Can Business Save the World?

Superman-Saving-the-WorldHave you noticed all the articles and blog posts lately about corporate responsibility, sustainability, philanthropy and ethics? I was especially intrigued by a post on Fortune magazine’s website by author Rob Asghar about the 2015 Oslo Business for Peace Summit and a subsequent Business for Peace award ceremony.

Asghar writes that the participants “described a new, urgent corporate pragmatism that goes beyond idealism or kind intentions. . .Within a global society increasingly vexed by income inequality, conflict and environmental challenges. . . participants argued that the only smart long-term business move is to demonstrate a tangible commitment to the larger good.”

He also reports that “proponents of the ‘business for peace’ approach argue that the future opportunities are breath-taking for those companies that seek the larger good in meaningful, demonstrable ways. But they also argue that this will require a shift from corporate social responsibility being a discrete corporate department to becoming the very DNA of an organization. Enlightened self-interest, they argue, will be pragmatic, urgent…and very profitable.”

Whatever happened to providing needed goods and services, being a great employer and giving back to the community as much as possible? I view my primary business responsibility as taking good care of employees and customers, first and foremost. I’m not sure “corporate social responsibility” needs to become part of “the very DNA” of Intertech or other for-profit businesses either.

I’m certainly not proposing a return to the robber baron era, but I do believe running a responsible profit-making business is a noble calling in its own right. Whether your business is helping to feed people, like the family farm I grew up on, or developing software to help other businesses serve their customers better, it’s important to believe in the integrity and clarity of your mission.

Earlier this year, Harvard Business Review (Jan-Feb. 2015) shared an article about balancing corporate social responsibility (CSR) with overall business goals. That article, “The Truth about CSR,” had a refreshingly down-to-earth message: “Most (CSR) programs aren’t strategic—and that’s ok.”

I’ll tell you more about that next time.