‘Sunny side greed’? Business is good at general good

July 2, 2015, Bruce Harrison

It's almost a ho-hum axiom: social responsibility is a win-win deal. Enterprise interest action can be purposed as social benefit action.


That was the case charted in my two books on corporate greening. My point (way back in the 1990s) was that free enterprise could more aggressively anticipate public value impact and turn threatening environmental situations into mutual-benefit solutions.


So, in today's democratic, interconnected, win-win world, is everybody happy, with handholding abounding?


Well, no. It's hard to get everybody to “yes" when some folk's success thrives on “no."


Ask New York Times columnist Frank Bruni about the pie-face-hit he got from, let's say active naysayers on corporate values, when he recently observed that big business leads the way on many social issues.


Under a head that played cute with his serious point—“The Sunny Side of Greed"—Bruni acknowledged that while companies certainly take positions on public issues in the interest of their direct, shared stakeholder values, they regularly influence general good and civic change.


Bruni's news hook—Walmart, Sears and other corporate leaders' immediate ban on Confederate flag sales—is the current example of enterprise leadership in the public good; he then cites moves by:


• Eli Lilly, American Airlines, Intel on state “religious freedom" laws;

• 246 enterprises (he lists Apple, AT&T, Caterpillar, Facebook, Goldman Sachs, Google, McDonald's, Marriott, Microsoft) on “modernizing our immigration system";

• Amazon, Starbucks, Nordstrom “and others" on marriage equality; and

• Starbucks as “a paragon of corporate munificence and social consciousness" on current issues.


The Times piece drew yelps from online writers. An especially aroused Salon.com writer, Elias Isquith, scorned Bruni as “the 1 percent's most useful idiot".

This reminds me of the personal ouch when Mother Earth printed my picture tinted satanic red, in an article about “the devil of business environmentalism" when Business One Irwin published my evidentiary Going Green. Now, permit me to smile.


Over the course of a quarter century, corporate performance on a great many issues affecting publics beyond immediate stakeholders have had a powerful impact on progressive social well-being.


And I have to say, although achievement scaled down the counseling value of my firm's go-green advocacy, it is satisfying to know that corporate leadership has influenced best-practice green behavior in government and social sectors.


So take heart, Bruni. Scoffing at business good-ism is lame in the evident march of general good.


True and trustworthy enterprise communication, as enlightened by the Arthur W. Page Society, will keep energizing the acceptance of best, mutually achievable, outcomes.

1 Comment

Right you are, Bruce.  In my view, the CCO plays an increasingly critical role in helping enterprises earn trust by focusing on creating not just customer and shareholder value, but broader societal value, as well.  As Michael Porter argues in his Shared Value initiative, business value creation is more sustainable than NGO and governmental action, because unlike them, a successful profitable business creates its own capital.
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