Business is not just the balance sheet and shareholder value

Corporate responsibility has become a thing.

In fact, it was always a thing but just maybe unpopular with business thinking and very much out of step with the classical MBA-driven approach to business created in the last century.

The tide has turned. Good old-fashioned corporate greed is no longer acceptable, especially when executed at the cost of employees, the environment, taxation policy, and the community.

Over the last decade what we have seen is “stakeholder capitalism” being slowly overhauled by “sustainable capitalism”. Short-termism and focus on quarterly earnings usurped by long-term value creation. Growth for growths sake tempered with sustainable expansion.

The rise of online education and the unbundling of MBA frameworks should finally see off the old-world and usher in a sustainable age of capitalism as a bringer of value to society as a whole – as it did in the prophetic Keynesian dream 85 years ago.

What, practically, should responsible corporations look like, and how should they behave is one of the great dilemmas as we begin a new decade. Much is simple and well-documented stuff, but not all organisations are onboard yet. The doctrine might look something like:

  • Value measured expansion over unfettered growth
  • Integrate environmental, social and governance into risk assessment
  • Focus on sustainability: reversing consumption ills, reducing waste, consuming green energy and becoming carbon positive
  • Align corporate compensation with long term goals and make sustainability part of those goals
  • Replace or disrupt unsustainable products and services
  • Regard the supply chain as your responsibility, it too must be sustainable, fair, and ethical
  • Promote sustainability into business education at all levels

It may seem all just a bit too fluffy, or Marxist even, but there are simple things that most businesses can do as part of governance and corporate responsibility:

We should all become carbon positive, create ethical and fair supply-chains, grow slower and more managed, stop using and developing bad products and wasteful services, contribute to the community and its social fabric, and remove tax-minimising practices such as off-shoring and profit/dividend manipulation.

For smaller businesses, like ours, it’s pretty straightforward as we have 20/20 sight of our supply chain, pay our bills by return, are carbon positive, support local and national community initiatives, operate a 100% green energy policy, and have a carefully crafted business plan fit for the next decade.

Finally, and often overlooked, is the need to continually invest heavily into contemporary education as a method to understand risk, trends, and product/service trajectories. This “glimpse into a sustainable future” that comes from reading, learning, and adapting creates a naturally-forming sustainability compass. Or at least that’s what we’ve found.

And what of shareholder value? Well, a tightly executed, ethically strong, well managed business that treads lightly on the planet and gives back more than it takes will provide shareholder value for longer and more consistently than an all-consuming, out of kilter, corporate monster.