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By Bahar Gidwani
Friday November 26th was “Buy Nothing Day”, an International Day of protest against consumerism led by Adbusters magazine, which describes it as, “[a] sudden unexpected moment of truth, a mass reversal of perspective, a global mindshift – from which the corporate/consumerist forces never fully recover.”
What if the Chief Technology Officers of leading global technology companies turned their attention to solving climate change? That’s exactly what they did at the FiReGlobal conference in Seattle several weeks ago, which I attended to hear several of these technologists address “the most critical problem facing the planet – the climate catastrophe.” It was clear that these were scientists and not marketers sensitive to what consumers like to hear about climate change (no dire news please).
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Recently, I met Jeni Krencicki Bareclos and Jennifer Marlow, co-founders of Three Degrees Warmer, a University of Washington-based project that provides legal protections for the victims of climate change. One of their inspirations is a legal case that the Native Alaskan Village of Kivalina brought against some of the nation’s largest producers of oil, gas, and electric power. Kivalina’s 400 members and 107 buildings have to be moved because the permafrost on which the community is built is melting. The plaintiff’s case argues that the damage, estimated at $95-400 million in relocation costs, should be paid by the oil and gas companies who are responsible.
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In the spirit of full candor I must admit that I have cared more, for longer about football (FB) than my more recent interest in corporate social responsibility (CSR). I also confess that a part of my being exalts in a win, or suffers from that special hell that comes front and center with a loss, after a big game for a favorite team. Regardless of what occurs during the three hours of the game, the bottom line story of the scoreboard renders all else meaningless in comparison.
Now don’t get me wrong, I have enormous appreciation for a one-handed catch at the top of a 40 inch vertical leap, or a diminutive running back that leaves “broken ankles” and shattered egos in his wake, or a kicker that launches a successful field goal from a different zip code, or a 350 pound lineman pirouetting with the grace of Baryshnikov. However, regardless of the shock or awe I may experience by an extraordinary feat it is only how it factors into the score of the game that creates enduring meaning.
I suggest that the same applies for CSR. The problem, of course, is that for those of us with more than a passing interest in both (FB and CSR), we are painfully aware that while the former has clearly understood ways to score and track who is winning, the latter has no agreed upon yardstick. There are many organizations and systems that provide CSR “scores” for virtually any major company. The point is that unlike FB, CSR scores lack a common currency. Different people and organizations look at the various aspects of CSR with diverse perspectives as to what is more or less important. As well they should. For example, if your hot button is safety you would likely be less upset by a substantial mistake by a greeting card company than for a dynamite manufacturer. The beauty of six points for any touchdown doesn’t seem obtainable for CSR measurement.
In spite of the myriad of perspectives, there is however, something that can provide a light at the end of the dark CSR measurement tunnel. CSRHUB allows you to look at companies through adjustable glasses by determining the relative weight of CSR dimensions according to your personal insights and views. Check it out to see how it works (www.csrhub.com).
It has been said that the power to tax is the power to destroy. I suggest that the power to measure is the power to improve, or at least to understand and thereby be a catalyst for change. I am convinced that shedding the light of measurement and comparison in the world of CSR is likely the best way to accelerate CSR improvement.
Whether you are pleased or dismayed by the CSR scores you uncover, think the glass is half full. It’s a step in the right direction. If you don’t think so, you could probably also spend three hours watching the big game this weekend without knowing the score. I couldn’t.
Matthew Kiernan makes a gutsy call on the Responsible Investor site for a new term--strategically aware investing--to replace RI (Responsible Investing), ESG (Environment, Social, Governance), and CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). It takes guts to come up with a new acronym, especially one that contains the word “strategic”. While I continue to believe as I said in our CSRHUB blog that “a rose is a rose”, words have power, and we definitely need to break through old mindsets to mainstream sustainability. However, sometimes good words take a long time to reach currency, when at the outset they seem “nichey” and live on the edge.
Can businesses maximize both their profits and the social benefits they create? Or, do economic and social profits compete with one another? 100+ years of literature and lore have trained us to believe that businesses can’t optimize both their profits and their social benefits. From Upton Sinclair (e.g., The Jungle) and Charles Dickens (A Christmas Story), through Erin Brockovich and The Informant!, we have heard of countless examples of horrors that can be caused by corporate greed and money-grubbing.However, a number of people seem to believe that this paradigm can be broken.
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An article in today's Wall Street Journal surprised me with a poll that showed American voters trust big business even less than they trust members of Congress. Banks (treated as a separate category by the Gallup pollsters who did this work) have zoomed downward in trust terms since 2006, and are now just a smidge above Congress. The Supreme Court was the last party mentioned--and its trustworthiness seems to be rising.
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