As I look back through the semester, thoughts of corporations and their impact on society runs through my head. Like many in my generation, I have always believed that corporations collectively have the greatest power to influence society at large. However, the question is to what end? Only time will tell. There are many cases that give me reason to be pessimistic. Think Enron, Shell (Nigeria), and AIG. But there are also a fair number of cases that reaffirms my faith in companies. Think Nike, Timberland and Patagonia. One thing I am certain of is that corporations have a major role in deciding whether or not mankind will have a sustainable future. In this market driven society, the only way is to properly value Corporate Social Responsibility in a way that investors can quantify. However, companies need a reason to do the right thing which translates to ROI and their bottom line. Concepts like “the triple bottom line” and “social karma” are attempts to put value to social responsibility. It is ultimately up to the consumers to demand for goods and services that are sustainable with minimal environmental impact. From my conversations with my peers, the things I learned in this class, and the recent trends in CSR there are reasons to be more optimistic. The challenge is whether we will be able to bring about this change before it’s too late. The world has become smaller with barriers between people and countries being breached via the internet. We truly live in an interconnected planet in terms of the global economy and our impact on one another in that sense it’s a zero sum game. Our collective future will be dependent on our ability to mobilize ourselves towards a common sustainable future and break down the prevailing discourse rooted in self interest into one favoring the common good. Sometime from now, we will look back at this moment as a pivotal point in history when our fortunes were sown. The book is still being written as to whether the story is one of triumph or of tragedy.
John, if every business student could come away with your perspective on CSR — and then take that perspective out into the working world — we would truly have a responsible business revolution. I'm flattered that Timberland is among those companies reaffirming your faith in “good business” — tells me we're doing something right — and I'm in absolute agreement that change needs to come quickly, out of collective action, led by companies and consumers alike.
Your insights are spot-on and inspiring; assuming there are more young leaders like you that share your realistic view of how companies can and should be a force for positive impact in the social square, the next generation of business is going to be in good hands.
President & CEO, Timberland