Responsibility for sustainability

The scientific journal Organizational Dynamics is preparing a special issue about “The leadership imperative for sustainability and corporate social responsibility”. In other words what is the responsibility for sustainability of business leaders?

Most business leaders describe their responsibility in terms of economic-, social- and ecological performance. Although much progress is being made in describing and measuring these different performances it is still difficult to assess the long term performances of current business activities. The primary responsibility of current business leaders is to make sure that in the short term the business can flourish and often this success is measured in terms of economic performance. The assessment of environmental performance is often limited and mainly based on primary environmental impacts such as natural resource depletion, land degradation, pollution emissions, energy consumption and waste generation. The assessment of the social impact are mostly only about philanthropic initiatives and improved labour practices like reducing accidents at work, hiring more women and employing a more ethnically diverse workforce.

If the corporate social responsibility and the responsibility for sustainability of business leaders, is difficult to describe and to measure, it is also difficult to know for sure if on a risk-adjusted basis business leaders tend to sacrifice social and environmental concerns in favor of short-term financial gains (which is often referred to as the “Tragedy of Choice”).

Business leaders can have different views on social and environmental responsibility. Some view it as a mission that drives strategy others see is as a burden. Both views historically were not very successful as research shows. Business leaders who see environmental and social responsibility as a means to meeting a more elemental goal of achieving long-term competitive advantage in the marketplace are more successful, because these leaders create positive social systems, mitigating environmental impact.

In the special issue of Organizational Dynamics there are clear statements that leaders can no longer operate business as usual. Solutions to climate change can be found by spending time changing the culture and values by which we make and implement our decisions.

Norbert Bol

Image by Future of Fame

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