Many including this author, believe that forward-thinking companies will integrate sustainability goals into their business models and will use their visions of sustainability to help define revenue-generating strategies. Certainly the recent implosion of financial markets around the world offers a clear and disturbing picture of what happens when people lose faith in the long-term viability of businesses and business models.
For anyone to accept the premise that social responsibility is a business strategy, we must be able to define and quantify the business benefits that can be derived from adopting this model. This is so that success can be measured, just as with any business strategy.
In addition to the obvious impacts on the environment, business is a powerful force for driving social as well as economic gains. This can be seen from the benefits that generations have come to take for granted in industrialized nations. For millions of people around the world, capitalism has been a force for economic and social advancement. People are living longer, healthier lives and enjoying the prosperity, self-realization and destiny that capitalism has helped to fuel.
With exceptions such as relief after the Indian Ocean tsunami and other disasters that draw international attention and concern, for the most part, people like to see the benefit of corporations in their own community. Impacts such as employment opportunities, contributions to tax revenues and bringing needed goods and services to the community are easily understood and appreciated. At the same time, noise of production and vehicular traffic are easily recognized local consequences.
Employees are closest to the community of stakeholders because they are community stakeholders with the unique perspective of knowing the needs of both the community and the company.
Recently I attended a conference on social media. One presenter offered up the notion that companies are no longer able to control their ‘brand’ or image using the example of a recent YouTube video ‘United Breaks Guitars’ in which a professional musician sings about how the airline baggage handlers broke his guitar and the company refused to compensate him for the loss of his instrument. When it was my turn to present I asked the audience – in all seriousness – if they really honestly thought that this was something new.
Successful businesses are adept at determining market changes, trends and expectations. They cannot be in such a rush to embrace the “new” trend that they abandon their fundamental and core purposes.
For any program to be valuable to a business, it must further the goals of that company. Businesses must therefore be prudent when it comes to sustainability efforts, and not rush headlong into activities or partnerships that are not aligned with their long-term interests because that, quite simply, is bad business.