Is the world reaching a tipping point where business as usual means business as agent of world benefit?
That question was on the minds of thought leaders from business, academia and government who gathered at the “Business as an Agent of World Benefit” global forum on October 22-25. The forum was co-convened by Case Weatherhead School of Management, the United Nations Global Compact and the Academy of Management.
At the forum, some 400 live participants and 1,000 online participants actively engaged in a dynamic conversation about how business can be a positive force for economic, social and environmental change while making a profit.
Keynote speaker Ray Anderson, chairman of Interface, made a clear distinction between “doing good” and “not doing harm.” As the world’s largest carpet company, Interface intends to eliminate any negative impact it may have on the environment by the year 2020. After that, the company aims to have a restorative effect on the environment.
Anderson’s aspiration is an inspiration for more and more companies around the world. At the Forum, panelists and speakers pointed to several promising signs indicating that a tipping-point has been reached:
• 3,000 organizations around the world have signed on to the United Nations Global Compact, in which participants pledge to uphold the principles of the UN Millennium Goals and behave responsibly in three areas: human rights, environmental protection and ethical governance.
• 85% percent of business leaders acknowledge the importance of balancing high financial returns with contributions to the greater good, according to a recent survey by McKinsey Consulting.
• $2.3 trillion is invested in socially responsible funds in the United States alone, according to Calvert. Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) is an investment strategy that integrates social or environmental criteria into financial analysis.
• Microfinance pioneer Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to “create economic and social benefit from below.”
For all these reasons, it’s clear that “something quite transformative is happening,” noted Georg Kell, executive director of the United Nations Global Compact. “Business as usual doesn’t work anymore.”
Bertrand Collomb, chairman of Lafarge, argued that this transformation is the key to business’ survival in the 21st century. “When we think about it, we don’t even have a choice,” he said. “Business cannot succeed in a world that fails.”