Sustainability within planetary boundaries requires concerted action by individuals, governments, civil society and private actors. For the private sector, there is concern that the power exercised by transnational corporations generates, and is even central to, global environmental change. Here, we ask under which conditions transnational corporations could either hinder or promote a global shift towards sustainability. We show that a handful of transnational corporations have become a major force shaping the global intertwined system of people and planet. Transnational corporations in agriculture, forestry, seafood, cement, minerals and fossil energy cause environmental impacts and possess the ability to influence critical functions of the biosphere. We review evidence of current practices and identify six observed features of change towards 'corporate biosphere stewardship', with significant potential for upscaling. Actions by transnational corporations, if combined with effective public policies and improved governmental regulations, could substantially accelerate sustainability efforts.