Yes, I agree, Ann, that many companies are now serious about sustainability. While this movement in corporate culture may have originated in the PR discipline, many companies now have sustainability executives whose mission is more than just an effort to give their company a public facelift. It's good to see.
Rob, I think you may be right about the generational aspect. Although it's also true that any company doing its duty as a corporate citizen publicizes its good deeds, and sustainability sells. I don't see anything wrong with all that. But that doesn't imply that a company is only being sustainable for PR purposes, which some commenters have implied in past discussions about green anything. Some companies, such as DuPont, have places sustainability at the core of their corporate values.
Good point, Ann. There may be a generational aspect to this as well. I've noticed over the past 10 years that many large companies have serious initiatives to be good citizens -- from green fiendly to lifestyle friendly. These efforts seem to be mostly coming from young executives who grew up hearing about the importance of a healthy environment and social responsibility. I think this upcoming (and sometimes in place) generation may help the corporate vision look beyond the next quarter. If so, that vision will need to be communicated well at the company's highest levels to combat the knee-jerk reactions from the analyst community. I think this is already happening at companies such as Texas Instruments.
I think it's not surprising that ROI trumps everything else, but I also think it's not necessary. However, I think it's the shareholders, not the analysts, who make a difference. True, many shareholders simply follow the analysts' advice. So you've got a good point there. But it's also true that shareholders, especially ones with a lot of money, have made it possible for these alternative sustainable funds to come into being and proliferate. As a shareholder (via some mutual funds), I voted with my feet, so to speak. The more people who do that, the more responsible CEOs and their companies will be rewarded for social and environmental responsibility.
I'm glad to hear your view of social value, Ann. Me too. But the acid test will be whether that message gets to the analyst community. So far, companies have been rewarded for sending production to China and moving their headquarters to the Caribbean. Until CEOs are rewarded for instilling social values, they will continue to be bottom line creatures.
There are some promising developments. TI and many other companies are building factories at home again. They're still arguing the moves from a bottom-line perspective, however.
Rob, I disagree with that argument. For one thing, it assumes the company operates in a social, cultural and economic vacuum. Since when does superior ROI always trump everything else? Since MBAs started running US companies. I think this is a larger cultural issue. Social responsibility has become a big deal, inside and outside corporations. For instance, I've been learning about socially responsible investing and have shifted most of mine toward companies that value other things in addition to ROI.
Interesting, Ann. I have mixed feeling about this. I hate to see the human jobs get displaced, but to do otherwise -- keep humans when robot ROI is superior -- would be subsidizing human labor at the expense of shareholders. How long can a CEO do that before the analyst community asks for his or her head?
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