Saturday, November 20, 2004

Corporate social responsibility - triple bottom line.

The challenges of the people and planet elements of the triple bottom line (the third being profits) seem to be getting some traction under the title of " corporate social responsibility". From the McKinsey Quarterly:
The UN's corporate-citizenship initiative, the Global Compact, has enrolled more than 1,800 corporations, which have agreed to support human rights, environmental protection, and noncorrupt business practices. Unfortunately, participation—particularly by US companies—has fallen short of expectations. The take-away: Some 40 percent of the compact's participants say that it had a good effect on their corporate citizenship, but hard work lies ahead to generate the insights and practical tools needed to implement its principles and to change the world's corporations for the better.

From an FAQ with Ikea President, Anders Dahlvig :
Is it possible for IKEA to be the good company that shows respect for people and the environment at the same time as IKEA sells products at low prices? "Yes! It isn't always easy. There aren't always quick-fix solutions. But there's no conflict between good business and good companies. By making demands on suppliers with regard to environmental and social responsibility and by helping them meet these demands, our business relationship contributes to a better everyday life for the people manufacturing IKEA products. Better working conditions lead to more efficient production and better productivity. In this way suppliers can produce at a lower cost and IKEA can sell at lower prices in its stores."

For example, initially IKEA thought of an eco-friendly furniture line but then decided that was not good enough and defined a goal of all their offerings being socially and environmentally friendly. To do this they help suppliers meet higher standards in their own communities - social responsibility extended as a "green chain" that reaches across the world! Ikea believes in a journey of many small steps taken consistently.

Emphasis in the quote above is mine. Ikea's work is not new, they have been head and heart committed for some time. Propelled by their own crisis in the late 80's as they struggled to meet Swedish and German standards for formaldehyde, Ikea adopted and later adapted The Natural Step (TNS) program and this has become their mantra for doing business internally and externally. Skipping the discussion about western materialism, we can focus on the concept of effective use of resources and ecologocally sound investment in countries and communities where survival has been the first priority. No I don't work for IKEA, nor are they the only company actively working to do a good job in this area. Take a look at Bob Stiller, CEO of Green Mountain Coffee who is committed to fair trade coffee as a piece of GMC's social responsibility practice. The GMC story is also one of personal conviction, persistence and informed action. More examples please!For links to more info...

See Green Mountain's story and principles at

Ikea's plan and more importantly, action for PPP at

A paper on Ikea's early experiences with TNS

And for more in depth...

The Natural Step Story :Seeding a Quiet Revolution by Karl-Henrik Robert, foreword by Ray Anderson
Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.

It may be unlikely that a Swedish karate champion, family man, and cancer scientist could be at the center of developing a systems approach to life on Earth that could revolutionize the way humans operate in the world, but this is the story of just that: the idea, and the man behind it.

As a cancer specialist, Karl-Henrik Robèrt faced a stream of parents who would sacrifice anything to save their children. Yet that same selflessness did not seem to extend to saving the environment. For debate on how to achieve sustainability was divided, with no agreement on universal principles. But Robèrt’s experience convinced him that consensus on how to meet the most basic requirements of life should be possible.

Thus began a long process of consultation among scientists and others that eventually led to the definition of four system conditions essential for the maintenance of life on Earth: conditions that have now been agreed upon world-wide and encapsulated as The Natural Step framework. Supported by the King of Sweden, Robèrt’s original ideas were mailed to every household in Sweden. Exported around the world, they were elaborated, refined and eventually adopted by companies like IKEA and McDonald’s, and business leaders such as Ray Anderson, CEO of US carpet company Interface, and Paul Hawken, successful entrepreneur and author who later headed the US Natural Step organization. Dramatic, visionary and inspiring, The Natural Step Story will appeal to all with a passion for sustainability including business leaders, academics, journalists, activists, and students.

Karl-Henrik Robèrt is a cancer scientist and Professor of Resource Theory at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. Having initiated The Natural Step movement in 1989, he was awarded the Green Cross Award for International leadership in 1999, and the Blue Planet Prize (the 'environment Nobel') in 2000.

To Buy (and I don't get commision!)


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