Sustainability Stays in the Picture

June 19, 2009
  • Aron Cramer portrait

    Aron Cramer

    President and CEO, BSR

Conventional wisdom alert: a couple of recent articles in The Economist and the U.K. newspaper The Independent have raised questions about the viability of corporate responsibility in the recession. Both pieces—and the one in The Independent, in particular—are drawing the wrong conclusions.

These two stories focus a lot of attention on corporate contributions. This conflates philanthropy with sustainability. That train left the station long ago. If the recession is accelerating the move away from a version of corporate responsibility that focuses on philanthropy toward one that looks fully at core business strategies, that’s cause for celebration—not hand-wringing.

Both articles cite a poll conducted by BSR at our Conference last fall. That survey indicated that 70 percent of companies would maintain or increase their CSR budgets despite the downturn. In each of these recent stories, however, the results are shown as evidence that the sustainability glass is one-third empty, rather than two-thirds full.

It would be more instructive to explore whether any other category of business spending has fared as well amid massive cuts in corporate spending.

All evidence suggests that sustainability is proving highly resilient, and it is more often seen as a way out of our current difficulties than a luxury that cannot be maintained. As was noted just this morning at the World Economic Forum’s East Asia Summit in Seoul, a primary difference between this recession and other recent downturns is precisely that the environment has stayed in the picture.

That’s conventional wisdom we can believe in.

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