hot topic, corporate responsibility embraces the most dynamic
set of business issues facing leadership today. Living daily
under heightened scrutiny from consumers, investors and communities
that question business practices, global companies are now seeking
to manage the social, human and natural capital of their business
to build authentic shareholder value.
This article frames the corporate responsibility issues, introduces
a tool called Standing in the Future, and briefly notes one
companys experience for getting started.
Who Is Taking Action?
Ask corporate executives and they will likely respond that corporate
responsibility performance has become more important to business
success over the past decade. A recent Conference Board survey of
over 700 companies found 68 percent of corporate managers think
the link between corporate responsibility and performance appraisal
is increasingly important. At the June 2002 Global Environmental
Management Initiative (GEMI) conference, another survey revealed
that 50 percent of attendees had or would soon be adding corporate
responsibility to their environmental and/or health and safety
position title within their organization. However, business toolsmeasures,
incentives, training programsare still emerging.
What Do Strategies Include?
While hot button corporate responsibility issues will
differ by business and be influenced by a spotlight of current events
(from accounting practices to oil spill disasters), all businesses
possess a framework of assets and capabilities to manage these issues.
Multi-national corporations recruit and retain some of the best
business talent in the world, and the knowledge, skills and motivation
of this workforce are considerable. An inventory of corporate assetspeople,
relationships, natural resources and production materialscan
be examined and proactively managed to add business value, and avoid
being the next crisis reported in the headlines. So the business
* Human capitalincludes
labor, health and education. Also corporate governancethe
system by which companies are directed and controlled (such as business
ethics and standards, board of directors).
* Social capitalvalue added by external relationships,
use of business wealth to stimulate economic development; includes
* Natural capitalenergy and matter that yields
valuable goods and services; natural resources, minerals, land,
* Manufactured capitalmaterial, tools, machines,
buildings, other forms of infrastructure contributing to production,
but not embodied in output.
It is important for any corporate responsibility strategy to maximize
the utilization of these resources in a way that not only adds value,
but clearly provides a vision for the path forward.
As baseball legend Yogi Berra once said, If you dont
know where youre going, you will wind up somewhere else.
Standing in the Future is a visioning tool that may be used to plan
a practical corporate responsibility strategy and budget based on
human, social and natural resource availability. This tool employs
a visioning exercise and backcasting to clearly describe
what a successful enterprise would look like at a defined point
in the future (i.e., five, 10 or 15 years). Our experience is that
the Standing in the Future tool provides enhanced results over traditional
planning techniques, such as trend extrapolation, because it does
not place limits or bind an organization to current technology or
practice to design a preferred future state. Participants in the
exercise collaboratively plan responses to potential business challenges
after they have clearly described what successful corporate responsibility
would look like for their company.
Heres a company example based on our experience at Blue Circle
Industries, a U.K.-based heavy building materials company that was
recently acquired by Lafarge, making Lafarge the worlds largest
cement manufacturer. Blue Circle formed a cross-functional team
that represented the Blue Circle business process to conduct the
visioning exercise. This team consisted of 10 members: Blue Circle
Industries: chief executive (1), corporate governmental affairs,
environment and safety managers and an environmental scientist (4);
regional operations, communications and environment managers (3);
and external facilitators (2). The team was responsible for defining
what sustainability might mean to the heavy building materials industry
* clearly establishing what
it meant to think in the future;
brainstorming possible outcomes, performance improvement expectations
ensuring balance and outcome between people, planet and profit;
* and concluding the process
with a priority on investment and strategy.
Creating the Vision
The team came up with many suggestions and ideas. A matrix was developed
to grow the Blue Circle vision in terms of the triple bottom line:
economic growth, environmental performance and social responsibility.
New concepts had to offer improvements to each dimension of the
bottom line to go forward in planning.
The result of this process was a visiona preferred future
statethat provided clear direction and possibilities that
otherwise would never have been developed. Blue Circles vision
of cement works in the future was much different than the existing
vision. For the cement plant to be sustainable, the team saw a need
to move away from a dependence on natural resources . . . thus reducing
the environmental footprint . . . and maybe having no footprint
The vision of a cement plant in the future became:
* No stack, which means no emissions.
No quarry, which means reuse of alternate materials.
No shovels, no brooms, no masks, which means a plant with no spillage.
The employer of choice.
The neighbor of choice.
A social responsibility index score that attracted new investors.
The team approach, including management and operations perspectives,
produced a degree of ownership that ensures meaningful outcomes.
Implementing this vision will produce significant improvements in
labor and material waste, manufacturing efficiencies and health
risk, while providing visual improvement, better morale, improved
image and reputation. Blue Circle could now establish targets for
measuring performance improvement from a baseline. These targets
also supported institutional investor analyst scoring.
How to Implement the Vision
We have moved away from a society where a corporation could say,
Trust me. We now must show what corporate responsibility
means, moving away from the abstract to clearly outlined actions
that engage the vision of the future.
How do you go about testing the vision, to see if its viable, sustainable?
Demonstration projects are an ideal way to test the vision and see
if it, indeed works. The vision and demonstration can then be shared
with internal and external stakeholders, calibrated to meet societal
needs and ensure a balanced triple bottom line.
Distinctly different from a policy statement, the Standing in the
Future vision communicates concrete direction internally for business
investment and annual operating plans. Now that's good business.
FOR FURTHER REFERENCE
* The Conference Board,
Inc., Corporate Citizenship in the New Century, Executive
* Good Business by Steve Hilton and Giles Gibbons,
* Business for Social Responsibility (www.bsr.org)
* The Global Environmental Management Initiative (www.gemi.org)
* The Corporate Social Responsibility Forum (www.pwblf.org)
* Natural Capitalism by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins,
and L. Hunter Lovins,
John Gray, PE, served as group environmental manager for Blue Circle
Industries PLC, now Lafarge. He serves on the advisory board for the
EEMC at Georgia Tech, and environmental committees for the National
Stone Sand and Gravel Association and Georgia Crushed Stone Association.
Susan Graff is principal of Environmental Resource, Inc (www.envsource.com)
and is also the company founder. She serves on the board of directors
at the School of Public Policy at Georgia Tech, and the steering committee
of ENFORM, a regional business forum on corporate responsibility and