Sustainability, Purpose, Citizenship, Csr, Shared Value: Don't Get Stuck on the Name... Continue the Journey!

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In 2010 Accenture produced a report in collaboration with the United Nations Global Compact titled, "A New Era of Sustainability: CEO reflections on progress to date, challenges ahead and the impact of the journey towards a sustainable economy." The major finding: that 93 percent of the 766 CEOs believed that sustainability will be important or very important to the future success of their company. That's the good news. The challenge is the reality of operationalizing this critical business strategy. As the report stated, "There are major gaps between CEO ambition and execution."

More good news: companies and brands of all kinds, in regions around the globe, recognize that they can no longer just make products and services and sell to markets. With globalization, instant communications, the power of social media enabling everyone to become "citizen" consumers, and expansive social and environmental challenges, commitments to sustainability, purpose, citizenship, or whatever we call it are here to stay.

The types of social/environmental engagement that companies and brands engage with fill a spectrum of actions. These range from short-term, marketing-driven, socially related promotions to long-term shared-value systems "that exploit the market in addressing social problems," says FSG principle Mark Kramer.

For the sake of moving the conversation along, let's not get stuck in the terminology. I've been doing this work for over 25 years and believe that there will be no clear winner in the nomenclature. Instead, let's take a look at the maturation of this business-social nexus and share some advice as to making efforts more effective.

From where I sit, we are in the middle of a typical adoption bell curve. In the earliest days the pioneers -- The Body Shop, Ben & Jerry's, Seventh Generation, Tom's of Maine, and Innocent Drinks -- were birthed with social/environment DNA coursing through them as they mirrored their founders' evangelism. They were small...
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