Last year, NBS’s Leadership Council asked: How can businesses help Canadians become informed, inspired and engaged in a national dialogue about sustainability?

“Canada succeeded in making recycling an accepted norm in the home in the late 1990s,” said Debbie Baxter, Chief Sustainability Officer of LoyaltyOne. “What are the tools we can use and the leaders we can engage to ignite people’s commitment to cycling, carpooling or responsible consumption?”

This month, NBS will release new resources that answer this question. The resources describe civic dialogue, a way to build broad-based agreement and commitment around complex and controversial issues. Civic dialogues have been used to set priorities for national-level agendas on issues such as energy (e.g. the Dutch National Environmental Policy Plans), and to address issues at regional and local levels (e.g. Canada’s Alberta Climate Dialogue).

Businesses can achieve broad sustainability goals by participating in civic dialogue. Civic dialogues can also help businesses understand customers, build brand and market and change the rules of the game.

NBS’s resources, authored by Dr. Thomas Webler, describe:

  • The value for business
  • Different models of civic dialogue
  • Key steps for effective engagement
  • Different ways companies can be involved, from leading to participating in a dialogue

Sneak Preview


Drawing by Jennifer Shepherd, Living Tapestries


Movement toward sustainability happens in three stages: awareness, shared understanding and action.

Stage 1: Awareness. People must have some familiarity with and interest in an issue before they will consider becoming more involved.

Stage 2: Shared understanding. Civic dialogue builds shared understanding by developing knowledge about the issue and promoting appreciation of others’ perspectives.

Stage 3: Collective action. Shared understanding enables action, which can take many forms, including multi-stakeholder partnerships, social movements, voluntary agreements and government action.

NBS’s civic dialogue resources will be released in March 2014.

More information

  • Interview with Dr. Thomas Webler, author of NBS’s civic dialogue resources
  • Interview with Dr. Ann Dale, civic dialogue researcher
  • Overview of NBS’s working session on civic dialogue


Cobb, R.W., & Elder, C.D. 1972. Participation in American politics: The dynamics of agenda-building. Allyn and Bacon: Boston, U.S.