What about CSR and the triple bottom line?

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In response to yesterday’s post someone on Twitter, @dmanww, raised the very sensible issue of the triple bottom line, or as some might call it, corporate social responsibility (CSR).
@kcarruthers this why there is the concept of triple bottom line. Unfortunately, it's not easy to measure.

However, having worked in a number of organizations that took the triple bottom line and corporate social responsibility very seriously, I know that it is not pervasive within the organization in the same way as the maximization of shareholder value.

To put it bluntly my bonus often had a small component of CSR involved, but the major KPI was always contribution to revenue (a.k.a. shareholder return).  Very rarely were major issues discussed in terms of CSR impact, but issues were often talked of in terms of impact on shareholder return.

Measurement of the triple bottom line is not the problem. It is only a problem in an environment where the only things that matter are those that are monetized and which are realizable within a short term timeframe.  In that context it is impossible to measure other things that matter – like quality of life, social impact, or common good.

Corporations focus on what provides revenue. That is the nature of the beast. It is not evil to pursue revenue. However, the pure pursuit of revenue is an amoral activity. This is especially true if executed in an environment where things – people, environment, society – are objectified and monetized.

I got interested in the idea of implementing a triple bottom line back in the 1990s.  From my perspective it has not made much progress.  CSR is still largely the responsibility one department within most companies.  It has not become a pervasive filter for everyday business decisions.  And I do not think it ever will become one with the current way corporations are structured, rewarded, and assessed.

Even if a corporation wanted to change their approach on CSR and implement it more fully, the market analysts would most likely punish them.  This is because CSR necessarily impacts upon returns to shareholders.  Since most public companies focus on analyst reports to ensure share prices are maintained this is a problem. And the problem is related to executive rewards, since often these are tied to stock performance.

For modern corporations the complex nexus between  corporate structure, executive reward, and market assessment means that truly implementing the triple bottom line is fraught with risk.

 

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Blog action day 2010 – theme is water

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Today is Blog Action Day 2010 and the theme is water. Many people are without access to this most basic of human needs. In Australia we need to find ways to conserve the water we so often take for granted.

  • 40 Billion Hours: African women walk over 40 billion hours each year carrying cisterns weighing up to 18 kilograms to gather water, which is usually still not safe to drink. More Info »
  • 38,000 Children a Week: Every week, nearly 38,000 children under the age of 5 die from unsafe drinking water and unhygienic living conditions. More Info »
  • Wars Over Water: Many scholars attribute the conflict in Darfur at least in part to lack of access to water. A report commissioned by the UN found that in the 21st century, water scarcity will become one of the leading causes of conflict in Africa. More Info »
  • A Human Right: In July, to address the water crisis, the United Nations declared access to clean water and sanitation a human right over. But we are far from implementing solutions to secure basic access to safe drinking water. More Info »
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Blog action day 2009: What can one person do? #BAD09

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Today is Blog Action Day 2009 & the topic is climate change.

“Climate change affects us all and it threatens more than the environment. It threatens to cause famine, flooding, war, and millions of refugees.

Given the urgency of the issue of climate change and the upcoming international climate negotiations in Copenhagen this December, we think the blogosphere has the unique opportunity to mobilize millions of people around expressing support for finding a sustainable solution to the climate crisis.”

http://www.blogactionday.org/

As a somewhat sceptical individual I’m not bought into the idea of global warming nor of a coming ice age.  But as a rational thinker it seems prudent to be a good steward of the place where we live & which sustains us.

While I do not want us all to return to hunter-gatherer times and eschew modern conveniences, it does seem like a good time to direct our substantial collective intelligence towards find better ways of doing things.

In Australia we are already seeing the effects of climate change.  The recent devastating bushfires in Victoria appear to be a mere harbinger of what is to come.  We can expect to inhabit a much dryer and more fire-prone environment in some parts of the country.  While in other parts of the country we are seeing increasingly bad storms and cyclones.

To me this seems like a very big problem.  But all very big problems seem daunting unless they are chunked up.  This is a great case to apply the old maxim

Think global! Act local!

Here are some simple things some friends & I have done:

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Just one little change in the ecosystem

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I recently experienced how easily one can disrupt a stable ecosystem. And I learned the hard way how difficult it can be to re-stabilise that same ecosystem!

We have two dogs and one of them likes to socialise around the neighbourhood, and to this end she will dig amazing tunnels or climb over the high fences in our back yard.  To keep her in safely we have laid various bricks and paving stones around the perimeter of the yard.

Not long back I moved one brick from one part of the perimeter to another. Several months of chaos, escapes and tunnel digging ensued.

Just one little brick gave Trotsky the idea that escape was viable and she turned her considerable energy & intelligence to that end. The ecosystem of my backyard suffered for months following the removal of just one brick.

It’s all sorted out now.  But this got me thinking about how we often cannot see the pattern that keeps an ecosystem strong and stable.  Just one little thing that looks almost irrelevant can pull the whole thing asunder.

This is precisely the kind of thing that we are seeing in the traditional marketing ecosystem with the impact of social media and social networking.

Businesses are grappling with this problem.  They are continuing to execute the old faithful marketing plans and see them deliver less telling results than before. Debates are happening in board rooms about the importance or otherwise of the web.  And many business people think that it is all a fad that will pass like so many others.

People are using & consuming media and technology in new ways – for example a recent Nielsen study showed users want to use TV and internet simultaneously. The change is deep, and it is important because it is a social phenomenon. It is also impacted by the convergence of web and mobile phones that see traditional ways of consuming internet changing – this Pew report gives some indication of these changes.

Luc Vallee sums it up nicely in the title of his recent blog post: Moore’s Law x Metcalfe’s Law = Chaos? It all reminds me of Yeats:

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”

Time will ensure that we work out how to deal with the changes in our business ecosystem that arise from the changes in people and their use of technology. But it is these in-between times that challenge us and create fear, uncertainty and doubt.

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