9.30.2008

THE VERY BEST INTENTIONS

If there’s anyone who would be focused on the bottom line, it’s the CFO. Which is why I appreciated CFO Magazine’s generally enlightened take on corporate social responsibility (CSR). Here’s a nice reminder from this month’s issue about how to really do good while doing well: “Best Intentions.” This is the kind of CSR I like: not at the expense of profitability; not afraid to be profitable or even coolly self-interested; and, in a world that desperately needs the power of business to be leveraged for social and environmental good, no longer a non-required option if you want to grow a company that is truly profitable over the long run.

This is what I have been hoping for in terms of the direction business heads: a matching of long-term shareholder value with sustainability in community impact, environmental impact, and social impact. These now no longer need to be at odds with each other, but can be seen as mutually inclusive: there is no way to build a business that is financially sustainable except that one accounts for communal, environmental, and social sustainability.

Note, for example, Business Week’s cover story on “innovation economics,” which paired an article on what the US needs to do to stay competitive with an article on how weapons labs like Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore are helping companies like Procter & Gamble and Goodyear to build products and packaging not derived from petroleum-based materials. In other words, our best minds are at work to figure out how to transform our business practices so that they are innovative to compete in a global market, profitable to generate returns to shareholders, and sensitive to environmental realities in a post-“Peak Oil” age. Let’s hope for more of this.

PS On that note, here’s a delicious quote from Tom Friedman’s new book, “How, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need A Green Revolution – And How It Can Renew America”: “There is only one thing bigger than Mother Nature and that is Father Profit, and we have not even begun to enlist him in this struggle.” I demur – the God of Creation has the trump card on both – but this is not inconsistent with my overall premise: that we who believe in such a God can and must align our charge to safeguard creation and do justice for our fellow man with an ability to create long-term shareholder value.
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