Feature Article - March/April 2009

Greater Goods

Better for the Bottom Line, Better for Employees, Better for the Planet

By Frederick Jerant


N

ot too long ago, "environmental consciousness" and "corporate social responsibility" were terms most often associated with people and companies operating on the fringes of mainstream America—tiny firms without much distribution reach or capital, or the occasional little company that made it big—Ben & Jerry's, for example.

But as Bob Dylan once wrote, "The times, they are a-changin'."

More and more often, even corporate giants are finding that there's more to business life than profits.

Simply put, corporate social responsibility is much more than simply adhering to required legislation, and much more than simply writing some checks to good causes. CSR requires companies to evaluate the impact of their actions and policies on customers, shareholders, suppliers, communities and the environment.

"Real corporate responsibility stems from the realization that organizations and their stakeholders are dependent on each other," said Michael Meltzer, CEO of Sirota Survey Intelligence, a specialist in stakeholder attitude research. "It's in their mutual interest to build partnership relationships with each other. Implicit in such productive relationships is the consideration of the long-term consequences and implications of an organization's behaviors. Short-term thinking is destructive to a relationship that should be based on mutual trust and building joint value."

Meltzer cited the current financial meltdown as an extreme example. If the institutions had acted in a truly responsible manner, he said, they'd have evaluated the potential impact of their actions on the needs and interests of their investors, employees, various communities (where the companies did business, and where they obtained employees and customers), the customers themselves, and taxpayers and citizens around the world.

Instead, the investors lost tremendous amounts of money; employees are losing their jobs at an alarming rate; communities are losing corporate investments and sources of employment; customers (who expected their mortgage holders to act properly) are losing their homes; and taxpayers around the world are being forced to come up with the hundred of billions of bailout dollars needed to repair the damage.