Recently I was privileged to visit Ashridge Business School to learn more about the Ashridge Masters in Sustainability and Responsibility. Keen to become more involved in the cutting edge research which is shaping the Social Responsibility agenda, I went with an open mind and not really sure what to expect.
When I say I went with an open mind, it wasn’t long before I realised that my long-held and somewhat surprisingly strong views about the difference between the academic world of Social Responsibility and its effective commercial application were very much in evidence as I gave my opinion on various topics throughout the day.
During one interesting session, I had a great conversation with two other people who had science and environmental backgrounds, compared to my corporate experience. We watched a short film regarding climate change, and the serious state of our planet and were asked to discuss our views. Surprisingly, we began the conversation with diverse interpretations of the content ranging from: “the game’s over so what’s the point?”, to, “if we all contribute and collaborate, we can positively shape our economic and environmental future”.
As you may have guessed, my foot is firmly in the latter camp. Together we CAN influence change, but we must collaborate effectively. What’s abundantly clear is that when adopting a robust Social Responsibility Strategy, and taking a triple bottom line approach (people, planet and profit) we cannot ignore the impact that businesses have on the environment. Without a planet, we have no economy. It really is that simple. Currently, we are consuming far more than the planet can provide in resources. It’s just not sustainable.
So, is the game over, or can individual businesses really make a difference? The short answer, is yes, individuals, businesses, governments, and NGOs can all change the way that we live in order that we leave the world a better place than when we entered it.
Thankfully, there is increasing evidence to demonstrate that businesses are incorporating their social responsibility strategy into the very fabric of their operations. Gone are the days of having a dedicated CSR department, or team. The new economic model demands that businesses understand the impact of their actions on their people (clients, employees, communities, suppliers, and other business partners), the planet, and of course their profit. As Henry Ford put it so succinctly: “”Business must be run at a profit, else it will die. But when anyone tries to run a business solely for profit, then also the business must die, for it no longer has a reason for existence.”
Creating purpose beyond profit is fundamentally important to society. Profit and benefits to society are not mutually exclusive. Michael Porter has defined the term CSV (Creating Shared Value), as opposed to CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). He explains that the difference between the two is that CSR has a focus which is separate from profit maximisation, whereas CSV is integral to profit maximisation. Listen to Michael Porter talk in more detail on the difference between CSR and CSV
Whatever language you use, we must operate in a way that will maximise the positive benefits for the community and for society.
My belief is that the game is not over, it’s only just begun.