What makes a “good” company?


My theme for 2012 is to simultaneously raise corporate and individual social consciousness. A few weeks ago I, together with Greg Balestrero, spoke at DigitalNow, a conference for executives of associations, on the topic of “The Rise of Corporate Consciousness: Integrating Environmental and Social Principles into Organizational Strategies”.

There are a lot of companies providing lip service to “Corporate Social Responsibility”, or CSR, as it’s called. However, in the last few years it seems we have passed a tipping point. Both customers and corporations are investing in products, services, and processes, focused on the sustainability of our world.

According to the Vision 2050 report of the WBCSD (World Business Council for Sustainable Development), which is a consensus piece compiled by 29 leading global companies from 14 industries, we are on the path of growing to a population of 9 billion people by 2050 (http://www.wbcsd.org/vision2050.aspx). In addition, there will be a significant increase in the number of people in the so-called middle class. Based on current consumption rates these 9 billion people will need 2.3 earths to support their life styles. Obviously we do NOT have 2.3 planets!!!

Something needs to change. This can either be done by all of us making conscious changes to our life-style, product production, and use of the world, or it will happen through catastrophic change – either by our own hand through wars or other destruction, or by Mother Nature through disease (anybody seen the movie “Contagion”) or natural disasters. The path we are on is unsustainable!!!

Now the interesting part of our talk was that the session before ours – on leadership – was packed! Our session, on the other hand, had only one third of the participants. The sad thing is that we were not surprised. Most people either think the earth will last throughout their lifetime, and they feel no real sense of urgency. Or they think that there is nothing they can do to change what’s happening. What was encouraging was that over lunch one participant shared that his daughter of ten is not interested in going to Disney world since she thinks it is a wasteful place. Another participant mentioned that his daughter of 12 refuses to use plastic bottles for water or soft drinks for similar reasons. This underscored my belief that the next generation does care more about sustainability issues, and will help force change either by their consumer choices, their employer choices, or both.

There seems to be a belief, especially with some people in management positions, that there is a trade off to be made between sustainable practices and profit/ shareholder value. Numerous studies have shown that being “good” for society, employees and the environment, also increases overall company performance. These have been documented in books like Firms of Endearment, Good Company, and Ethical Companies, and on websites like “Great Place to Work”. There is definitely no proof that being a “good company” is bad for performance. In other words, shareholders WILL get more value if an organization cares about its employees, the communities it touches, society at large, and the environment.

2050 is less than 40 years away. I will be close to celebrating my 80th birthday then. This is a problem that needs attention now – from all of us!! What are you doing in your job and your organization to increase your social consciousness so your organization’s business will be more sustainable – or even alive – in 2050? What are you doing to assure that we will get off the path we are on, headed for needing 2.3 planets worth of resources by 2050?

Please share your action plan with us so that others can be inspired and implement the same.

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4 thoughts on “What makes a “good” company?”

  1. Thanks for sharing this important topic, Nathalie! Many years ago I read Jared Diamond’s book “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed”. This made me much more aware of the difficulty for governments to lead the kinds of dramatic changes required to avoid slowly developing catastrophes. It truly is like the boiled frog that Loyal mentioned – put a live frog into cold water and heat it up slowly and he’ll boil to death even though he could have easily hopped out. I strongly believe that socially conscientious global corporations, more so than governments, will be crucial to leading the kinds of changes required to create a sustainable future for human civilization on Earth. These companies have people, money and interests that span countries – often greater than many governments of the 200 or so countries on our planet. That’s why I’m so delighted to be working to help Japanese businesses globalize. The companies I work with impress me because they embrace important values that I share, including a true commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility and a deep respect for the responsibility to consider the sustainability of our way of life in our business decisions, and to take responsibility for our impact on the Earth.

    1. Excellent observation and thank you for sharing! It is in Japan where I for the first time saw Corporate Social Responsibility implemented through the value system of the organization. It is a true believe that it is their duty to sustain the planet for generations to come. Truly inspiring!

  2. It is nice to hear that our next generation gets it. At least a few of them. The old story of the frog in boiling water comes to mind here. My fear is that if things move slowly to boiling, we won’t actd to fix the problems until it is too late.

    Keep advocating!

    1. Thanks Loyal for your comment. I totally agree and YES, I will keep advocating and hope you will too!! 🙂

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