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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sustainable Excellence

Sustainable Excellence: The Future of Business in a Fast-Changing World

By Aron Cramer and Zachary Karabell

Publisher: Rodale Books

ISBN 978-1605295343


Today's business landscape is changing in fundamental ways. Natural resources are growing ever more scarce and expensive. Technology and changing consumer expectations are making transparency a fact of life. The rise of emerging economies creates vast market opportunities for companies - and better living standards for hundreds of millions. In Sustainable Excellence, Aron Cramer and Zachary Karabell tell the stories of companies that are transforming by responding to these paradigm shifts and reshaping the future of business.


Aron Cramer and Zachary Karabell saved the best for the last. The penultimate chapter of this book is called "Ten companies that will shape the world in 2020." The list is not what most of us might expect. Of the 10 companies mentioned, only five are US-headquartered global businesses, the other five are from China, India, Brazil, Spain and Israel. This is a list I am sure you could not have guessed, and may not even be able to completely comprehend without reading the other chapters of Sustainable Excellence. Whilst the authors confirm this list is "hardly exhaustive", they point out these companies "illustrate what it will take to thrive in the coming decade." Important lessons are to be learned from these companies, and the many more find their place in this outstanding overview of everything that impacts business, planet, society, sustainability and everything in between. The goal of the authors is to "help, over the next decade, sustainable excellence become simply excellence"; and despite the many obstacles along the way, Cramer and Karabell believe there are "ample signs that this transformation is on its way." Whether you subscribe to this viewpoint or not, Sustainable Excellence is an impressive work, highlighting both well-known and lesser-known examples of companies not doing business as usual.

Of course we might expect Aron Cramer, who has headed up Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) for the past six years and driven its expansion as the global guiding light of sustainable business practices, to produce an optimistic view of where sustainability is heading and who is doing it right. Similarly, Zachary Karabell, a Harvard PhD economist and author, is a Senior Advisor to BSR. How could these two produce anything other than a persuasive validation of sustainability? It is true Cramer and Karabell have delivered on this expectation; but as with sustainability itself, much of the success of the "what" is in the "how." Their arguments make sense, the case studies are appropriately selected, the writing is balanced and their approach is flavored with forward-looking anticipation, inspiration and enough realism to provide a good platform of authority and credibility (and perhaps a little hope that they might just have got it right).

The book's 14 chapters follow a logical path, starting with a definition of "sustainable excellence" and moving through a broad scope of related subsets, including a potted history of the sustainability movement, the relevance of sustainability to strategy, the role of leadership, a selection of emerging companies that are leading the way in sustainable practices, the importance and complexity of value chains, aspects of product stewardship, role of financial markets and socially responsible investing, positioning of commodities and influence of energy markets, the age of Green IT, smart-grids and sustainable urbanization, a view on authenticity, integrity and the greenwash factor in corporate practices, communications, cross-sector partnerships and the influence of NGOs. Sustainable Excellence is also a 'who's who' of every business that has made headway in sustainability practices over the past few decades, including Shell, Marks and Spencer, Pepsico, Walmart, SC Johnson, General Electric, Nike, Vale, Procter and Gamble, Unilever, TNT, Siemens, Du Pont, Samsung, Ikea, Levi Strauss, Unilever, Duke Energy, UPS, Novo Nordisk, Ford Motors, Ben and Jerry's, China Mobile, Clorox and many more. All have interesting stories woven into the book by Cramer and Karabell.

Sustainability, according to these meisters, "has become the defining factor in business success" and "in order to survive and thrive, business leaders must discover the formula for sustainable excellence." Achieving sustainable excellence involves attention to five core elements:

1.Think big: create business strategies that meet global challenges.
2.Use sustainability to drive innovation.
3.Set the right incentives internally and externally.
4.Embrace the transparent world and collaborate.
5.Make consumers your partners.

One of the many case studies described in the book stands out as an example of how these elements are applied. The story is of Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold, Inc. - one of the largest mining companies in the world. One of the key strategic mines for Freeport is in New Guinea, and over the years, the company's operations there attracted negative attention due to environmental damage and labor rights abuses. This attracted a lot of media attention, including an article in The New York Times that significantly reduced the attractiveness of Freeport stock to ethical investors, and raised practical issues such as not being able to renew political risk insurance. Eventually, "senior managers concluded that profitability alone would not be enough to ensure the future growth of the company." As a result Freeport developed a sustainability program, took positive steps on human rights, invited external audits and published the results and engaged with NGOs on core issues. This transformation of a business at the extreme end of the un-sustainability spectrum, despite historic profitability, is as good an example as you can get to understand the risk and opportunity that the "fast-changing world" is presenting to businesses.

Finally, a personal note: when I read CSR books, I mark in green highlighter all the interesting pieces of information I want to be sure not to forget. Sustainable Excellence has so much green on every page, I now need to buy a new pack of highlighters. I think I will send the bill to Messrs. Cramer and Karabell!

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

Friday, November 12, 2010

CSR Author Spotlight: Deborah Leipziger

Age: 43
Born in: São Paulo, Brazil
Kids: Three daughters - "my triple bottom line"
Lives in: Brookline, Mass.
Currently reading: Manuscript for The Age of Responsibility, by Wayne Visser and reading and impressed by Corporate Impact, by Adrian Henriques
Favorite non-CSR books: One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gifts from the Sea, The House of the Spirits
Favorite movie: I actually liked Avatar.
Favorite musician: James Taylor
Favorite poet: Pablo Neruda
Favorite CSR report: I like CSR reports that explore dilemmas, such as Chiquita's exploration of its dilemma in Colombia.
Favorite flavor ice cream: Mint chocolate chip
If I could, I would …: Start a think tank and foundation to share lessons learned in the field of CSR

A concise spotlight on Deborah Leipziger was first published on on 10th November 2010

Deborah Leipziger is one of the game changers in the field of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Amongst her achievements I believe we can count two significant events in the history of CSR development: the publication of the Corporate Responsibility Code Book. Her book created order in the emerging chaos of CSR frameworks and remains an important reference work to this day, especially since its second revision. And, second, the birth of the SA8000 standard (that Deborah helped create whilst working with Social Accountability International), which has become a widely-used standard for the apparel industry and other sectors.

In addition to researching and writing, Deborah advises companies, governments, CR organizations and UN agencies on CSR issues including the UN Global Compact (UNGC), Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA), Oxfam Novib, Maplecroft and Social Accountability International (SAI). Deborah serves as a member of the International Board of Ethos, the leading CSR organization in Brazil, and is a member of the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investment for Aviva Investors in the UK. Deborah has a Masters in Public Policy from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Arts from Manhattanville College in Economics and International Studies. When she is not doing any of the above or spending time with her "triple bottom line" (her daughters), she writes poetry and gives poetry readings.

Deborah shares her insights in the interview below:

What prompted you to write the Code Book ?
I found I was constantly in need of such a book. Every day, I was looking up different codes and standards and comparing them.

What was your biggest challenge in writing the first edition ?
The biggest challenge was keeping the book to a manageable size.

What did you not include in the first edition ?
I had to draw the line at certain sector-based codes.

What was your most significant insight when writing the Code Book ?
As I worked on the second edition, I realized how much progress has been made by CSR initiatives in reaching a critical mass. I also noted that some of the initiatives and codes that are excellent are not necessarily well-known in the corporate community. The ILO Code of Practice on HIV AIDS is an excellent code, but not well known among companies.

In writing the Second Edition, did you perceive the world of CSR had truly moved on, or was it just more of the same old codes and frameworks ?
It was wonderful to see how far the field of CSR has evolved since 2003 when the first edition was published. Nearly all of the initiatives had grown. I was also struck by how many initiatives had become less relevant-- they did not fail, they were successful in drawing attention to an issue.

Which of all the Codes/Frameworks in the Code book do you personally feel has had the most impact on corporate behavior ?
I think the CERES Principles have had a significant impact on corporate behavior.

Corporate Citizenship: Successful Strategies etc…… published in 1998 was really at the vanguard of the CSR movement . How relevant is that book today ?
I think it is useful as a historical review of where and how CSR began as a movement and how far we have come. I think the definitions of key terms are very useful, still.

SA8000: the first decade: were you pleased with the first decade of SA8000, the code you helped create ?
Yes, it is inspiring to see how far SA8000 has come and how well-known it is in Brazil, India, China and elsewhere.

Will there be a second/third decade for SA8000 or has it been overtaken by other frameworks?
SA8000 will continue to provide a useful framework. It is quite a stringent standard and one of the key challenges is to build capacity to allow for broader adoption.

Now that ISO26000 has been published, what will be the Next Big Code ?
I think codes will remain relevant. However, the future of CSR will be about new products and new types of relationships with stakeholders. The challenge for most companies and their suppliers is capacity building and understanding their impact on communities.

Which book about CSR have you not written yet ?
I would like to write about a specific supply chain and trace a product through a chain of custody.

Do you like chunky Monkey?
No... I love chocolate and bananas, but not together, not frozen. (oh dear, says elaine)

I would like to thank Deborah Leipziger for sharing her insights and for her fabulous contribution to our body of CSR knowledge and practice.

Deborah Leipziger's CSR Book Bibliography:
SA8000: The First Decade. Edited by Deborah Leipziger. Publisher: Greenleaf Publishing, 2009.
The Corporate Responsibility Code Book by Deborah Leipziger. Publisher: Greenleaf Publishing, 2003. Second Edition, 2010.
Living Corporate Citizenship by Deborah Leipziger with Malcolm McIntosh, Ruth Thomas and Gill Coleman). Publisher: Financial Times, 2002.
Social Accountability 8000: The Definitive Guide to the New Social Standard by Deborah Leipziger. Publisher: Financial Times Prentice Hall, May 2001.
Corporate Citizenship: Successful Strategies of Responsible Companies by Deborah Leipziger with Malcolm McIntosh, Keith Jones, and Gill Coleman. Publisher: Financial Times Pitman Publishing, 1998

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices   Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The CSR-Books Blog Win-a-Book challenge

The CSR-Books blog is issuing its first challenge.

11 top-notch books have now been reviewed on this blog.
(All reviews are first published on
Here they are:

The Why of Work by Dave and Wendy Ulrich
Innovative CSR, edited by Celine Louche et al
The World Guide to CSR by Wayne Visser and Nick Tolhurst
The New Corporate Accountability and the Law by Doreen McBarnet et al
Accounting for Sustainability edited by Anthony Hopwood et al
Unequal Protection by Thom Hartmann
Giving Voice to Values by Mary C. Gentile
The Corporate Responsibility Code book by Deborah Leipziger
Wonem Lead the Way by Linda Tarr-Whelan
Corporate Community Involvement by Nick Lakin and Veronica Scheubel
Street Smart Sustainability by David Mager and Joe Sibilia

Now, here is the challenge:

Take a look at the forthcoming reviews page - books on my list to read and review (three of which I am currently reading)  click here

Your challenge is to guess which book review will appear next on the CSR-books blog.

Post your answer on this blog in reply to this post. The first person to post the correct answer will win a copy of my own book, CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices, which I will be happy to sign and personally dispatch to the winner.

Rules. This challenge is open to anyone anywhere provided they are registered on the CSR-books blog as email subscribers. If you are not a subscriber, it is really easy to subscribe - see box called "subscribe via email" on the Home Page. The CSR-Books blog issues 2 - 3 reviews of great CSR books per month and the occasional author interview and even more occasional challenge like this one. I promise not to bombard your email with other stuff and of course never to use email lists for any other purpose. 

The challenge will close with the publication of the next review, which I excpect will be in about another week or so.

Up for the challenge?   

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

Friday, October 29, 2010

Street Smart Sustainability: The Entrepreneur's Guide

Street Smart Sustainability: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Profitably Greening Your Organization's DNA

By David Mager and Joe Sibilia

Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers

ISBN 9781605094656

This review first appeared on on 29th October 2010.


If you run a small to medium-sized business and you're wondering whether or not to go green, this book probably isn't for you. Although David Mager and Joe Sibilia do include ten reasons that sustainability makes economic and ecological sense, they're not here to convince you why. Street Smart Sustainability is about how - detailed, nuts-and-bolts, step by step advice on how to green business green profitably.

Read cover to cover this is a comprehensive A to Z handbook, but each chapter also works as a self-contained stand-alone guide to a specific business function. So if you need to you can go right to whichever chapter speaks to your needs at the moment.


Street Smart Sustainability is both inspiring and scary. I can compare it to what I imagine it would be like to compete in a decathlon. Every single event in the decathlon has its own technical requirements, demands a good deal of knowledge and a considerable overall understanding of sports, fitness, physical limits, risks and opportunities. After completing each event in the decathlon, I assume the athlete feels a great sense of accomplishment, but in thinking about the next event, I assume a sense of trepidation. This is how I felt reading Street Smart Sustainability. As someone who is generally reasonably eco-aware, and as a small business owner, representing the target audience for this book, I found the detailed step-by-step approach to greening a business to be incredibly eye-opening, full of new things that I learned for the first time, and actually pretty scary, because no matter how much the authors tried to teach environmental sustainability in manageable-sized chunks and lay language, the scope and challenges for those intent on implementing sustainability are serious stuff. And yes, quite scary.

You couldn't get two more experienced people to teach you the practicalities of sustainabilizing your business. David Mager is a Principal of Major Environmental Solutions and worked as an Advisor to the Obama USDA Transition Team on complex environmental issues. He was one of the organizers of the first Earth Day in 1970 and has helped hundreds of companies work towards profitable environmental excellence. The scale of his experience comes through from examples cited in the book, including overseeing the first US voluntary standards for energy efficient lighting, water efficient fixtures, recycled business paper and more, or how David conducted an IOMBA (input/output mass balance analysis) and discovered that someone was stealing from the company as the analysis revealed that ingredients had gone missing, something that had not shown up in regular audits. Joe Sibilia is the founder and CEO of Meadowbrook Lane Capital, a self-described socially responsible/sustainable investment bank and CEO of CSRwire. Both clearly live on Sustainable Street, and Street Smart Sustainability is a testament to their knowledge and experience and also their understanding of the way entrepreneurs think.

Street Smart Sustainability is astounding in the way it does not shy from introducing complex sustainability concepts and offering a multitude of advice-bytes relating to every single aspect of greening your business, including those you have almost certainly never thought of, in a way which makes a direct contribution to profitability. Whilst each chapter is a standalone on some aspect of greenification (design, workplace, energy, carbon, purchasing, emissions reduction, waste), a cover to cover read (as I did) helps you pull it all together and understand more fully the connection between individual impacts as you prepare for your own Sustainability Audit and decide your own performance plan and measurement metrics. The book contains personal perspectives from a range of business leaders who have been-there-done-that but remain on the journey. Prominently featured, for example, is Gary Hirshberg, founder of Stonyfield Farm, who tells about how sourcing milk from rBGH free cows (recombinant bovine hormone growth), or building a wastewater treatment plant, or reducing methane emissions by changing cow feed and reducing packaging impact by 12% in one year through Life Cycle work on packaging. Other companies cited include Patagonia, Aveda, Ecover, ABC Home and many more.

Central to this book is the guideline for conducting a Sustainability Audit. The authors work you through this in a detailed way, providing explanations and advice for even the most elementary activities. At the end of the book there is a set of useful resources which include an Audit Protocol, a summary of Enviro Management Systems, an IOMBA (see above) process and worked example, a Life Cycle Analysis matrix and a Carbon Footprint Calculator. All these are tools for a small business manager who is intent on understanding and doing business in a sustainable way. I confess to actually being tempted to put the book down and start using some of these great processes in my own business (but I decided to finish the book first!) Another useful resource is a sample questionnaire for employees to help you understand their views and gain their input and recommendations about what the company can do to advance sustainability practices because, as the authors say "Inspiring employees to buy in to the sustainability vision is key to becoming sustainable."

Alongside the plain language and step-by-step approach of this book, Street Smart Sustainability introduces you to a host of technical terms and probably for the first time for many readers, explains them in a way you can understand and puts them into relevant context. Who would have thought that eutrophication, photovoltaics, pyrolytic processes, high efficiency particulate arrestors, integrated gasification, selective catalytic reduction, windrow composting, reverse osmosis and many other techy-greeny terms would be relevant to small business entrepreneurs? After reading Street Smart Sustainability you not only know what they mean, and why they are important, but you also know how they can help you and your business be more profitable whilst protecting the planet.

The only problem with reading this book cover to cover is that by the time you have finished, you realize that there is so much to be done. This is good news, I suppose, but it sure is scary. Inspiring but scary. At least, however,  now you know how to do it.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

Sunday, October 24, 2010

CSR Author Spotlight: Wayne Visser

Age: 39
Born in: Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
Lives in: London
Favorite CSR Book : Cradle to Cradle (William McDonough & Michael Braungart)
Favorite non CSR book: Shantaram (Gregory David Roberts)
Favorite movie: Brazil (1985, Director Terry Gilliam)
Favorite musician: Johnny Clegg (South African)
Favorite CSR report: Patagonia
Favorite flavor ice cream: Ginger
If I could, I would ………: be a full-time writer

Wayne Visser is one of the most prolific, creative and original thought leaders on CSR and author/editor of books on the subject. He is the Founder and Director of the think-tank CSR International. Before getting his PhD in Corporate Social Responsibility (Nottingham University, UK), Wayne was Director of Sustainability Services for KPMG and Strategy Analyst for Cap Gemini in South Africa. Wayne also holds an MSc in Human Ecology (Edinburgh University, UK) and a Bachelor of Business Science with Honours in Marketing (Cape Town University, South Africa). Wayne lives in London, UK, and enjoys art, writing poetry, spending time outdoors and travelling in his home continent of Africa. Wayne shares his fascinating insights about the CSR books he has written in the interview below:

Of all the books you have written on corporate responsibility, which do you feel is the most important in terms of the message you were trying to convey?
The new one, The Age of Responsibility: CSR 2.0 and the New DNA of Business (out 18 February 2011). Not only does it fundamentally challenge business and the notion of CSR - for example, it starts by stating that CSR has failed and should either be killed off, or reinvented - but it is written in an narrative style that I think makes it an easy read, with lots of fascinating cases and stories of 'the good, the bad and the ugly' of corporate sustainability & responsibility.

Which book did you personally enjoy writing the most?
The first one, Beyond Reasonable Greed (co-authored with Clem Sunter), mainly because I used lions and elephants as a metaphor for unsustainable and sustainable companies. It was fascinating researching the traits of both species, and it was fun creatively applying the analogy to business. It was also very forward looking and together with my co-author we developed two future scenarios for business: 'Oases in the Desert' and 'Plains of the Serengeti'. We even ended up with 'leophants' - those companies in between.

What made you decide to publish Landmarks for Sustainability? Which landmark is the most significant in your personal view?
The idea behind Landmarks, which I wrote for the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership, was to capture the seminal events that have shaped the sustainability agenda over the past 20 years (although we also included a timeline of landmarks that goes back almost 100 years). There are certain corporate events - like Shell's Brent Spar fiasco, McDonald's McLibel trial, Nike's supply chain wake-up call and Enron's collapse - that most people in CSR have heard about, but they don't have the facts and figures at their finger tips. Likewise for positive breakthroughs in transparency, fairtrade, poverty alleviation and so-on. We also decided to make it highly visual (lots of photos) and readable (bullets, feature boxes, etc.) to make sure busy people could dip into it easily. For me, the most significant landmark event was the publication of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment in 2005, because it shows us the extent to which all our other CSR and sustainability efforts are failing at a catastrophic scale.

The Top 50 Sustainability Books has a similar look and feel to Landmarks for Sustainability. Was that deliberate?
Yes, it was another book for the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership and it was designed to be a highly accessible reference book. This time, however, we focused on ideas rather than events that have changed the sustainability world. Many people working in sustainability have heard about these classic books, but do not have the time to read them all, so we decided to provide short synopses, with key messages, pull-out quotes and extracts from interviews I did with many of the authors. I think it is a great guide to the most important thinking in sustainability over the past 50 years and more.

In The World Guide to CSR, what surprised you the most as you received contributions from all around the world?
The first surprise was the diversity of submissions - not just the usual suspects among the G20, but also countries like Armenia, Bangladesh, Iran, Iceland, Liberia, Peru, Romania and United Arab Emirates. The second and most delightful aspect was learning how each country's cultural tradition has shaped CSR practices, in some cases (such as in Azerbaijan, Turkey and India) with these influences having evolved over centuries.

Having now completed your world CSR tour, what are the most important insights you bring back with you?
There are so many insights: the fact that a lot of the most important social innovation is taking place in developing countries (like India), that awareness and expectations of CSR are higher in places like Brazil than in the UK, that many non-OECD countries and companies are still stuck in the CSR Ages of Philanthropy and Marketing, that Europe and America is mesmerised by the Age of Management, and that very very few companies anywhere recognise that the concept of CSR - and the larger industrial model of shareholder-driven capitalism - is fundamentally flawed and will never solve the problems it claims to be most concerned about.

How useful do you feel The A to Z of Corporate Social Responsibility remains? It was published a couple of years ago but the jargon has moved on. Do you plan a second edition?
In fact, a second edition came out this year (2010) - a paperback version with updated content, including additions on the global financial crisis and ISO 26000. Beyond this, I don't feel that the underlying concepts or the core codes and standards have changed fundamentally. It remains highly useful as a searchable reference book, especially since it is also out in an e-book version.

Beyond Reasonable Greed was an early book on the subject of corporate responsibility. Did people understand your message? What sort of reactions did you receive? Have companies traded in their fangs for tusks?
The timing for the book was perfect, as it came out just when the Enron and Worldcom scandals were hitting the headlines. So I think the message was intuitively understood, but it was not seriously acted upon. To use the language of the book, we saw the emergence of many 'leophants' after 2002. What is different, comparing this with writing The Age of Responsibility almost 10 years later, is that today there more lion corpses on the slab to dissect (like Lehman Brothers) and a number of genuine elephant companies to learn from (like Interface), as well as any number of injured leophants (like BP) that are getting left behind.

What do you feel Corporate Citizenship in Africa added to the CSR equation in South Africa? Do you feel the CSR message is understood by leading businesses in SA?
The book did a number of things. First, I would say that it was a book about Africa, not just South Africa, but it did point out the general lack of academic research on CSR beyond South Africa and Nigeria. Second, it confirmed our suspicion that most research on CSR in Africa was qualitative, with little or no country-comparative data. And third, it showed that research on CSR in South Africa was also quite skewed, largely towards business ethics. The question of whether CSR is understood by leading businesses in SA is different. The answer is unequivocally 'yes'. That is the interesting thing about many developing countries - businesses know that they can't succeed in societies that fail; often the business case is much clearer and the moral case much stronger.

Making a Difference is a call to action for individuals to leave a meaningful legacy. How would you describe your own personal legacy as you wish to see it?
Making a Difference, which is based on my PhD research, is not only about leaving a legacy, but also about what gives us deep satisfaction or meaning in our work as CSR practitioners. It turns out that motivations vary according to different leadership styles or change agent types - whether you are more of an expert, facilitator, catalyst or activist. As for my source of meaning, I most closely fit the expert type and derive my greatest satisfaction from being a thought leader (if indeed that's what I am) and inspiring others through ideas.

How much of your overall time do you spend writing/editing books on CSR?
Writing goes in waves, although considering that I have written and edited 11 books over the past 8 years, there have not been many periods when I am not writing. I suppose if I had to guess, I'd say I spend about 20% of my time actually writing, but probably 50% of my time is spent doing explicit or implicit research on which the books are based. Lately, a lot of the rest of my time has been spent sharing my thoughts and ideas with others, through teaching, workshops, training and various networks.

Which book gave you the most personal satisfaction and why?
I think that would be Business Frontiers, as this was my first independently authored book. In fact, it is a collection of my writings on social responsibility, sustainable development and economic justice over more than a decade, so it was very satisfying to see those collected together in one place. In addition, it allowed me to publish some of my more creative writing on the subject - with chapters like Holistic Business, The Corporate Battle for Hearts & Minds, Future Images Beyond the Information Age, Connecting Earth & Sky, Tree of Life, and even a poetic parable called Quest for Gold.

Which book about CSR have you not written yet?
There are many I have not written, and in fact I turn down book projects fairly regularly now. The more compelling question is, what am I passionate enough about to want to put in the blood, sweat and tears required to turn it into a book? I'd like to write up my CSR Quest world tour as a kind of travel book with a CSR twist. I'd also like to do a book on Purpose-Inspired Leadership, as well as writing a business parable (i.e. fiction book) that captures the lessons of CSR but never mentions the word. And I'd like to do a book called Smart, Sustainable and Inclusive, which tackles the macro-level of economics and culture, rather than the micro-level of companies and CSR.

You are also somewhat of a poet and have published a collection of poems? Is this an insurance policy in case CSR doesn’t work out ….. ?
Were it but so! No, not really. Poetry is just my way of expressing a deeper level of myself and being a bit creative (alongside my dabbling in painting, sketching and photography). It is probably my most authentic voice, but poetry is seldom the stuff of fame and fortune. It's a very personal and subjective hobby, which I do primarily for myself. If the words resonate with others - as they do seem to on occasion - then that's a bonus and I am delighted.

Do you like chunky Monkey?
I had to look it up, so I guess that is an answer in itself.

Anything else you want to mention?
People should know that I'm more interested in what is being done that what labels we give things. It so happens that I talk about CSR 2.0 - which I also call systemic CSR or radical CSR - and I use CSR to mean 'corporate sustainability and responsibility', but I really don't care if people have different jargon. For me, the proof must be in the results and for too long we have focused on measuring CSR activities rather than the societal impacts of business. My new test for whether a company is a CSR 2.0 pioneer in the Age of Responsibility is simple: what is their level of admission and ambition? i.e. do they admit the extent of their unsustainability and irresponsibility, and do they set audacious targets like zero waste, 100% renewable energy and rising stakeholder happiness.

Thank you to Wayne Visser for such fascinating insights and for a major dose of inspiration. I am sure we will all benefit from Wayne's future writings and I for one am looking forward to reading The Age of Responsibility: CSR 2.0 and the New DNA of Business.

Wayne Visser's CSR Book Bibliography:

The World Guide to CSR: A Country-by-Country Analysis of Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility Editors: Wayne Visser and Nick Tolhurst. Publisher: Greenleaf, 2010
The Top 50 Sustainability Books.
By Wayne Visser,  Publisher: Greenleaf, 2009
Landmarks for Sustainability: Events and Initiatives That Have Changed the World
By Wayne Visser,  Publisher: Greenleaf, 2009
The A to Z of Corporate Social Responsibility: A Complete Reference Guide to Concepts, Codes and Organisations
Editors: Wayne Visser, Dirk Matten, Manfred Pohl & Nick Tolhurst. Publisher: Wiley, 2007
Corporate Citizenship in Africa: Lessons From The Past; Paths To The Future
Editors: Wayne Visser, Malcolm McIntosh & Charlotte Middleton. Publisher: Greenleaf Publishing, 2006
Business Frontiers: Social Responsibility, Sustainable Development and Economic Justice
By Wayne Visser. Publisher: ICFAI University Press, 2005
Beyond Reasonable Greed
Authors: Wayne Visser and Clem Sunter Publishers: Tafelberg Human & Rousseau, 2002

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices   Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

Thursday, October 21, 2010

New feature: Author interviews

A new feature on the CSR-books blog will be author interviews. I have two great interviews lined up and will be interviewing more CSR authors so that we can get real insight into what goes into the making of a great CSR book. To get things rolling, I thought I would interview a CSR author I know quite well, haha, ME! (but don't worry, the future ones will be a little more serious!)

Age:  30-something (a lot of something)
Born in: Mancheseter, England, home of United
Married: Happily to Jay (or Judah, or Yehuda, whichever name you prefer)
Kids: Two wonderful, noisy, creative, confident kids: Eden (girl) aged 12 and Amit (boy) aged 8
Live in: physically, Herzliya, Israel, mentally, the global village
Educated at: Bradford University but that was AGES ago
Favourite CSR Book: Business as Unusual by Anita Roddick
Favourite non CSR book:  The Number One Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
Favourite movie: The Way We Were. Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford. What a dream.
Favourite musician: Elkie Brooks, a Manchester lass
Favourite CSR report:  Depends on the year, but I like Vodafone most years, Danisco 2009/2010 (but then, I helped write it), Central Textiles, AHA!, Verizon, Kesko, Ford, HP, Marks and Spencer, Telefonica, Unilever, GSK...
Favourite flavor ice cream: Chunky Monkey. What a surprise.
If I could, I would ………: Invent a washing machine that doesn't lose socks.

CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices 
Greenleaf, 2010
but watch out for more ....

Elaine, you refer to CSR for HR as a wake up call for the HR profession. Wouldn't it be easier to recommend they buy an alarm clock?

CSR for HR is actually an HR alarm clock.It's the kind that makes you wake up even though you didnt know you were asleep. The HR function lives in blissful ignorance of the potential of CSR to advance HR strategy, business objectives and HR's own positioning at the decision-making tables. This book should encourage a new perspective for HR professionals. 
Elaine, what qualifies you to write about the HR function? After all, your main expertise is Sustainability Strategy and Reporting.

By the time you get to my age (30 plus a lot of something), you may well have experienced several professions. Indeed, I worked for many years as a Supply Chain Manager with P&G, and for many years as a country VP for HR with Unilever, and for years as a Division Manager in a private trading company. This was prior to me moving my focus to sustainability strategy and reporting. Over 8 years managing HR in a sustainability-minded company like Unilever is more than enough to provide a strong appreciation of the HR-CSR issues that arise. Also, I did lead the local Human Resources Society for some years, including work on defining the HR body of knowledge for HR professional certification, which involved me in much discussion with HR functional leaders. Finaly, as a consultant , I work with many HR managers. I think that cuts it. 

Elaine, who do you want to read CSR for HR? 
You. Haha. HR practitioners, CSR practitioners, academics, business managers. I deliberately wrote the book in story-telling style so as not to make it too burdensome for busy people. What is more important, though , is that those who read it will make or influence change in the way the HR function works in businesses. That's my message. Change the way HR contributes.

Elaine, why is CSR for HR unique?
I believe CSR for HR is the only book to have been published on this subject. There has been much written about engaging employees in environmental issues, and several papers about HR and CSR, but I believe this is the first book that covers this subject so comrehensively. It is also written from the standpoint of an HR Manager, through her eyes, addressing the questions, doubts, occasional cynicism, struggles and uncertainties that HR managers have when thinking about CSR. I hope that HR Managers will be able to identify with this.

Elaine, how much Chunky Monkey did you consume whilst writing this book?
Hmm, doesn't that count as a trade secret ? Let's put it this way. When I write another book, I will consider intra-veinous supply of Chunky Monkey.

Elaine, when will we be seeing your next book?
Great question! Glad you asked that! Yes, I have many books that I want to write, now that I have a taste for it. I have one which I have started mapping out and hope to work on this during 2011.

Elaine, thank you so much for this interview. I hope EVERYBODY reads your book!

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Corporate Community Involvement: The Definitive Guide

Corporate community Involvement: The Definitive Guide to Maximising your Business' Societal Engagement

By Nick Lakin and Veronica Scheubel

Publisher: Greenleaf Publishing
ISBN 978-1-906093-33-4
This review was first published on on 20th October 2010


Companies around the world are trying to answer these questions. Many are asking the same questions even as, collectively, they continue to spend billions on their communities. How do they know which activities are really worthwhile?

Building on the authors' own extensive global experience at Nokia and E.ON, as well as the experience of many other experts in the field, this book offers the first-ever "how to" roadmap for managers on the comprehensive implementation of strategic Community Involvement inside their companies. It is designed to be practical - for those who want to act upon what they have read. It will fill a long-neglected niche as a day-to-day reference guide for practitioners.

Corporate Community Involvement demonstrates what to do and how to do it. The advice is backed up by inspiring interviews with best-in-class practitioners from businesses such as Microsoft, GlaxoSmithKline, Ericsson, and Deutsche Bank and leading international Corporate Responsibility and Community Involvement experts. The book highlights proven best-practice approaches, effective methods, and concise tools to help managers "get there faster" and get it right first time."


Corporate Community Involvement (CCI) needs to be a part of every sustainable business strategy. A well thought through approach to CCI delivers true value that may be hard to achieve through other business activities. A quick flick through a few corporate sustainability reports will tell you that this is the section where most companies go to town, eager to relate how they are supporting local communities, how many employees are volunteering, what community partnerships they have created, and last but not least, how much money they have donated. This is usually the most colorful section of the report, and contains pictures of many people smiling. Rarely do we see a strongly strategic approach to corporate community involvement and rarely do we see any account of the outcomes of such activities. Companies are all too willing to recount what they did, but few evaluate the outcomes of what they did. Almost none cover the processes they applied to establish their CCI initiatives. With all this investment in CCI, wouldn't you think companies would spend a little more time and energy actually planning their CCI program so that it that delivers full strategic value rather than just a theoretical reputation boost? That's where Nick Lakin and Veronica Scheubel come in. Their book, Corporate Community Involvement: The Definitive Guide to Maximising your Business' Societal Engagement is the most comprehensive guide ever written to help companies and their internal CCI leaders do just this.

The authors have significant experience as CCI practitioners, Nick Lakin having set up the global CCI practice at E.ON, one of the world largest power and gas companies, and Veronica Scheubel having established and managed Nokia's global community program in more than 20 countries. Together they have developed a high-res guide book about how to conceive, plan, develop and manage Corporate Community Investment programs.

The book's 11 chapters start with how to develop a CCI program, build the organizational structure needed to put this in place, manage the budget and integrate CCI with other departments in the business such as Marketing and Operations. On the way, they explore the difference between a foundation and other charitable spending and ways to develop an approach for disaster relief. They continue with implementation tools, cross-sector collaboration guidelines, employee involvement, measuring success and internal communications. The book ends up with a look at challenges and change management. Woven into the different chapters are deep-dive interviews with senior practitioners from Shell, Telefonica, Ericsson, IBM, Deutsche Bank, Microsoft and IBLF (International Business Leaders Forum). The detail in this book is incredible, providing models, tools, frameworks, checklists, definitions, assessments and advice at every step of the way. Some are directly related to CCI programs but others are taken from more general management practice such as change models, strategic thinking frameworks, planning cycles, project management plans, SWOT analyses and more. Examples of different aspects of CCI from many other companies, small and large from around the globe illustrate the points made.

If I were to pick three key takeaways from this book, they would be:

Plan, plan, plan and plan your CCI progam. Treat it as seriously as any other business project and you will succeed. The authors say: "It entails devising a plan to achieve goals and objectives over the long term".

Use volunteering to build employee skills. The authors say that volunteering in Community Involvement projects can play an important role in employee and team skills development, helping to develop skills such as "planning and organization, leadership and management, effective communication, team-working, motivation and involvement of people, time management, creativity and innovation, diversity awareness, budget management, measurement and monitoring." I believe this is right and that these aspects of CCI have been largely disregarded by the HR departments in most companies.

Measurement and evaluation (of outcomes): The authors give three good examples of programs from Nike, Nokia and Adobe in which actual impacts were evaluated, rather than just the inputs and activities of the company. This is a critical point. It is not enough measure your involvement in the community. You have to measure the difference you make in the community.

This book speaks head on to those charged with developing CCI programs. For the novices, it holds their hand at each twist and turn. For the more experienced, it answers all the questions they have come across in their efforts to date, and provides new insights and approaches. There is much in this book that can help CCI Managers do it better. If they use it, we all benefit.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via on Twitter or via my website

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Women Lead the Way: Your Guide to Stepping Up to Leadership and Changing the World

Women Lead the Way: Your Guide to Stepping Up to Leadership and Changing the World

By Linda Tarr-Whelan

Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers

ISBN 9781605091358

This review first appeared on on 11th October 2010.


Women Lead the Way presents the argument, research and tactical guidance to help readers wedge the door open to bring more women through and up. Evidence from around the world validates the findings of the United Nations General Assembly in 1995, which set a baseline of at least 30% women as a prerequisite for genuine partnership and lasting, positive change in the international arena. We see the same phenomena in the business world. More women as corporate officers and members of boards of directors result in stronger financial performance. At 30% representation, we see concrete, positive outcomes for everyone - not just women - including increased shareholder value, more flexible management approaches, broader definitions of success and better bottom lines. More women at the table means more progress for all of us.


"Close your eyes and imagine a 'leader'. What do you see? Extensive studies show that in the United States, the visual image for almost everyone is a man." This is the reality in which Linda Tarr-Whelan, an accomplished woman leader, writes her book on how to advance the women's movement. Linda has held many influential roles, including UN Commissioner on the Status of Women, to which she was appointed by President Bill Clinton--so she writes with some authority.

Linda Tarr-Whelan will be satisfied, for starters, with the advancement of women to "30% of the voice." The basic proposition in this book is not equality in presence and influence, but 30% representation of women in all positions of power - political, community, business leadership and more. Linda's theory, based on "more than four decades" of experience and practical activity in this field, is that 30% is enough of a critical mass to change the way things get done. It's probably the best we can hope for in terms of the male patriarchy's ability to absorb and support--though that's my conclusion, and not the author's. She does, however, provide a completely cohesive and persuasive set of arguments for the adoption of a 30% Solution, a concept which was advanced at the fourth UN conference on the Status of Women, held in Beijing in 1995, which she attended.

Linda Tarr-Whelan maintains that the 30% Solution is enough to deliver better government because "women in government are more likely, regardless of party, to concentrate on improving healthcare and education [and] on ending violence…." Equally the 30% Solution improves business outcomes, with firms having more women directors delivering higher returns on equity, sales and working capital, as researched by Catalyst. World-over, however, we are still far from this 30% Solution. "Only one third of the top 1,500 corporations have any women in top management" - let alone 30%.

The attraction of Linda Tarr-Whelan's book is its optimism. It's not just whine and weep. It's energizing. After articulating the case for 30%, and providing many insights as to what's blocking its achievement, the author goes on to share what needs to happen to get there, using stories, anecdotes and truisms we can all relate to. One of my personal favorites is, "Gro Harlem Brundtland used to tell; her son would ask: 'Mother, can boys become prime ministers too?'" Another is the story of when the author, working at the New York State Department of Labor, was instructed to fire a clerk in her department. The woman in question often arrived late due the fact, as a single mom, she had to drop off her children at schools which didn't open in time for her to get to work punctually. The solution was clear: "A flextime policy for the department started right then."

Another highlight of the book is the "Everywoman Quiz" (Chapter 3), in which the author tests our perceptions on myths that exist about how quickly women are moving up the ladder, or not. I have to admit to not responding to all of the 10 questions correctly; for example, I did not know sales generated by women-owned small business is equal to the GDP of China! But that's all I am going to share … you will have to get the book and do the rest of the quiz yourselves!

Women Lead The Way does not allow us women to wallow in self-pity or shirk our responsibilities. "It is women who must take the lead in achieving the 30% Solution. Waiting for someone else to do it won't work… together we can instigate a cultural shift away from long-term biased attitudes conferring 'leadership' on men." The book lays out a road map with the destination of 30%--a road map women must trek and advance. The most basic starting point is how we leverage our two key resources: time and money, even if one or both are in short supply. We all have circles of influence in which we can develop our leadership skills ("When the door opens, go through"). The remaining chapters offer equally good advice with practical examples of how women can apply their leadership skills.

Tarr-Whelan concludes by describing five big dreams for 2020. These include having women leaders at every political table, "womenomics" as a widely-supported mainstream strategy, a revitalized social compact, recognized accountability framework of standards and measurements to monitor progress, and perhaps the most special of all, "young women growing up expecting to be leaders just like young men - but with a difference."

There are some books that you just have to read more than once, and this is one of them. Women Lead The Way is a true revelation, opening minds to a host of fascinating and important insights as to how we can all work toward achieving some measure of gender equality. The book is written in serious but plain eye-level language that we can all understand, even men (!). The book contains sensible, balanced, practical and future-critical proposals, which I hope will hit home and become a strong catalyst for action. This book should be high on the reading list of every man who holds a position of influence and every woman who wants to achieve one. It certainly is an impressive addition to all the literature I have read on diversity, equality, gender and business responsibility--quite an inspirational one at that.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Corporate Responsibility Code Book. Revised Second Edition

By Deborah Leipziger
Publisher: Greenleaf Publishing
ISBN 978-1-906093-39-6

The field of corporate responsibility and sustainability has changed radically since the publication of the first edition of The Corporate Responsibility Code Book in late 2003. This second edition of the book reflects these changes, with the inclusion of a raft of new initiatives, revisions reflecting the improvements made to many others and the elimination of several initiatives that have been outgrown by developments.
The second edition includes:
  • New initiatives such as the UN Principles for Responsible Investment, the Equator Principles, ISO 26000, and the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative;
  • Updated versions of the UN Global Compact and the Global Reporting Initiative;
  • The addition of codes and principles that have become more relevant, such as the ILO Code of Practice on HIV/Aids;
  • The description of linkages between initiatives and the complex web of alliances that have grown in the field of CR as it has matured.
The Corporate Responsibility Code Book is a guide for companies trying to understand the landscape of corporate responsibility and searching for their own, unique route towards satisfying diverse stakeholders.
You work in the field of CSR or sustainability. Do you need the Code Book? Let's check. Here is a little quiz:
1. Launched in 1977, whose Declaration of Principles focusing on Human Rights is Tripartite?
2. Which draft CR Standard defines "stakeholders" differently to the traditional definition of those who impact or are impacted by an organization?
3. Which framework, developed in Sweden, addresses the systematic causes of environmental problems and saved US$120 million for Interface, who was the first US company to implement the framework?
4. Which set of principles, developed in 1989, cannot be unilaterally endorsed by a company but require a two way process of dialogue and engagement?
5. Which global standard for transparency addresses both governments and companies?
The answers are at the bottom of this review. Got fewer than 5 correct? You need The Code Book. Got 5 out of 5 correct? You still need The Code Book. These 5 questions are just some of the interesting data-bytes you can find in the second edition of the 535 page The Corporate Responsibility Code Book, revised in 2010, to include new initiatives such as the UN Principles for Responsible Investment and King III, the King code on Corporate Governance issued in September 2009. But the value of this book is not in these individual references to individual codes. The true value is the entire collection, all in one place, of the leading initiatives which serve as a basis for the way in which businesses approach, mainly voluntarily, the whole field of CSR and sustainability. All the codes mentioned in the book are reproduced in full in 10 sections: global initiatives, human rights, labor rights, health issues, combating corruption, company codes of conduct, sectorial and regional agreements, and codes focused on implementation standards. Distilling thousands of codes and standards into 34 key tools, this book is a unique reference manual, categorizing the codes and frameworks by focus (process or outcome), by method of development (unilateral, bilateral, multilateral), by scope (key issues such as corporate governance, environment and human rights), by stakeholder focus (trade unions, governments, supply chain, etc.), by sector and by region. Each code, standard or framework, presented is preceded by a discussion which typically includes the background and context in which the code was developed, its strengths and weaknesses, the companies to which the code applies, the questions the code addresses, and insights relating to the "promise and the challenge" of each. Whilst mostly quite brief, particularly in the analysis of strengths and weaknesses, these commentaries provide important insights for those working with the codes or considering adopting one framework or another.
Such codes have value beyond the written documents that we can read in The Code Book. Author Deborah Leipziger wites: "The codes and principles described in this work have served to institutionalise dialogue and create for a discussion among actors who had never been in discussion of between whom there was hostility." The process of developing such codes, as anyone who works in or with organizations knows, is just as important as the finished document. Dialogue, engagement, new ways of thinking, generating consensus, working through the detailed nuances of definitions, approaches and objectives are all in themselves valuable actions that advance the cause of CSR and sustainable practices in business. The new ISO26000 draft standard, for example, has taken 5 years to develop with 92 countries and 42 organizations participating in the process. Whilst I am not convinced this particular final product actually brings any new value to our body of knowledge, I am sure these discussions have served to reinforce understanding and commitment.
In reviewing this book, I cannot help but look beyond the codes and frameworks themselves. The codification and standardization of CSR and sustainability is only a first step. The big leap comes when these codes are widely subscribed to by their target audience and are effectively implemented. The Code Book refers to some of the ways in which some of these codes have gained critical mass, for examples, the UN Global Compact or the Global Reporting Initiative, which have become truly global tools. However, any company adopting any such code needs robust internal processes and strategies, policies and plans to uphold the commitments that adherence to the codes require. Deborah Leipziger discusses in The Code Book the challenges of actual implementation of frameworks such as the UNGC, the GRI and the Equator Principles, and the criticisms that have been leveled at these frameworks because of companies who declare support for these processes and do not follow through. Over 1,000 companies have been delisted from the UNGC for non-compliance with the communication requirements. Some of the codes have overseeing or enforcement mechanisms, such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which requires an Independent Validator in each country; or the OECD Guidelines for MNEs, which require an NCP (national contact point) in each member state. I suspect codes that have been developed with a high degree of multi-lateralism and partnership stand a higher chance of ensuring practical effective application because of the common commitment and visibility of such efforts. Some evolve into leading industry standards such as the principles and criteria for sustainable fishing from the Marine Stewardship Council; however, overall, the cynicism these codes must often contend is less of a statement about the codes themselves, and more about the quality of implementation. Individual corporate codes of conduct (two examples are highlighted in The Code Book include the Shell General Business Principles and the Johnson & Johnson Credo), valuable and necessary though they may be, are often not applied with enough downstream organizational thinking or rigour of external verification that facilitate making these codes a reality in business and drivers of required transformation. According to Deborah Leipziger: "Without credible systems for verification and certification, stakeholders may become increasingly cynical about corporate responsibility." The value of this book, then, is in assisting organizations to understand and assess the relevant frameworks for their business, industry, sector, region or issue at hand. The value for people and planet is when companies adhere to these codes in a systematic and consistent way.
I cannot begin to imagine the amount of work author Deborah Leipziger invested in order to bring The Code Book and its revised second edition to life. It is truly a masterpiece in the landscape of CSR and sustainability reference books. This is a book which will never move out of arms reach, as far as I am concerned. Please don't ask to borrow my copy.
Answers to Quiz:


elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Giving Voice to Values

Giving Voice to Values: How to Speak Your Mind when You Know What's Right

By Mary C. Gentile

Publisher: Yale University Press ISBN-13: 978-0300161182

This review first appeared on on 23rd September 2010


How can you effectively stand up for your values when pressured by your boss, colleagues, customers or shareholders to do the opposite?

Educator Mary Gentile empowers business leaders with the skills to voice and act on their values and align their professional path with their principles. Her book, Giving Voice to Values, is inspired by a curriculum Gentile launched at The Aspen Institute with Yale School of Management, now housed at Babson College, with pilot programs in over 100 schools and organizations on five continents.

Challenging the assumptions about business ethics at companies and business schools, she argues that often the issue isn't distinguishing what is right or wrong, but knowing how to act on your values despite opposing pressure. Drawing on actual business experiences as well as social science research, Gentile offers advice, practical exercises and scripts for handling a wide range of ethical dilemmas. Published by Yale University Press, Giving Voice to Values is an engaging, innovative and useful guide that is essential reading for anyone in business.


There is something, I think, that most people overlook in training on ethics and the assimilation of values in business, and that is how you actually put the theoretical knowledge in to practice. It's a little like knowing the calorie count of all the food on your daily menu, but having difficulty actually getting started with, and maintaining, that low-calorie diet. Giving Voice to Values, then, is a habit, perfected by practice, not simply a state of mind. This is the focus and unique value that this book, by Mary C. Gentile, a ten year veteran of Harvard Business School and a pioneer in the fields of business ethics and diversity management, brings to the table.

"Whistle-blowing," which is what all corporate Codes of Ethics require from employees, is a term which has a certain negative connotation. It tends to make us think of telling tales, going behind people's backs, in an almost cowardly and sneaky way. Yet ethical behavior, I believe, never goes unnoticed. There is always someone in any business organisation that knows what's going in, even if they have not been directly complicit in unethical behavior. The success of corporate ethics rests with the individual employee who is prepared to speak up for the values of the business, which hopefully coincide with her or his own personal values, even when this means confronting or whistle-blowing on the behavior of colleagues. Most of us that work in the field of ethics know that getting employees to speak up when they suspect colleagues of unethical behavior is the hardest aspect of any program, even harder than standing your ground when asked to go against your values. The organizational context that enables or disables the voicing of values is not always apparent and can influence individuals in many ways. This book is a welcome and refreshing addition to the many books out there that have been written on the subject of ethics in business because it focuses on how to voice values, and not what values to voice. It's not about persuading us that certain values are more appropriate than others, it's about helping us ensure we are capable of acting on our chosen values. In any organisation, writing the Code of Ethics is the easy bit, publishing it to all employees is also not complex, even conducting training or producing on-line primers on ethics is not so challenging. Truly embedding a culture of ethics which compels every individual to take personal responsibility and act ethically in every situation is what makes it all work. This book offers practical advice on how to "build the muscles" to speak and act, plan "voicing values," "craft scripts" and generally be prepared for a range of situations in which bold action is required. As the author says, "It is not about deciding what the right thing to do is, but rather about how to get it done."

Mary C. Gentile starts out with examples from a study conducted at Columbia Business School in which incoming MBA students were asked to write about a time when they had experienced a conflict between their values and what they were asked to do in the workplace. Whilst the stories were often similar (adjust billable hours, inflate or deflate numbers, misstate time needed to provide services etc), the responses were often different, highlighting discomfort with such conflicts and the need to be creative in finding the right response. This made me think of a popular reality TV program I enjoy watching, called "What Would You Do?" in which the reactions of unsuspecting members of the public are filmed, as they are unwittingly exposed to scenes involving a values conflict, which are fictitious and staged by actors. These may be something to do with discrimination, dishonesty, violence or abuse. Many walk on by without reacting. Some get stuck in and fight the good fight. Even those who do not react are interviewed and almost always, they knew something was wrong, wanted to get involved but were stopped by fear or other inhibitions.

Considering these scenarios ahead of time, and planning your response ahead of time to the question "What would you do?" can make the difference between speaking up and walking away. The author makes a very strong case for this in Giving Voice to Values.

Mary C. Gentile examines the underlying "attitudes, beliefs and capacities that enable our efforts to voice and act on our values," the types of values that are widely shared (and we generally know what these are), the ability we have to make a choice to confront value conflicts, and ultimately, the normalization of such value conflicts, so that we see them as part of our everyday job, and are prepared as far as possible for the types of corners they force us into. Thereafter, in a chapter entitled "Finding my Voice," the author describes several "enablers" or points to consider in how to formulate your own personal approach to dealing with values conflicts, in a way you are comfortable with. A series of appendices provide primers and exercises to help you develop those value conflict management muscles.

Flavored with a range of anecdotes from the author's vast experience, this book was inspired by a program the author developed at the Aspen Institute together with Yale School of Management. It is easy but certainly not light reading, and it targeted at us, as individuals, rather than at those who develop organizational processes. The central argument is persuasive, and the logic is sound. I therefore recommend this book to everyone who works in a business or leads people in business, or more simply put, I recommend it to everyone. Period.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website
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