The Quest for Sustainable Business:
An Epic Journey in Search of Corporate Responsibility
Book by Wayne Visser
In A Nutshell
- This groundbreaking book follows the round-the-world journey of Dr Wayne Visser on his quest to learn how companies across the globe can tackle environmental and social problems
- The epic nine-month trip took him to Africa, Europe, Asia-Pacific and the Americas, where he searched for examples of the most innovative sustainable business practices
- The result is this book, a gold mine of pioneering ideas, anecdotes, links to video interviews and tools for facilitating sustainable business practices across borders and cultures.
About the Book
In January 2010, author, academic and social entrepreneur Dr Wayne Visser set off on a nine-month, 20-country “quest” to talk to entrepreneurs, business leaders and innovators and learn about how companies in all parts of the world can and are helping to tackle the world’s most pressing social and environmental problems. His aim was to explore the many varieties of global approaches to sustainable business practices first-hand and to share some of the most innovative global examples.
The result is this treasure trove of a book, full of stories, ideas, links to more than 100 video interviews, best practices and tools for making sustainable business work in a myriad of different contexts, cultures and settings. Besides sharing insights from his 2010 “CSR Quest World Tour”, the author captures his professional experiences and the evolution of sustainable business over the past 20 years.
The path begins in Africa and winds its way through Asia, North America, Europe, Australasia and Latin America. The author shares what he has learned in encounters with mega-corporations and small farmers, and conversations with CEOs and social entrepreneurs. There are facts and figures about world trends, and interviews with thought leaders and activists. This is a tale that consciously weaves the personal and the professional, mixing anecdotes and case studies. It looks outwards and reflects inwards, and is both autobiography and the life story of a global movement.
At the heart of this book are over 100 interviews with some of the biggest names in sustainable business practices. Dr Visser talks to some of the world’s leading thinkers on sustainability and innovation, from the legendary Bill McDonough to chief European Commission CSR coordinators. Here are excerpts from some of his exclusive interviews:
“An established economic model – and everything that goes with it, the politics and the way you think – is coming under profound challenge, and the ‘captains of industry’ have found this really deeply upsetting. I’ve often said that our greatest allies in environmental and sustainability worlds are death and retirement. I mean they just weed out people who can’t change and then a younger generation comes through and they do increasingly think differently”. - John Elkington
“Every time I turn around – whether it’s in India, whether it’s in China and Malaysia, Tanzania – there’s no shortage of reasons for optimism. What is the hardest part of all is managing change and having the understanding of how crucial and how fruitful cooperation can be right now. The problem isn’t our lack of tools; the problem is our ability to manage all these wonderfully powerful tools that we have to a human effect”. - Jeffrey Sachs
“China has 20 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities in terms of its air quality. 750,000 people die prematurely every year in China because of respiratory diseases related to air pollution. China has only 25% of the world’s average per capita availability of water. China is roughly one-quarter desert, and the desert is advancing somewhere between 1,300 and 1,900 square miles per year. Furthermore, 10% of China’s agricultural land is contaminated with heavy metals and other contaminants. We’re just on the cusp of understanding all of the ramifications of China’s environmental degradation and pollution for the health of the Chinese people”. - Elizabeth Economy
“I’m absolutely convinced that we’re in the midst of the next transformation… from the 19th-century form of industrial capitalism to a sustainable form of capitalism that actually has the potential to solve social and environmental problems; to create wealth for everyone in the world and to take us more quickly to the next generation of potentially clean and sustainable technology”. - Stuart Hart
“We need to move businesses into the rule-making business. We’ve spent a decade and a half experimenting… but the thin end of the wedge is the kind of social compact, or political compact, that is going to be needed to address the next round, if capital markets continue to fail and traditional multilateralism doesn’t deliver the goods”. - Simon Zadek
“It takes 16,000 litres of water to produce leather products, 2,700 litres to produce a T-shirt and 2,400 litres to make a hamburger.”- Marjon van Opijnen
“Three things [that give me hope] stand out. One is the rapid rise of awareness and leadership in the private sector and the corresponding awakening of civil society… Secondly, I’m encouraged by the fact that… there’s nothing in the universe so powerful as six billion minds wrapping around a problem. And third, I’m very encouraged by the quality of the young people I see. They realise there is less time… there’s less frivolity and more focus on doing what’s necessary. So I think the future is in pretty good hands”. - Amory Lovins
I told him that sustainability is boring. I said to Alex Krauer, ‘What would you say if I would ask you about your relationship with your wife? How would you characterise it? As sustainable?’ If this is the bigger goal, sustainability, then I feel really sorry because it doesn’t celebrate human creativity and human nature”. - Michael Braungart
“The issue lies with the nature of the CSR function itself: probably the most cross-functional, cross-silo business discipline to emerge so far in the history of management. It requires a profound level of cross-business functionality and integration to be effective. This is a real challenge to most companies, which are founded on vertical accountabilities.” - Leeora Black
“I’ve always had my doubts about shareholder capitalism because we keep talking about the shareholders as being owners of the business, but most of them haven’t a clue what business they’re in. They deal through agents of one sort or another . . . and they are basically punters with no particular interest in the horse that they’re backing, as long as it wins”. - Charles Handy
“Given the fact that we live in a finite world – and all of our activities require some depletion and some pollution; some negative effect on the system of which we’re a part – that the larger our economy gets, the heavier the burden on the rest of the system. There comes a point where the benefits (which are real) of expansion of the economy may be outweighed by the costs inflicted on the rest of the system of the expanded economy”. - Herman Daly
“The pursuit of profitable environmental policies, technologies and change is desirable if we are to move towards greater sustainability, but the political and social nature of their impacts must be recognised. ‘Green’ does not automatically mean ‘good’. There will always be winners and losers, but there is a real danger in India at least that the drive towards greater sustainability will have some regressive social outcomes.” - Emma Mawdsley
“The other way is that the big energy users basically try to grab whatever they can and hold it for themselves – and that’s what we’re doing… I don’t think humans will disappear off the planet. I think our current industrialised society will profoundly change. I think our political systems will change. I don’t think democracy is going to survive the downturn”. - Dennis Meadows
How the Quest Began
“My inspiration for the book came when I decided, in 2010, to leave the security of the University of Cambridge – where I had been developing a Master’s in Sustainability Leadership – and set out on a ‘Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) quest world tour’, which took me to 20 countries on five continents, travelling continuously for nine months.
It was one of those great ironies of my life that I had to leave one of the world’s premier educational institutions in order to advance my learning. I had an itch and I needed to scratch it. I wanted to reconnect with what was happening on the ground in countries around the world; and I was excited by the prospect of making new friends, seeing new lands, soaking up diverse cultures and discovering fresh case studies. More than anything, I needed to rekindle the passion that had started me on this career in sustainable business 20 years before.
My intention was always to capture my insights along the journey and share them with a wider sustainable business audience. One of the ways I did this was to conduct nearly 100 video interviews, all of which are shared on the CSR International channel on YouTube, and referred to throughout the book. The other way was to keep a diary and to write a book about my travel experiences”.
Title: The Quest for Sustainable Business: An Epic Journey in Search of Corporate
Author: Wayne Visser
Publisher: Greenleaf, 2012 (Pbk)
Citation: Visser, W. (2012) The Quest for Sustainable Business: An Epic Journey in Search of Corporate Responsibility. Sheffield: Greenleaf.
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