Rob Katz

Who Said It? A New Manifesto for Sustainable Business

Let’s play a game of name-that-quote. I?ll reproduce a quote below, and you guess who said it. Ready? No cheating…

Business does good by doing business

Did anyone guess Milton Friedman? Heck, how about Adam Smith? Maybe Martin Feldstein? Wrong. Here’s another excerpt from the same source:

…the leading global companies of 2020 will be those that provide goods and services and reach new customers in ways that address the world’s major challenges–including poverty, climate change, resource depletion, globalization, and demographic shifts.

Did anyone guess Joel Makower? How about John Elkington? Or Stuart Hart? Maybe WRI’s Jonathan Lash, known for his forward-thinking pronouncements about the role of business?

If you did, you wouldn?t be guilty of bad reasoning. But you would again be wrong. These quotes can be attributed to a group of eight multinational corporate execs convened by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development as its ?Tomorrow’s Leaders? group. The eight include some heavy hitters from companies like SwissRe, GrupoNueva, BP, and P&G. They’ve just published From Challenge to Opportunity: The Role of Business in Tomorrow’s Society, a 40-page ?manifesto for tomorrow’s global business.?

The paper’s worth reading–it won?t take that long, and it’s not written in wonk (thankfully). It goes beyond corporate social responsibility, which is an achievement in itself. The authors clearly view poverty, climate change, globalization, and population, the four so-called ?big issues? specifically addressed in the paper, as business risks and opportunities, not social obligations to be shunted away from the operating units.

The distinct transition away from CSR toward business risk/potential is encouraging. But the paper tries to do too much. The authors attempt to present models for addressing the big issues, and that’s where they come out flat. They do, however, have the right idea, and I don?t want to be overly critical. It’s a big step in itself for corporate execs to publicly address major social as business opportunities. Could their case studies be better? Yes. Could their models use some work? Absolutely. But the messages are there, and frankly, it’s about time.