Corporate responsibility: a no-brainer?

If you are in the business of building brands, products, services or corporate brands in the long term, corporate responsibility is surely a given. If you want to build long- term profitability, you dismiss the environment, society, government, NGOs or the press at your peril. Indeed, you would only ignore these constituencies if you were in business for a quick buck or short-term profit.

Many companies have made an increasingly important virtue and value of positioning their brand, goods or services as corporately responsible. BP in the oil and energy industry, HSBC in banking, and Wal-Mart and M&S in retail are good examples.

However, three recent events have heightened the importance and significance of CR or Global Corporate Citizenship and made them very fashionable. First, the deal between Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, involving an exchange of Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway stocks, to enable the Gates Foundation to do even greater charitable work. Second, the decision by Sir Richard Branson, at the second Clinton Global Initiative in New York, to donate up to $3 billion in profits from his Virgin companies to good causes. And finally, the decision by James Murdoch at BSkyB and his father Rupert Murdoch at NewsCorp to espouse carbon neutrality – along with Al Gore’s influential film An Inconvenient Truth. All of these events have made it fashionable for chairmen and CEOs to embrace corporate responsibility – and embarrassing for them if they do not.

Consumers will not consume luxury in the same way as they did recently, at least for some considerable time in the future. Responsible consumption will become more important, rather than conspicuous consumption. Consuming less in a more socially responsible way will be crucial – in relation to society, the environment and economy. Thus social responsibility will be more significant to the consumer, our clients, governments, NGOs and all constituencies.