I’ve always been clumsy. There were many broken dishes and glasses in my childhood. My Mom was always kind about it. She’d say, “Tears don’t mend broken China.” She had other similar phrases I remember (e.g., “If you get a load of lemons, it is time to make lemonade!”), but the lesson was always Midwestern positivism. Don’t sit around moaning about what can’t be fixed—keep moving forward and don’t let your own failures hold you back.
Our recent election broke dishes for those of us in sustainability. Many of my friends in the field and a number of our clients have asked if US corporate sustainability programs will be put on hold for the next four years.
I’m not as good as my mother was, at mending dishes (or comforting someone who is crying!). But I do see some reasons for hope:
- Well-run corporations care about profit, reputation, and mission. If their sustainability programs generate a profit, reduce risk, or help them accomplish their longer-range goals, they should continue to pursue them.
- Young folks soon take over. We get requests daily from students around the world who need data for a sustainability study or project. For every student who majors in CSR there are ten other young people who care passionately about the world’s future. Unless something dramatically changes how young people view the future, we will continue seeing a generation-driven rise in interest in sustainability.
- US companies trade with the rest of the world—and the rest of the world won’t backtrack on sustainability. If a US company wants to be successful in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, etc. it must adhere to a high standard of ethics, respect indigenous peoples, avoid polluting local water supplies, combat climate change, etc.
- US companies have the same stakeholders they did on November 7. Managers, employees, communities, suppliers, customers, and investors will continue to remind companies about the risks that companies will face if they do not behave responsibly. It will remain important to have a “social license to operate.”
- Momentum matters. Corporations are big ships that turn slowly. They have put money and time into corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs. They won’t shift these resources into other things, without good reason and a lengthy analysis process.
What types of changes may occur? Don’t expect stringent new guidelines from US regulators (e.g., the SEC, the EPA, OSHA, etc.). Look for more boycotts and “buycotts.” (Several groups are boycotting Trump-related brands and there seems to be a countervailing push to punish firms that won’t advertise on Breitbart.) Some companies may offer less-sustainable alternatives in certain product areas. (E.g., muscle cars, heavily-sugared cereals, and other “retro” products.) Corporations may put on hold major new green investments until things “settle down.” None of this is long-term stuff. We can mend these pieces and fix these holes.
We at CSRHub see our data and tools as a way to improve how a company communicates its progress and a means to reduce the cost of and improve the effectiveness of sustainability reporting. My mom once put the lid of a tea pot I’d smashed under my pillow and told me that it would give me sweet dreams. Let’s remember what we’ve been through and all that we’ve accomplished so far. Then, let’s move forward and dream again, about a better future.
Bahar Gidwani is CEO and Co-founder of CSRHub. He has built and run large technology-based businesses for many years. Bahar holds a CFA, worked on Wall Street with Kidder, Peabody, and with McKinsey & Co. Bahar has consulted to a number of major companies and currently serves on the board of several software and Web companies. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and an undergraduate degree in physics and astronomy. He plays bridge, races sailboats, and is based in New York City.
CSRHub provides access to the world’s largest corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information. It covers over 16,800 companies from 135 industries in 133 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 500 data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices, and seek ways to improve corporate sustainability performance.