Thursday, February 24, 2011

Part 3 - Foreword by Jeffrey Hollender for “The Age of Responsibility”

Though much has changed in the last 25 years, one thing hasn’t: business is still the only force with the reach and resources to do what needs to be done as quickly and efficiently as possible.

After watching America’s political process devolve in recent years into what is essentially an oversized argument punctuated by self-serving bursts of alarming obstructionism, it’s clear that government is not the answer. Real leadership in Washington and other political capitals has long since been replaced by fearful strategic triangulation that replaces big ideas and bold action with anemic incremental change.

Nor are NGOs an effective alternative. There are too many of them too narrowly focused and too often at odds with each other. Even when added up, the non-profit world simply hasn’t the authority, influence, or financial base to engineer change on a mass scale.

That leaves business as the only force in today’s world that’s got it all: a universal presence, an ability to get things done quickly and on as little as a CEO’s say-so, and the economic clout required to engineer widespread systemic change with remarkable speed. Business is our best and indeed last hope, and it’s time to put that hope to the test.

As this book wisely notes, change is no longer a matter of choice. Our present trajectory tells us it’s coming whether we want it to or not. The only question is what form this change is going to take. If the corporate community fails to adopt and embrace meaningful CR, those changes will be grim indeed, and the world that will emerge may very possibly be too environmentally degraded and socially unstable for business to survive at all.

Business needs CR as much as the world itself does. This book is how we get to that better future. The journey starts with Visser’s critical dissection of the role that business has played in the development of the many challenges we face and the first-generation failures of the CR movement to prevent them. It’s as key an instructive moment as the movement has ever had, and we will do well to heed the important lessons this analysis brings to the table.

Yet it’s when Visser looks at where we go from here that the book you are holding offers its biggest payoff. Upon seeing that the first iteration of CR was not enough, we could easily be left wondering what to do next. Having once given it our all, what’s left to give? In Visser’s view, the answer is plenty, and I agree. Rather than be frustrated by our previous lack of meaningful success, this roadmap to a more sane and just future offers ideas to get excited about. Visser’s vision of what a new brand of CR could and should look like and his exploration of the kind of businesses it would breed is the medicine the movement has been seeking. It’s at once a way out and way forward. We would be foolish in the extreme not to take it to heart and put it to work.

Over twenty years ago, a handful of individuals at a ragged assortment of companies tried to start a revolution. You’re holding the book that can finish it. Take what it knows and use this wisdom to set your own business on the path to a better and more profitable place. Whether you’re a CEO in a corner office or a worker on the line, read it, learn it, and spread its gospel as far and wide as you can. The hour may be late and the clock loudly ticking, but the story of responsible business is not over yet. There’s still room for a happy ending. And the time has come for us to write it for ourselves.


Jeffrey Hollender is former CEO and co-founder of Seventh Generation, and co-author of The Responsibility Revolution

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