Going the Distance in Corporate Responsibility
It’s truly remarkable how important corporate responsibility has become in such a short period of time.
In 2001, when I started Impakt, very few people had any idea what corporate responsibility was. Friends, family, and colleagues couldn’t imagine why I thought a business could be built in an area that was so esoteric. There were many times that I wondered the same thing. As recently as three years ago corporate responsibility was seen by executives as a marginal “nice-to-have” that had minimal impact on core business priorities such as brand loyalty, competitive advantage, employee performance and productivity, sales, and profit margin.
Today, the story is clearly very different. We no longer need to make the case for corporate responsibility and people in all areas of business are now accountable for incorporating “responsibility” into their areas of operation. Perhaps the most telling sign that CR is valuable are the extraordinary number of conferences, consultants, and communications that have sprung up over the past few years. My in-box is overflowing with news, events, and best practices. And, at least once a week, I hear from someone who wants to change careers to get more involved in corporate responsibility.
So, corporate responsibility is now mainstream and ubiquitous. There are many reasons why this is a good thing. However, I already see complacency setting in. After executives endorsed the validity and value of corporate responsibility, mangers moved quickly to institutionalize and systematize everything they could. On the one hand, this means that human and financial resources are allocated and that action will be taken. On the other hand, we’re in danger of losing the innovation and pure passion that were the defining characteristics of corporate responsibility’s early adopters.
Here’s what I’m looking for today:
The automobile company that genuinely believes in sustainable transportation and converts it’s dealerships to sustainability “centers” that feature bicycles, walking maps, discounted transit passes, car pooling registries, as well as the most environmentally friendly vehicles for when driving is the only option.
The pharmaceutical company that believes that preventing people from getting sick and selling less medicine are in its best interests because the money saved and goodwill created will far outweigh the revenue lost from sales of therapeutic products.
The mass grocery retailer that recognizes the value in helping consumers grow their own food and support local agriculture by converting their roofs to green spaces with community gardens and hosting local farmer’s markets in their parking lots.
I’m all for better better processes and more efficiency but let’s not loose the imagination that got us here to start with. Plus, those corporations that have the courage to really go the distance will be the undisputed leaders in their categories for years to come.
Paul Klein is president of Impakt Corporation, a Toronto-based outfit that helps corporations increase the returns on their community investments.