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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
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