So, what is the purpose of sustainability concepts and corporate responsibility plans?
What do you call a sustainable project or a corporate social responsibility plan? Is it a service or product that intends to solve social problems without any earnings? Or is it business (making profit) with the right marketing strategies that can benefit both the sustainability needs and the company offering the product or service?
Some may argue that there should be no distinction; sustainability and CSR should benefit everyone by generating profit and offering a sustainability value for society. If so, then I believe we have found the missing link; making sustainability profitable.
Others may argue that profit and sustainability is an impossible marriage. Solving social problems cost money, ergo it cannot generate profit. The Nobel Prize winner in economics (1976), Milton Friedman, once said that preachers of CSR easily forget about company profits and in fact they are just stimulating the idea of pure socialism that offends the basics of a free society. Businessmen cannot tackle complex social problems and they cannot guarantee greater benefit than what is provided by NGOs or the public services. Nevertheless, business does take place in the context of moral consideration.
Either way, there are at least two goals for a sustainable project or corporate responsibility plan:
1. Keep the project or business (or whatever you prefer to call it) alive by maintaining public interest, maintaining the funding and supporting the roles necessary to run the project.
2. Offer a sustainable service or product that solves social problems.
The extreme speed of development in technology and information availability is sometimes just as much a challenge as it is a blessing. Sustainability projects, just as much as businesses, now have to keep up with the development. Great (and some less great) sustainable projects pop-up every day, everywhere. Unfortunately, many projects die out very quickly; overtaken by the next “big thing” before they manage to make their mark.
My concern is that sustainability projects have become an easy come, easy go trend, a mayfly upon which it is difficult, if not impossible, to seriously evaluate effect. In order to really make an impact, and to actually present credible results, sustainable projects need to exist over a much longer time span than is currently the norm. Not only that, the big paradox is that marketing and promotion of the sustainability service a project is providing has become just as necessary as the service itself, and in some cases becomes the prime objective, just to keep the business running so that services can be continued to be provided.
Now, back to Milton Friedman – was he right after all? Business first, with perhaps benefit for mankind later? Well, in order to provide a sustainable service, you need to run a sustainable business that provides the service whether you are a private company or an NGO. You need to generate capital, capture the attention of the public and pay salary to those who provide the service. Friedman was not wrong, after all he did win a Nobel Prize, however as businesses and sustainability have been developing at the speed of light during the past 30 years, his theory has not been adapted accordingly.
Stimulating socialism, offending the free market? Au contraire, not only do sustainability projects/businesses contribute to solve social problems, they also take part in the free market and stimulate it. Sustainability projects do have an impact on the environment, more importantly they educate and inform about more than just earning a buck. As any other traditional business, it can generate profit and create new jobs. And that thing about sustaining own business, B.C Forbes said it well “If you don`t drive your business, you will be driven out of business”.