At HEC Paris, mvlti svnt vocati, pavci vero electi!

Monday, September 18, 2006

SD, CSR and hey, will I meet the Queen?

Got to work this morning and found a very pleasant surprise in the pigeon hole. A gold lined card from the Palace, written by the Master of the Household at Her Majesty's command inviting moi to attend a reception au Palais! I am thrilled! Excited! And, curious as to how this happened? How did She know? It is not until late October so I have got time to find out...and enough time to arrange my trip to the City! :-)

OK, enough of this! What I really meant to do was discuss Sustainable Development and Corporate Social Responsibility. What do these terms mean? Are they just some fluffy corporate terms that sound great but mean nothing? Or, do they actually imply something? And, if so, what?

Our common future, the document that came out of the United Nation World Commission on Environment and Development, written under the leadership of former Norwegian Prime Minister Dr. Brundtland, defines Sustainable Development as development that "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". But, could this not mean anything? What I like to do is to imagine it as a three legged table where one leg represents economy, the second society and the third environment. And together, they keep the table standing. Or, SD could also be thought of as three circles (environment, society and economy) overlapping...and the overlap represents sustainable development. Sounds fluffy? We see these circles all around us every day - we just have to get the balance right.

What about CSR? Well, it is the corporate world's way of approaching not just SD but also encompassing a much broader aspect of development, that of its sorrounding communities, environment, society but always ensuring that business is profitable. One has to be pragmatic in approaching the issue as a business that is not profitable is unlikely to find the resources to focus on environmental and social development.

However, CSR cannot be ignored. In today's complex world of multinational supply chains and supranational business transactions, a company can easily slip up and miss a key point that can bite hard when it is uncovered. Remember Syngenta and child labour in India, Coca-Cola and the University of Michigan, Gap in El Salvador, Shell in Nigeria, and yes, Enron?

So, the message is simple: don't ignore SD and CSR but be pragmatic - approach it sensibly and maintain the balance.



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