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Yes! Corporate Social Responsibility makes Business Sense!

I recently ran across a documentary called Waste = Food and the movie is about how it is possible to start turning waste into something useful & renewable – the “food” for other processes, products, or people. 

During the film, an operational manager for the Ford Motor company talks, candidly, about the problems of corporate social responsibility. The company executives would participate in any number of presentations about how to incorporate business, social, and environmental concerns. The executive’s problem, as well as his frustrations with these presentations was that after the introductory remarks bringing all three together, throughout the rest of the presentation, the business element would disappear.

Is there any way to bring all of these together? I bring you hope that there is.

Thinking of the business element, many business executives are looking at the Balanced Scorecard methodology in order to better run their businesses. A very short definition of this approach is that to get a true sense of what drives success in a business, you have to consider several different perspectives. We are all familiar with the financial perspective, and that is extremely important, though the Balanced Scorecard includes other perspectives as well, like the value proposition to the customer and how employees or internal processes affect outcomes. By paying attention to this broader picture of the organization, the methodology provides a balance that helps truly drive performance and success.

Waste = Food is a great illustration of how using a broader perspective when approaching business issues can create successful results – both financially as well as environmentally.

When the Herman-Miller chair company rebuilt its plant to be more eco-friendly, it got a terrific side effect: the workers attitudes improved and production increased. Herman-Miller developed an eco-friendly chair, by making it easier to disassemble when recycling also made it easier, and less costly, to produce.

That Ford Motor company executive also talked about rebuilding an assembly plant in Michigan. The innovative design put grass and plants on the entire 10 acres of roof. This not only provided a place for birds, it also protected the roof from sun damage, extended the life of the roof, further insulated the building that help cut heating costs, and filtered the rain water that fell on it. There was also a large area with grass, trees, and bushes between the plant and the river. This area further filtered that rain water before it entered the river, so that the plant didn’t have to build additional water treatment facilities. This project showed that there is a way of integrating business profitability with environmental sustainability.

Far too often there are very unbalanced ways of approaching issues. Especially when insisting on looking at them from only one perspective. Instead of finding the best solution, be it a bit unconventional, the dialogue is limited to one versus the other. Just as the Balanced Scorecard business methodology recommends looking at different perspectives, Waste = Food shows that is possible to make strategic choices that support and sustain the business as well as supporting and sustaining the environment and the community.

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  • With all the talk around green and environment, this video and its premise and your blog are very timely.  I like the distinction made around recyclable as opposed to down-grading products and the fact that first they start with a business goal (digestible/decomposed end-product) and then demonstrate the  process to achieving that.  Opened my eyes to the way to look at stuff, too.    Thanks
  • I owe Marilyn a blog on the same theme, but I’m going to put a little twist on it as soon as I get a chance to write it.

    How would “SAP-for-China” be different than what it is today?

    How would “SAP-for-Chavez-in-Venezuela” be different than it is today?

    What I mean here is that markets are markets, regardless of whether one likes the philosophy of the folks who are buying.

    For example, there was a very famous US businessman named Armand Hammer:

    who eventually achieved some financial success dealing with the Soviet Union in oil and gas, even though his political sympathies seemed to be centrist-to-rightwing (in US terms).

    I think that someone at SAP should be thinking about his company (Occidental Petroleum) as a business model for penetrating non-capitalist economies, while at the same time trying to figure out how SAP would have to change to handle the kinds of problems China faces when it comes to centralized planning and distribution.

    I personally believe that there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the way military logistics is currently done with SAP and the way centralized planning/distribution would be done in China.

    And if I’m correct, SAP penetration of non-capitalist economies wouldn’t involve a whole lot of technical changes – just a big difference in the kinds of reports that the customer would need.

    (Whether the above post has anything to do with your topic of “corporate social responsibility” is up to each reader to decide.  From the point of view of a 19th century US “robber baron”, socially responsible corporations are not capitalist entities by definition.  A corporation isn’t really capitalist unless it really believes that its only obligation is to the shareholders, and consistently operates under that belief.  And this leaves out “socially responsible corporations”.)

    Best regards