commodities, manufacturing, chemistry, printing, agriculture and construction industries. It used the benchmark conducted in 2021 of Canadian associations: The Sustainable and Just Association: Canadian Benchmark of Association ESG Practices. Central to both surveys is the following rubric that gauged efforts of associations to help their members build their social and environmental practices and to flourish in an uncertain world.

The rubric uses the language of ESG, which stands for environment, social and governance practices and the SDGs, which stands for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The SDGs were unanimously adopted by all the countries in the world as society’s goals to 2030. (Most Canadian and American associations use the term “sustainability” to refer to the social and environmental practices of their members.)

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