Sometimes I feel like
starting a campaign against corporate social responsibility. At
a minimum, Id like to see the sustainability community stop
using those words. The language is all wrong and, most importantly,
it doesnt work very well. Sure it encourages platitudes by
business leaders who spout the right words, but then they can hardly
say theyre against corporate responsibilitycan they?
The problem with the corporate social responsibility
approach is that it grades companies for goodness. Thats a
familiar modelkids everywhere are taught to behave themselves,
or elseonly here its applied to the grown-up world.
Pledge to abide by the following standards of socially responsible
corporate performance and be punished when you stray. Are you a
good company (i.e., do you join the right organizations,
do you sign the right sets of principles)? Do you go to church on
Sunday (i.e., do you attend the right conferences)? Do you confess
when you misbehave (i.e., do you publish reports pointing out your
Im not against any of these things per senot against
going to church and not against publishing sustainability reports
either. These are good things to do and focus our attention. But
I dont want companies behaving responsibly because theyre
afraid of being caught, like bad little boys and girls. Sure, when
theyre getting started, companies, like children, may need
this kind of motivation. But what about when they grow up? Finger-wagging
isnt going to get companies to embrace sustainability with
sincerity, let alone any real sense of urgency or speed. I want
companies to embrace sustainability because it will help them whip
their competition. I want sustainability to be Darwinian.
Take oil, for example. Whats going to drive BP to take stronger
action on climate change? The fear of criticism by NGOs or the prospect
of gaining market share from Exxon Mobil because people think BP
is a better company to work for or buy from? Whats going to
be more effective at driving BP to invest more in solar: the media
getting on the companys case because its solar business is
only a fraction of its oil investments or learning that the company
gets better returns and faster growth in solar than in oil?
If sustainability is going to take hold in the corporate sector
in a big wayand boy do we need it toit will be because
it starts producing big profits and more growth for companies. It
wont happen because of an abstract executive commitment to
something called corporate social responsibility. It
will happen because sustainability is a great business strategy.
And it is.
Every company I talk to confirms that their employees increasingly
want to work for a company thats doing something genuinely
usefulthey want their work to matter. So they want to work
for companies that have a clear sense of social purpose. Attracting
the best people, and then having them highly motivated, drives growth.
This is why sustainability is even slowly being picked up by service-based
sectors like insurance and finance.
Smart companies take a look at climate change and see the writing
on the wall, even in Bushs America. Were going to have
highly efficient cars that use less and less gasoline, and then
no gasoline at all. The auto companies that work out how to drive
the market in that direction more quickly, and how to ride that
wave, will grow faster. Theyll make more moneyand good
luck to them. Those that fail to do so will fall by the wayside.
Hey, thats what makes capitalism the cuddly creature it is.
Winners win and losers lose. Creative destruction at work.
It doesnt take a genius to see that the world is going to
sustainability. In 50 years, well have cars that are safe
and pollution-free, power
stations on our rooftops, cleaner and healthier food, cities that
work (well, that may be stretching it a bit), and a whole lot more.
Is all that going to come about because its the right thing
to do? Nope. Its going to happen because the most powerful
institution on the planetbusinesswill take us there
by combining relatively decent values with the pursuit of profit
Sure, plenty of todays companies dont get it. Many of
them never will. We know who they are and well enjoy watching
them decline into the trash bin of history and tomorrows business-school
I dont want to feel holier than them. I just want to see them
Bring on the market, and bye-bye losers.
Paul Gilding (paul.gild
email@example.com) is the founder and CEO of Ecos Corporation,
which provides strategic advice to corporations on how to create value