Author page for Allen White


Allen White
Allen White is Vice President and Senior Fellow at Tellus Institute and directs the institute’s Program on Corporate Redesign. In 1997, he co-founded the Global Reporting Initiative (www.globalreporting.org) and served as its Acting CEO until 2002. In 2004, he co-founded and is now Director of Corporation 2020 (www.corporation2020.org), an initiative focused on designing future corporations to create and sustain social mission. For his expertise in sustainability strategy, policy, tools, and standards, he has been engaged by multilateral organizations such as the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank; foundations such as the Pew Charitable Trusts and the UN Foundation; numerous Fortune 500 companies; US EPA; and NGOs such as Oxfam and People4Earth. Dr. White has held faculty and research positions at the University of Connecticut, Clark University, and Battelle Laboratories, and he is a former Fulbright Scholar in Peru. He was Founding Chair of GAN-Net/iScale and has served on boards, advisory groups, and committees of the International Corporate Governance Network, Civic Capital, Instituto Ethos (Brazil), the New Economy Network, New Earth/Earthster, and the Initiative for Responsible Investment at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Since 2005, Dr. White has served as Senior Advisor to Business for Social Responsibility and to CERES as a principal architect of the first standardized environmental reporting framework in the years following launch of the organization in 1990. He is co-author of Corporate Environmentalism in a Global Economy and has published and spoken widely on corporate design, sustainability, accountability, and governance.

Dr. White received a PhD in Geography from Ohio State University.


Tellus Publications (Selected)


The Soul of a Great Transition: Social Life Cycle Assessment and the Quest for a Humane Future

Allen White

Social Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)—the analysis of social impacts spanning the complete value chain of a product or process—has never been more important than it is today for understanding and correcting widespread social injustices. In an increasingly interdependent world, we need to think and analyze systematically. Social LCA helps us expose in systemic fashion the social consequences of the dominant global development paradigm and, in so doing, has a vital role to play in redirecting global change towards a Great Transition future.


Corporations in a Great Transition

Allen White, Kevin Kromash

The “Corporations in a Great Transition” workshop focused on imagining a new corporate narrative and new corporate forms and communicating such innovations to change the conversation about the role of business in society. It consisted of three sessions: Visions (what corporate futures are desirable to build just and sustainable societies), Models (what types of corporate forms are needed to achieve alternate visions), and Pathways (who the change agents are and how can they be mobilized).

Reinventing the Corporation

Allen White, M. Baraldi

Any vision of the global future in the coming decades must include full recognition of the role transnational corporations play in shaping the planet’s human and ecological destiny. It is this reality that animates the intense contemporary debates about the role of business in society and the capacity—and will—of corporations to simultaneously create public benefit alongside private wealth at a scale and speed commensurate with the needs of a struggling, perilous world. It is difficult, arguably impossible, to imagine a future of 9 billion people living sustainably in the absence of systemic change in the purpose and design of corporations.

Originally published as Chapter 7 in Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2012: Moving Toward Sustainable Prosperity (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2012).

New Rigorous Ratings Tools Help Investors and Companies

Allen White

In the absence of a broad-based consensus on the meaning and measurement of sustainability excellence, ratings organizations, whose business it is to evaluate the extent to which a company meets these undefined standards, are left with multiple choices of how to interpret what, exactly, they are rating, and how to do so. The Global Initiative for Sustainability Ratings, explained in this article, offers an opportunity for credible corporate performance assessment.

Originally published in Ethical Corporation, August 10, 2010, http://www.ethicalcorp.com/business-strategy/new-rigorous-ratings-tools-help-investors-and-companies.

The Five Capitals of Integrated Reporting: Toward a Holistic Architecture for Corporate Disclosure

Allen White

If integrated reporting is to evolve into more than the casual juxtaposition of financial and sustainability information in paper or electronic format, these two traditions must converge toward a reporting architecture that builds on the strengths of both while enabling assimilation of new knowledge, new issues, and new metrics that flow from the social, environmental, and economic dynamics in the twenty-first century.

Originally published in Robert Eccles, Beiting Cheng, and Daniela Saltzman, eds., The Landscape of Integrated Reporting: Reflections and Next Steps (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School, 2010).

When the World Rules Corporations: Pathway to a Global Corporate Charter

Allen White, Paul Raskin

The ascent of transnational corporations poses fundamental questions about accountability, regulation, and the democratic process. Although their footprints cross continents, TNCs still operate under legal licenses granted by national or state authority. In order to rectify the incongruence between global impacts and state control, and to align corporate behavior with social and ecological purpose, we propose a World Corporate Charter Organization. By defining the obligations of TNCs, global charters would balance the current emphasis of international institutions, such as the World Trade Organization, on TNC rights. With public concern about corporate power on the rise, the moment is propitious for establishing transnational governance of transnational corporations, a precondition for attaining just and sustainable societies.

Corporate Design: The Missing Organizational and Public Policy Issue of Our Time

Marjorie Kelly, Allen White

Corporations are arguably the most powerful social institution of modern society, yet “Corporate Design” has yet to find a place on the public agenda. Debate thus far has focused on single companies and single issues; it has been driven by crisis rather than by a pro-active discussion. The authors propose a new and more intentional, analytic approach.

Originally published in New England Law Review 42, no. 4 (Winter 2008): 761-786.

From Corporate Responsibility to Corporate Design: Rethinking the Purpose of the Corporation

Marjorie Kelly, Allen White

These are trying times for corporate social responsibility (CSR). Two decades after its conception, one senses among many a kind of fatigue, impatience, even despair about the limits of CSR. Recent studies and skeptical perspectives yield a picture of CSR as a contingent movement, involving actions that will be undertaken only if the demands of priority stakeholders—namely investors and consumers—are concurrently met. It is time to think more systemically, beyond the boundaries of CSR, if business is to achieve the level of social contribution it is uniquely capable of making.

Originally published in the Journal of Corporate Citizenship 33 (Spring 2009): 23-27.

Paper Series on Corporate Design

Allen White, Marjorie Kelly, Rich Rosen, John Stutz

Edited by Allen White.
  • Beyond the Crisis: Policies to Foster Long-Termism in Financial Markets
    Rebecca Darr and Judith Samuelson
  • Toward a Bretton Woods II: Aligning a New Global Financial Architecture with Sustainable Development
    Paul Epstein
  • Tomorrow’s Owners: Stewardship of Tomorrow’s Company
    Mark Goyder
  • The Origins and Costs of Short-Term Management
    Kent Greenfield
  • Not Just for Profit: Emerging Alternatives to the Shareholder-Centric Model
    Marjorie Kelly
  • Markets at Risk: The Limits of Modern Portfolio Theory
    Steve Lydenberg
  • How Should the Economy be Regulated?
    Richard Rosen
  • Work and Well-being
    John Stutz

Confessions of a CSR Champion: It's Time to Rethink the 'C' in CSR

Allen White

In evaluating the progress of CSR (corporate social responsibility), Allen White sees the limits inherent in dealing with the symptoms rather than addressing the deeper issue, i.e., redefining the entire concept of the modern corporation. The article addresses issues of governance, rewards and incentives, and ownership.

Originally published in Stanford Social Innovation Review (Winter 2009): 31.

Democratizing the Corporation

Allen White

The various corporate governance initiatives that have arisen over the past decade have achieved significant strides toward containment of harms without altering the fundamental obligations and duties of corporations to broader societal interests. Corporate directors are more vigilant, managers are more attentive, and shareholders are better protected against losses linked to breakdowns in corporate governance, but shareholder primacy still remains intact. This chapter argues for the need to democratize corporate structure in order to make corporations better suited to the challenges and demands of the twenty-first century, and offers prototypes for such reforms.

Originally published in Heiko Spitzeck, Michael Parson, Wolfgang Amann, Shiban Khan, and Ernst von Kimakow, eds., Humanism in Business (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 229-247.

Is It Time to Rewrite the Social Contract?

Allen White

Examines the relationship between the corporation and society, demonstrating the need for reform as a multi-sectored process.

Principles of Corporate Redesign

Allen White

The juxtaposition of corporate power with persistent inequity and unsustainability raises profound questions about whether corporations are upholding their end of the social contract or, indeed, whether the social contract itself needs to be rewritten. This paper calls for rethinking the fundamentals of business-society relations to improve equity and examines structural solutions necessary to reconcile corporate contributions and societal needs.

Business Brief: Intangibles and CSR

Allen White

Intangibles such as reputation, trust, and capacity to innovate—all widely recognized as fundamental to strong financial performance—are at the same time integral to the CSR agenda. Astute management of global supply chains, visionary environmental products and services, and proactive risk management through anti-corruption and HIV/AIDS initiatives are the kinds of practices associated with both CSR and quality of management. For the investment community, any determinant of quality of management is viewed as key to the overall assessment of company competitive prospects. This brief is an opening exploration of the intangibles-CSR relationship and provides a framework for understanding this relationship.

Transforming the Corporation

Allen White

Allen White traces the genesis, growth, and evolution of the modern corporation and its role in wealth creation. He outlines a vision for the future of the corporation that reflects the core values of human solidarity, ecological sustainability, and quality of life. He then explores the way forward to realize such a values-based shift in the design and operation of the corporation.

Essay #5 in the GTI Paper Series: Frontiers of a Great Transition

The Grasshoppers and the Ants: Why CSR Needs Patient Capital

Allen White

This paper explores why and how capital markets undermine CSR, and what is being done—and should be done—to enlarge the pool of “patient capital.” CSR is about intergenerational stewardship of resources. It focuses on enriching the stock of human and natural capital, and creating wealth that is enduring and equitably distributed among those responsible for its creation. Juxtaposing these attributes of CSR with trends in capital markets, the misalignment between the two is serious and intensifying. The solution lies in a concerted effort of all market players—companies, analysts, investors, accounting bodies, and the public at large—to begin moving capital markets from a mentality of trading and transaction to one of care and custodianship.

Why We Need Global Standards for Corporate Disclosure

Allen White

After two years of gradual revelations concerning undisclosed information on suicidal risks to children on antidepressants, a federal advisory committee in September 2004 recommended that such drugs be labeled to alert physicians and consumers of this risk. The antidepressant story is noteworthy in its own right, shedding light on the tangled web of legal, regulatory, economic, and ethical issues surrounding disclosure practices in the pharmaceutical industry. The complex interworkings of an emerging global economy make it necessary for corporate standards for disclosure to be established and enforced.

Originally published in Law and Contemporary Problems 69 (2006): 167-186.

Knowledge, Wealth and Information: The Case for Global Corporate Disclosure Standards

Allen White

Though the contours of corporate obligations are gradually becoming more sharply delineated, the absence of accountability and enforceability at the international level remains a major stumbling block to achieving parity between rights and obligations. This paper argues for global disclosure standards as an integral part of such accountability. It uses the pharmaceutical industry as a case study, focusing in particular on the social cost of non-disclosure. Although the contours of a generally accepted disclosure framework are identifiable, details of sector-specific disclosures remain fluid. The issues need to be articulated, the indicators defined, and the measurement protocols developed.

Fade, Integrate or Transform? The Future of CSR

Allen White

CSR is at a crossroads. After a decade of evolution, the pathway forward defies easy prognosis. Will external events and company choices relegate CSR to a passing fad, leading to its fading from corporate and public agendas? Or will CSR reach full fruition as it becomes aligned, integrated, and fully institutionalized in company strategy and operations? Or, alternatively, is something more transformational on the horizon as CSR morphs into a deeper change mode, becoming a force for altering corporate purpose at the most fundamental and systemic level? This paper frames three potential scenarios, intentionally designed with stark differences in content and implications for companies and their stakeholders, and then assesses how the history of the CSR movement may inform its future.

Corporate Reporting: New Wine, New Bottles

Allen White

A quiet renaissance in corporate reporting is gradually transforming its purpose, content and readership. This transformation predates the recent spate of accountability misconduct, but is accelerating because of it. In a few short years, a new generation of reports will have moved from the extraordinary to the exceptional to the expected, thereby establishing a new standard of transparency unimaginable even a decade ago. For forward-looking managers, opportunities abound to stake out leadership positions among investors, employees, customers, and communities.

Lost in Transition? The Future of Corporate Responsibility

Allen White

The dizzying pace of corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives continues unabated. For its champions, CSR is moving quickly from a curiosity to the mainstream. For its skeptics, it remains too marginal and too voluntary to make a real difference in business behavior. A decade of proliferating codes, collaboratives, conferences, and courses warrants pause and reflection by both theorists and practitioners alike. What path are we on? And is the path we are on the right one?

Corporate Governance & Corporate Sustainability Reporting: A Vital Link in 21st Century Accountability

Allen White

The rise of corporate governance as one of the preeminent business issue in the early twenty-first century raises fundamental issues about the character of the modern corporation. How will it be managed, monitored, and regulated? How will be held accountable to its stakeholders? Who are these stakeholders? And how must boards and managers conduct themselves in an increasingly complex, global economy in which decisions and events become public knowledge at “Internet speed”? This paper argues that strong and effective corporate governance will be increasingly characterized by sustainability reporting that provides full disclosure of environmental impacts, business practices, employment policies, health and safety standards, etc.

Improving Sustainability Disclosure: the Global Reporting Initiative Guidelines

Allen White

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) has emerged as the leading initiative in building a new reporting infrastructure to complement financial reporting and address the non-financial aspects of the economic, environmental, and social performance of organizations. This chapter introduces the GRI and the trends that are driving increased sustainability disclosure. It describes the benefits of such reporting and concludes with considering a few of the challenges that lie ahead in elevating sustainability reporting to unprecedented levels of rigor, consistency, and comparability.

Originally published in Sissel Waage and Ray Anderson, eds., Ants, Galileo, and Gandhi: Designing the Future of Business through Nature, Genius, and Compassion (Sheffield, UK: Greenleaf Publishing Limited, 2003), 202-212.

Servicizing the Chemical Supply Chain

Allen White, Edward Reiskin, Thomas Votta

Uses the example of chemical management services to illustrate the partnership concept, wherein financial rewards of reduced material consumption are shared between supplier and customer.

Sustainability and the Accountable Corporation

Allen White

The pace at which corporate sustainability reporting will evolve is highly uncertain. Indeed, given the current state of environmental reporting, it may seem like a distant vision. Yet the same could have been said about environmental reporting a decade ago. And with the emergence of sustainability as the dominant paradigm for future development, it may well be that corporate sustainability reporting takes hold with an intensity and durability that surprises even the skeptics. For this to happen, such reporting will need a far more definitive framework than environmental reporting has now. The many reporting initiatives that have appeared in the last decade offer valuable insights into how such a framework may evolve.

Originally published in Environment 41, no. 8 (October 1999): 31-42.

Servicizing: The Quiet Transition to Extended Product Responsibility

Allen White, Mark Stoughton, Linda Feng

This study focuses on the environmental implications of an emerging class of product-based services, with emphasis on the business-to-business markets. Product-based services include the familiar—warrantees, maintenance agreements—as well as the less familiar—chemical management services, mobility services, furnishings management. It is clear that the simplest and most optimistic view—a service economy is inherently a clean economy—is insufficient and incorrect. This study builds on a number of case studies to recommend policy actions that can help ensure a sustainable path for the emerging service economy.

Right from the Start: Product Stewardship Through Life-Cycle Design

Karen Shapiro, Allen White

Life-cycle design (LCD), the application of life-cycle concepts to the design phase of product development, is emerging as a valuable tool for incorporating environmental impacts and trade-offs as a criterion in product/process design. An examination of LCD practices at three firms—IBM, Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, and Armstrong World Industries—provides insight into how these methods evolve, as well as a glimpse into the dynamics of organizational innovation in relation to corporate environmental management.

Originally published in Corporate Environmental Strategy 6, no. 1 (Winter 1999): 15-23, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1066793800800032.

Snapshots of Environmental Cost Accounting

Robert Graff, Edward Reiskin, Allen White, Katherine Bidwell

This report demonstrates the financial results of actual environmental accounting applications. It highlights thirty-nine cases of companies using various forms of environmental accounting (EA) and offers a more detailed review (snapshot) of all of these cases. The snapshots represent applications of EA in small, medium, and large businesses in a variety of industries, and in a range of business decisions. Examples run the gamut from a small manufacturer of wooden doors examining an investment in a new lacquer process, to a large multinational health care products company measuring the value of its proactive environmental management program.

Pathway to Product Stewardship: Life-Cycle Design as a Business Decision-Support Tool

Karen Shapiro, Allen White

Numerous firms have begun incorporating environmental effects as a criterion in product/process design. However, because life-cycle design (LCD) is used as an internal decision-making tool, its strengths, successes, and limitations remain largely undocumented. This report uses case studies from three companies—(1) IBM, (2) Bristol-Myers Squibb, and (3) Armstrong World Industries—to understand how LCD is finding its way into business decision processes.

Strengthening Corporate Commitment to Pollution Prevention in Illinois: Concepts & Case Studies of Total Cost Assessment

Allen White

If many P2 (pollution prevention) investments in fact are in the best interests of a profit-driven firm, why does such underinvestment in prevention persist? The answer is arguably twofold: (1) organizational characteristics of the firm and (2) economic/financial barriers. This report focuses primarily on the latter explanation, i.e., that P2 investments may be unable to compete with other potential uses of limited capital because they are disadvantaged by standard project financial evaluation techniques.