|Date: 2024-03-01 Page is: DBtxt001.php txt00009996
When It Really Isn’t Business as Usual: Can There be Principle Without “Principle?”: Part II
Years before the surprising examples of bold sustainable business actions discussed in Part 1, we had the writings of Jem Bendell, Wayne Visser, John Elkington and Jeffrey Hollender, who have long seen the limitations of constrained corporate social responsibility (CSR) and the need to go much further. But for a long time we did not have much more than the now, at least, somewhat known — although still jaw-dropping — examples of Interface and Patagonia. Interface spoke the language of deep environmentalism (while breaking a number of still-prescribed sustainable business maxims), aiming for zero emissions and beyond. Patagonia’s “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign is still a head-scratcher, as it brought sustainable consumption field to the mainstream smack in a full page New York Times advertisement. These were breeches in the sustainable business field’s versions of a “law of physics.” But while the power of these precedents was generally ignored at sustainable business conferences, and by consultants, environmentalists, the mainstream media, and government, they at least showed what is possible.
Now, though, we have more evidence for an emerging conscience and a shift in the fundamental role of business in the activities of a number of groups:
That Kuhn anomaly detector that warns of cracks in our commonly accepted views should be switched to “Vibrate” as it’s beginning to get louder.
So what do we make of this still murky, if accumulating, evidence that within some businesses and sectors a conscience might be emerging, despite the still-bad actors, inertia, residual power of the old Friedmanian ideology (“There is one and only one social responsibility of business — to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game…”), and a long, long way to go?
Could business ever be accepted as a major player in an intergenerational societal covenant that expands the scope and depth of its efforts to pursue a better society and world for our children and grandchildren, their children and grandchildren, the other guy’s children and grandchildren, and the critters with whom we share this place? Is that vision so far-fetched?
Perhaps those bean counters who felt the necessity to hide their consciences within their organizations’ metrics, and knew how to do so, were actually expressing their souls. Should they be faulted for that?
Even if the answer to this question is “No charges are contemplated at this time,” is gaming the system the best way? Recognizing the viral power of cats for a triple metaphor, perhaps we should name that stray cat, adopt it, and let it out of the bag.
In the next, and final, part, we will distinguish more clearly between what we are talking about when we invoke a mainstream conscience versus what we’re not, but speculate that as things evolve, the distinctions made now will lose much of their significance as categories mush together. And that would be a good thing.
Of course, some of those companies about whom no one would accuse of being conscience-driven have to get in the game, too.
Matt Polsky is a sustainability change agent and a Senior Fellow at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Institute for Sustainable Enterprise. He tries to leverage change by encouraging select individuals and organizations to aim higher; and by catalyzing new types of sustainability… [Read more about Matt Polsky]
by Matt Polsky
June 22, 2015
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