Gday. I help
large companies to increase their profits and to grow. I used to
work with Greenpeacechasing nuclear-armed warships in rubber
boats and plugging up toxic waste discharge pipes. Its quite
a change. I thought Id use this first column to explain the
First, some background. I didnt finish high school. Ive
worked as a builders laborer, a union organizer and served
in the Australian military. Ive spent more than 20 years as
an activist, from high school student protests at the age of 14
to a stint as head of Greenpeace International (1993 to 1994).
In 1995 I founded Ecos Corporation, a company dedicated to driving
social change by helping companies create value through sustainability.
And Im happy to say that seven years later, were well-received
and successful. Our clients have included large global corporations
like DuPont and Ford and Australian companies like Insurance Australia
and ANZ Bank.
As you can imagine, not all of my mates at Greenpeace were thrilled
by my shift. Some thought I was selling out. Others thought, We
wouldnt want to do it, but I guess someone has to. So
why did I want to? Im a pragmatist, and starting Ecos was
a very pragmatic decision. The decision was based on a heavy dose
of reality. Two doses, actually.
* Reality dose #1: Were
in deep trouble. Globally, the environment is in dramatic decline,
human suffering is endemic, and the signposts all point in the wrong
direction. We need to turn things around and we have to do it fast.
* Reality dose #2: Capitalism
won the ideological battle over economic systems, and it won big-time.
My response: Deal with it! Corporations are where the power and
money is. If we want to make global change happen fast, weve
got to get the money and the power working for us, not against us.
Im constantly confronted by the paradox that most people like
capitalism because of the wealth, products and services it delivers,
but dislike and distrust corporations. Most people live in this
paradox. Some activists live only in the latter camp. They think
we need to bury corporations, or ban them. This righteous indignation
comes at a high priceit wont work. We need at least
some big corporations working with us or we will fail. Personally,
Ill take turning things around over feeling morally superior
Not that some corporations dont deserve to go the way of economist
Joseph Schumpeters creative destruction and be
put out of business. Some do. But well come to ExxonMobil
in another column.
The most common question Im asked is, So what makes
you think this will work? The first part of my answer is that
I dont know if it will, but its the best idea I can
think of right now. The main reason I believe it might work is that
corporations are like sheep. They are forever singing the importance
of innovation, competition and being out in front, but in reality
most of them play follow the leader. Every time a corporation
shows true leadership by demonstrating a new way to create value,
youll hardly have time to blink before 50 other companies
are lined up trying to do the same thing. This is why the market
works. We should be grateful because it means we dont have
to get all corporations to make a commitment to operationalizing
sustainability. We only need a handful of leaders to demonstrate
that it creates real and measurable value, and a corporate stampede
Which brings me to my second point. Value. Nothing concentrates
a corporate executives mind like the prospect of value creation.
They approach it with a single-mindedness of purpose that would
make a yogi jealous.
I draw an obvious conclusion from this. So long as sustainability
is pitched to corporations as a moral obligation, its dead
in the water. It has to be shown to actually create value.
Thats the name of the game. In future columns well examine
how to play it.
Paul Gilding (paul.gild firstname.lastname@example.org) is the founder and CEO
of Ecos Corporation, which provides strategic advice to corporations
on how to create value through sustainability.