Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Sustainable Company

I am about 2/3 of the way through The Sustainable Company by Chris Laszlo. Mr. Laszlo provides good background for the business case to integrate sustainable thinking into core elements of corporate governance. The old way of thinking, of extracting value from stakeholders for the benefits of shareholders is quickly becoming dangerous to the long-term health of corporations. Perhaps the increase in the number of shareholder resolutions asking for corporate revelations about their risks associated with climate change reflects the realization of the shareholders that they are also stakeholders that may be having value taken from them in the form of externalities. The book was written in 2003, and I am curious to follow-up on the businesses used in the book as case studies.

I made the mistake of watching An Inconvenient Truth followed almost immediately by The Corporation. I say mistake because the information contained within the films fed into my occasional hopelessness regarding the future of our planet. On the other hand, once the despair sinks in and moves on, there are glimmers of hope within me that still shine through. Perhaps the most depressing part of all this is our complicity as citizens in the situation we are in. Our own lack of attention has allowed companies to act irresponsibly and dangerously. The very fact that Mr. Gore illustrates so compelling an argument for the existence of global warming, including the scientific community's agreement on the influence mankind's activities on climate change, is part of the problem. Given the influence corporate funded advertising and shell organizations funded by businesses to help discredit the science behind global warming have on the general consumer, I suppose it's understandable that people feel paralyzed or refuse to believe that their daily activities contribute to this massive problem; We're collectively still in the denial phase.

Ray Anderson, Interface's CEO, was again featured as a representative of companies that have come to understand that they are plunderers of the planet. His comments in The Corporation are strong, committed, and impactful. Though he calls out corporate leaders as complicit in the extraction of the next generation's resources, he provides a hopeful vision of a future where companies do not exist merely to transfer wealth from one constituency to another, but are driven by a moral responsibility to their place in the world. After all, those of us that work in the "corporate world" are stakeholders in the environment that companies affect. Shouldn't we care deeply about what those affects are and work to eliminate negative ones?

Perhaps ExxonMobil is showing some cracks in their armor of denial around climate change. Did someone in a leadership role watch the same documentaries?