Corporate Sustainability in South Africa

Corporate Sustainability in South Africa:

A Ten Year Review

Article by Wayne Visser

What have ten years of democracy meant for the corporate sustainability agenda? This section looks back at what have been the main catalysts for change since 1994, the trends where substantial progress has been made and the key areas where companies still lag international best practice.

Catalysts for Change

Legislative Reform

The wave of legislative reform initiated by the post-apartheid government fundamentally changed the landscape of corporate sustainability. Between 1994 and 2004, approximately 60 entirely new or substantively revised statutes were introduced which had direct implications for corporate management of safety, health, environment, socio-economic development, labour, governance and ethics issues. Some of these, such as employment equity and black economic empowerment, reflected the aspirations of the ANC’s pre-election Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) agenda, while others, like sustainable development and corporate governance, strongly echoed international trends.

Globalisation

At the same time, South Africa’s re-entry onto the international staged forced many companies to raise their sustainability standards to meet global market expectations. As a direct result, there was a substantial increase in environmental management certification and sustainability reporting, as companies like BHP Billiton, Anglo American and Old Mutual, which became Fortune 500 companies, and SABMiller, Lonmin and Dimension Data, which became FTSE 250 companies, quickly upped their game to conform to the corporate governance requirements of the New York and London stock exchanges and the corporate sustainability requirements of various social and environmental investment indexes.

Stakeholder Activism

Newly empowered by the law and supported by international NGOs, South African civil society also became visibly more active in challenging companies on the basis of the public’s social and environmental constitutional rights. Cases in which companies became the target of such stakeholder activism included the likes of Thor Chemicals, AECI, Caltex, Iscor, WasteTech-Enviroserv, Sasol Mining, Cape plc, Gencor, Anglo American, De Beers and GlaxoSmithKline. Not surprisingly, there has been a parallel trend among companies of improved public transparency, increased stakeholder involvement and active pursuit of public-private partnerships.

Codification

Given these pressures to demonstrate their corporate sustainability, South African companies have followed the international trend of codification, i.e. adopting standards and guidelines as a form of voluntary self-regulation on social, ethical and environmental issues. The codes which have had the most impact include ISO 14001 (for environmental management), the King Code (for corporate governance) and the Global Reporting Initiative (for sustainability reporting), while the influence of other frameworks like those on social accountability (e.g. AA 1000, SA 8000) and general corporate citizenship (e.g. the Global Compact, the OECD Guidelines for Multinationals) have been more limited.

Trends

Over the last decade, corporate sustainability has steadily broadened from an initial focus on philanthropy and environmental management towards including health, safety, labour, community and broader socio-economic issues. By the time Trialogue surveyed the top companies in 2004, 100% regarded corporate citizenship (reflecting the contemporary broad definition of corporate sustainability) as a priority, with 52% giving absolute priority status and 32% high priority.

Corporate Philanthropy

Trialogue estimates that the total expenditure on corporate social investment (CSI) in South Africa  …

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Visser, W. (2004) Corporate Sustainability in South Africa: A Ten Year Review. 2004 KPMG Survey on Integrated Sustainability Reporting in South Africa, KPMG: Johannesburg.

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Five Corporate Sustainability Challenges That Remain Unmet

Five Corporate Sustainability Challenges That Remain Unmet

Article by Wayne Visser

There is no doubt that business is doing far more than ever before to tackle the sustainability challenge, for example by recognising its social responsibilities, reducing its environmental impacts, guarding against ethical compromises, making its governance more transparent and being more accountable to its stakeholders. Evidence appears in plain sight: a plethora of voluntary codes, management systems by the truckload, volumes of sustainability reports, socially responsible indices and funds, and an increasingly conscious business press.

All well and good, but – and this is a “but” that could prove to be a showstopper – all of this activity has failed to turn the tide on some of the most crucial inhibitors to sustainable development: ecological decline, poverty, greed, trust, and hope. Without significant progress on these five issues, the corporate sustainability crusade is doomed. In this article, I present evidence of these gaps that still exist and propose the shifts that are needed to address them.

The Eco Gap

According to the World Resources Institute’s latest report, World Resources 2002-2004: Decisions for the Earth – Balance Voice and Power, one billion people depend on fish for protein, yet 75 percent of the world’s fisheries are over fished or fished at the biological limit. Some 350 million people are directly dependent on forests for their livelihoods, yet global forest cover has declined by 50 percent since pre-agricultural times. More than 40 percent of the world population live in water-stressed basins and 65 percent of global agricultural lands show soil degradation. This is not about saving cute fluffy animals or pretty flowers; this is the stuff of survival, which is the true meaning of sustainability.

The link back to business is obvious. It is our consumptive lifestyle, which companies are spending more than $446 billion annually to stimulate with advertising, a nine fold increase since 1950. And we aren’t showing any signs of slowing down; just the opposite in fact. Private consumption expenditure topped $20 trillion in 2000, a fourfold increase since 1960. Approximately 60 percent of this consumption is by only 12 percent of the world’s population, namely those living in North America and Western Europe. If we are seeing rapid environmental decline now, what is going to happen when 10 billion more people convert to the Western consumptive lifestyle? Something’s got to give.

The point is that, despite all the efforts of companies in shifting towards sustainable strategies, the numbers are all still headed in the wrong direction. And partly, we permit this to happen by allowing business to skate away with mere cosmetic makeovers when wholesale transformation is needed. For example, how many corporate sustainability reports disclose cumulative emissions? None. They report on annual emissions, which often lure the reader (and management) into a false sense of security. The figures may be declining from year to year, but if you fill a glass with polluted water at a slightly slower rate, ultimately it is still going to overflow.

If we are going to avoid hitting the wall of ecological thresholds, beyond which our life support  …

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Visser, W. (2004) Five Corporate Sustainability Challenges That Remain Unmet. Ethical Corporation, Issue 31, July.

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Meaning, Work and Social Responsibility

Meaning, Work and Social Responsibility

Article by Wayne Visser

Surprisingly little has been written about the search for meaning in a workplace or business context, and nothing, in my knowledge, has made the explicit link to corporate social responsibility (CSR). It is surprising, partly because meaning has been a serious topic of research and application for at least fifty years now, following the seminal work of Viktor Frankl and others, as have the fields of industrial psychology and CSR. But it is more surprising still, simply because work is where we spend about a third of lives. If meaning cannot be found in the workplace, our ability to lead a fulfilling life is seriously impaired.

The importance of understanding how work can contribute to meaning in life seems more critical now than ever before. Anecdotal evidence is mounting that people in the West are increasingly feeling a sense of existential crisis in their working lives. On the one hand, they are expecting more from their work experience, including that it will nurture personal development and self actualisation. On the other hand, they are finding the capitalist, corporate model of work to be lacking in a meaningful higher purpose, or to put it another way, the modern workplace and economy is devoid of a sense of soul.

Some may argue that this growing frustration in the Western workplace is a vindication of Karl Marx’s (1975) concept of the alienation of labour through capitalism, whereby work “does not belong to his essential being; that he therefore does not confirm himself in his work, but denies himself, feels miserable and not happy, does not develop free mental and physical energy, but mortifies his flesh and ruins his mind”.

Modern social commentators like Charles Handy are less extreme, arguing for reformation rather than revolution. In his book, The Hungry Spirit, which is subtitled “Beyond Capitalism – A Quest for Purpose in the Modern World”, Handy calls for capitalism to embrace the notion of social capital (and I would add ecological capital as well) in addition to the more traditional economic capital. He also emphasises the need for citizen companies, which demonstrate greater accountability and a restored balance between the rights and responsibilities of business.

The question remains, however, whether these ideas have any grounding in the theory of meaning on the one hand, and management theory on the other hand. According to Frankl’s logopsychology and logophilosophy, work – doing, or as he referred to it, realising creative values – constitutes one of three paths to meaning. “As long as creative values are in the forefront of the life task,” he noted, “their actualisation generally coincides with a person’s work”. In fact, his other two paths to meaning may be equally applicable in the work situation, even if less common, namely being, or the experience of values (e.g. love, truth, beauty), and perceiving, or the adoption of constructive attitudes (especially in the face of suffering).

Frankl’s notions of work as ideally being an expression of a life task are not dissimilar to iconic industrial psychologist Abraham Maslow’s conclusions about self-actualising individuals. Writing …

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Visser, W. (2003) Meaning, Work and Social Responsibility. Positive Living E-Zine, International Network on Personal Meaning, September.

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Corporate Responsibility in a Developing Country Context

Corporate Responsibility in a Developing Country Context

Article by Wayne Visser

In this article, I want to explode a few myths about corporate responsibility in developing countries. Most of these myths exist as a result of the feeding frenzy that inevitably occurs every time the media has hunted down and sunk its teeth into one or other juicy story of corporate exploitation. The myths are also sustained, however, by whole legions of largely well-intentioned people in developed countries who have vested interests in promoting their particular brand of the truth about corporate responsibility.

Myth 1: Economic growth is not good

Over the past decade or more, there has been a growing backlash against the economic expansionist agenda of many developed countries and multinational corporations. And rightly so: Blind pursuit of GDP growth or market growth often fails to take into account many of its negative social and environmental impacts, as alternative indicators of progress, like the United Nations Human Development Index, the Index for Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW) and the Environmental Sustainability Index, have all amply demonstrated.

But it is a mistake to transpose this “growth is not good” argument into a developing country context. What the ISEW showed, in fact, was that GDP growth and quality of life in developed countries like the USA and UK moved in parallel until around 1970, when they began to diverge, with quality of life declining despite continued economic growth. Most developing countries have yet to reach that point of divergence. Economic growth and the expansion of business activities is still one of the most effective ways to achieve improved social development and environmental sustainability.

Myth 2: Multinationals are the biggest sinners

In today’s fishbowl world, when multinationals step out of line, they get slammed in the worldwide media. Typically, their reputations suffer collateral damage and they find themselves being targeted by consumer boycotts and liability suits. This is both appropriate and necessary as a counterbalancing force in today’s supra-territorial society, given the overwhelming size and power of global corporations and the still relatively poor institutional frameworks of regulation and governance to ensure proper accountability.

But on balance, these sensational cases are the exception, rather than the rule. On the ground in developing countries, multinationals are generally powerful forces for good, through their investment in local economies, creation of jobs, upgrading of infrastructure, provision of basic services and involvement in community development and environmental conservation. The cumulative social and environmental impacts of smaller companies, which operate below the radar of the media and out of reach of the arm of the law, are typically far larger than that of the high profile multinationals.

Myth 3: Multinationals are the biggest saviours

While multinationals are typically not the worst offenders in developing countries, neither do they have as much influence over national development as many critics seem to assume. Development is a complex phenomenon, which fifty years of multilateral frustration has proved beyond question. Adequate systems of governance and economic stability are probably two of the most critical enablers, a fact that countries in Africa have finally realised with the launch of the African Union and  …

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Visser, W. (2003) Corporate Responsibility in a Developing Country Context. Ethical Corporation, Issue 20, August.

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In Search of Business on the Elephant Trail

In Search of Business on the Elephant Trail

Article by Wayne Visser

In a previous article, I talked about the need for companies to “shapeshift” – to change their underlying natures – from embodying the characteristics of a lion (a competitive, selfish predator) to being more like an elephant (a more cooperative, harmonious creature). This analogy is based on the book I co-authored with Clem Sunter entitled Beyond Reasonable Greed: Why Sustainable Business is a Much Better Idea! (Human & Rousseau Tafelberg, 2002).

The question still remains, however: what does an elephant company look like? Like trying to convince caterpillars that going into a cocoon is a good idea, it helps if we can show the remarkable end result, namely a beautiful butterfly flying free. That is why, in this article, I want to highlight some companies that have already gone a long way down the elephant trail; businesses that have begun transforming themselves into agents of positive change in a world that desperately needs visionary leadership.

There are seven critical areas in which elephant companies distinguish themselves from lion companies, namely: values, vision, work, governance, relationships, communication and services. We will explore each of these themes briefly and give examples of those companies and business leaders that are blazing a trail for others to follow. So, hang on to your whiskers, the shapeshifting is about to begin.

Values: It’s in His Kiss

Values are exactly what they say they are – a reflection of the things we value. In a corporate context, they are not motherhood and apple pie statements in annual reports, or candyfloss principles framed on the boardroom wall. If you want to know what values a lion lives by, the answer lies not in his well-groomed mane or his charming smile; as the rock ‘n roll classic goes: “It’s in his kiss!” In other words, company values are betrayed by the way they behave.

Let’s take the issue of equity in the workplace as an example. It is a fact that the gap between rich and poor has widened in the past fifty years, with three billion people (half the world’s population) still living on less than $2 a day. And yet how many companies look to themselves as one of the sources of this growing inequity? How can it be otherwise when, in 1960, Chief Executives in the United States earned on average 40 times more than the average worker, but by 1990, this factor had gone up to 80 times and today is around 120. Taken to an extreme to illustrate the point, do you know that it would take one Haitian worker producing Disney clothes and dolls 166 years to earn as much as Disney president Michael Eisner earns in one day. In lion companies, the benefits always seem to trickle upwards to feed the fat cats.

By contrast, America’s popular ice-cream chain, Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc, chose equity in the workplace was one of their fundamental values. Importantly, it didn’t stop with words, but rather translated into action. The inspirational founders of Ben & Jerry’s insisted on a top to bottom salary …

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Visser, W. (2003) In Search of Business on the Elephant Trail. Namaste, Volume 21, July/August.

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Hearts and Minds

Hearts and Minds:

The Corporate Battle

Article by Wayne Visser

Since the War on Iraq began, one of the mantras that has been repeatedly chanted by the US and UK military and media alike is the so-called “battle for the hearts and minds” of the Iraqi population. The more cynical commentators have dubbed this the “propaganda war”. It strikes me that today’s multinationals are engaged in a very similar battle – to win over the hearts and minds of a growing number of sceptics and critics who are not convinced of the justice of their corporate crusade, the appropriateness of their tactics, or the acceptability of the causalities incurred along the way. This article examines these parallels in more detail.

Conflicting ideologies

At the very root of the War on Iraq are the competing ideologies of the West and the Middle East. America and Britain see the war as an evangelical mission to free Iraq of the dictatorial Saddam Hussein and introduce democracy, which, they believe, has triumphed over communism as the superior and most desirable political system for the world today.

Much of Iraq and the Middle East, on the other hand, believe that the Western brand of democracy is bankrupt of the very values and social mechanisms on which their Islam-based culture is founded. For them, admitting to communism’s failure does not automatically imply embracing Western-style democracy.

Likewise, multinationals are zealously preaching the spread of the economic ideology of free-market capitalism, smug in their superiority since the collapse of socialist economies. And yet the growing anti-globalisation movement is unconvinced. For them, the fact that socialism failed in practice does not automatically imply that capitalism is beyond reproach.

It is worth pointing out that many of the Marxist critiques of capitalism, such as the tendency for wealth and power to concentrate in fewer and fewer hands, have been vindicated in practice since then. Hence, socialism may not be viable, but unfettered capitalism has still failed to address to problems of social equity and environmental sustainability.

David and Goliath

The War on Iraq is a classic David versus Goliath scenario. The United States, the world’s only remaining superpower, joined by Britain, the original imperial empire, are seen as the aggressors abusing their superior power to impose their will on smaller, weaker nations. Even if the smaller kid provoked a response, the big kid who bullies him will always be seen to be wrong.

Such big-brother tactics, acting in the self-appointed role of global policemen, are the rule rather than the exception, according to the critics of the US and the UK. Iraq is just the latest in a long line of bullying by America, with Vietnam, Cuba and Afghanistan being among numerous former victims, while Britain has a long history of colonialism.

Multinationals find themselves in a similar position. Their economic might and lobby power is unparalleled in history. Of the largest 100 “economies” in the world, more than half are companies. With that size comes the ability to act more or less unilaterally in pursuit of their overriding profit objective, directing capital, people and resources around the globe more or less at their whim …

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Visser, W. (2003) Hearts and Minds: The Corporate Battle. Ethical Corporation, 6 April.

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Can We Survive the Future

Can We Survive the Future:

Only if Business Shapeshifts from Lions into Elephants

Article by Wayne Visser

Rabbit Holes and Boiled Frogs

Being in business these days is a lot like falling down a rabbit hole. The latter, if you remember Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is a chaotic and confusing place to be. All the tried and tested rules of the past don’t seem to work so well anymore. The formerly familiar environment keeps transforming itself into new, unrecognisable landscapes. Strange, distracting characters have a habit of popping up randomly and then suddenly disappearing. And the clear, rational perspectives that used to spell out solutions keep getting stretched, warped and turned on their head, like the reflected images in a house of weird mirrors.

To illustrate what I mean, the demigod once known as the shareholder has mutated into a multi-headed beast called the stakeholder. Accounting, the time-honoured introspective discipline of counting beans (or gold or money or shares), has been turned inside out and become nerve-racking accountability to the big wide world out there. And profitability, which used to be a trustworthy financial measure, has multiplied into a triple bottom line by blurring together economic, social and environmental performance.

To survive in this whirlwind of chaotic change, companies have become adept at rapidly adapting to dramatic changes. What business has been less skilled at doing is recognizing or responding to long-term effects of gradual changes. In this sense, it displays the classic “boiled frog syndrome”. If a frog is placed in boiling water, it immediately jumps out providing it is free to do so. However, if the water temperature is cool to begin with and then gradually increased, the frog fails to register any threat to its well-being and consequently allows itself to be literally boiled alive.

There are many examples of threats that could boil the corporate toads: creeping income inequality; the spread of HIV/AIDS; marginalisation of certain regions in the world economy; the cancerous burden of Third World debt; alienation of people with low incomes or no jobs; accelerating biodiversity loss; global climate change; rising chemical concentrations in the Earth’s water systems; disintegration of cultural identities; and the spread of violent crime among the youth, to mention but a few.

Trading in Fangs for Tusks

At the heart of all of these challenges is one of the most profound drivers for step-change in business and the world – sustainability. Sustainability refers to improving human well-being by seeking a proper balance between social, economic and environmental change over the long term. The old ways, which have dominated for the past century or more, are no longer appropriate for a post-industrial, sustainability-driven society. Sustainability is not only a new scientific, political, social and legal concept, but an entirely new business philosophy based on a new mythology. It requires that business think differently about its role in society and how it goes about what it does.

The changes needed in order for business to survive and thrive in an age of sustainability are so fundamental that they are akin to changing its identity, its underlying nature. At the moment, we  …

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Visser, W. (2002) Can We Survive the Future? Only if Business Shapeshifts From Lions into Elephants. Namaste, Volume 19, October.

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Ten Predictions for a Sustainable Future for Business

Ten Predictions for a Sustainable Future for Business

Article by Wayne Visser

After the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, we should take care not to mistake this single event for the greater symphony of change that it heralds. Like fleas on an elephant, we need to jump back and see the greater whole – the challenge of creating a sustainable world. However you want to define it, in the end, it comes down to our ability to endure. Those that understand how social and environmental drivers will be shaping the landscape over the coming decades will be better placed to survive. This article ventures ten predictions about how the future will be different.

Prediction 1

In the future, the number of banned substances will increase exponentially

Many chemicals and metals (especially persistent compounds) that are commonly used today, and still more that have yet to be created, will be linked to serious human health impacts (birth defects, cancers, immune deficiencies) and ecosystem destruction (habitat decline, mutant species, collapsing populations). The speed of this trend is being driven by the rate at which synthetic chemical compounds are being created and the rapid build up of persistent substances in the ecosystem, versus the tolerance thresholds of our immune systems and the environment. Sustainable companies will apply the precautionary principle and actively seek substitutes for hazardous or persistent compounds.

Prediction 2

In the future, forensic sustainability will emerge as a new professional discipline

There will be groups of professionals, with a combination of legal, investigative, sociological, eco-toxicological and medical expertise, which will track down companies responsible for illegal, indiscriminate social and environmental violations. Using leading-edge forensic techniques, they will trace evidence from the crime scene (an illegal waste dump, contaminated land, a toxic spill, an afflicted community, a sick set of customers) back to the companies that can be in any way linked to the substance, process or product that caused the damage. Damage claims and sustainability insurance will grow exponentially. Sustainable companies will apply extensive internal and external investigative, auditing and assurance techniques to avoid being an unknowing accomplice to sustainability violations.

Prediction 3

In the future, governments and civil organisations will maintain and publicise corporate grey-lists

Any company that consistently violates sustainability principles (environmental integrity, community health, human rights, health and safety) will be “greylisted” by governments, multilateral agencies and civil organisations. Some governments will forbid the greylisted companies from operating in their countries. Activists will use the greylists to mount boycotts. Financial analysts and shareholders will use the greylists to inform their choice of investments. Sustainable companies will actively embrace a transparent, triple bottom line approach to their strategies and operations in order to avoid future greylisting.

Prediction 4

In the future, companies will employ sophisticated, real-time corporate stakeholder monitoring

Like professional athletes that monitor every aspect of their bodies’ performance, companies will be expected to have their finger on the pulse of each of their sets of stakeholders. Using a combination of new technologies and new industrial psychology techniques, companies will receive almost constant electronic feedback on the health, well being and level of satisfaction their stakeholders …

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Visser, W. (2002) Ten Predictions for a Sustainable Future for Business. Ethical Corporation, 6 September.

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Beyond Reasonable Greed

Beyond Reasonable Greed:

From Accounting to Accountability

Article by Wayne Visser

In our recently launched book entitled Beyond Reasonable Greed (Visser & Sunter 2002), we attributed the phenomenon of unreasonable corporate greed to boards “being collectively swept along by the prevailing paradigm of success which is purely financial.” However, we added the following rider: “In light of Enron’s failure, this judgment may be overly kind and more cases of dodgy accounting, inflated profits and insider trading by the board may pop up in Corporate America and Corporate Europe.”

Well, since publication of the first impression of the book, they have popped up! Starting with WorldCom, but extending to other corporate heavyweights as well. Big business is under the whip like never before from the public and politicians alike. And the accounting profession, in particular, is feeling very uncomfortable under the harsh interrogative spotlight. However, if the response to all the accounting irregularities and other misdemeanours is merely to throw a few CEOs in jail and threaten the rest with a long prison sentence unless they check the figures personally, a great opportunity for real transformation will be lost.

Corporate Governance Under Fire

As business and the accounting profession begins to respond to the rising tide of international scrutiny, the word “corporate governance” is on everybody’s lips. Even more so in South Africa, where the revised King Report on Corporate Governance is hot off the press. But the critics remain skeptical, maybe justifiably so. If the Enron and Worldcom sagas are revealing anything, it is that corporate governance is sometimes not worth the paper it is written on. Should the people involved in implementing corporate governance not have their hearts in the right place and just be going through the motions, the process becomes a charade.

You can have all the non-executive chairpersons, non-executive directors, board committees and external auditors you like, but things will go hideously wrong if ceremony has replaced substance and cynicism is the order of the day. Some non-executive directors sit on so many boards that it is physically impossible for them to exercise their fiduciary responsibilities properly. Worse still is a situation where the Chairman and CEO are one and the same person and he (it still almost always is a “he”) has managed to load the board with his buddies. If things go right, they are the first to congratulate him and approve a handsome bonus. If things go wrong, they are the last to ask the tough questions needed to expose malpractice. They would prefer to have the wool pulled firmly over their eyes even though ignorance is no excuse in terms of the law.

Seeking a Reformation in Business

Rather than implementing a smattering of short-term corporate governance fixes (which are necessary, but not sufficient), what is required is nothing short of a Reformation in business, along the same lines as the one precipitated by Martin Luther in 1517. On October 31 of that year, he wrote an attack on the sale of indulgences (remissions of punishment for sin) in 95 theses which he  …

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Visser, W. & Sunter, C. (2002) Beyond Reasonable Greed: From Accounting to Accountability. Accountancy SA, September 2002.

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Economics: An Environmental Perspective

Economics: An Environmental Perspective

Unmasking the Myths of the Predatory Lion Economy

Article by Wayne Visser

It is not uncommon to hear our present global economic system being compared to a predatory natural environment. We might imagine the market as a great African plain where competition for scarce resources dominates the life of every species. We can see successful companies as the supreme hunters in this eat-or-be-eaten world, like the awesome lions of the bushveld.

It is certainly a compelling analogy and one that is perpetuated in boardrooms and business schools around the world. We need only look at our economic and business language to realise that predatory behaviour is believed to be imperative to survive and thrive in the marketplace. We must “target” our customers, “chase” higher growth and better profits, “hunt” for potential merger or acquisitions partners, and “go for the kill” in our sales pitches.

But is this lion-king economy really the kind of place that we want to live in? Of course, it’s great if you’re at the top of the food chain, but what about the other, more vulnerable species? Is the free market really working “for the common good”, as it should according to Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”? Or are communities and the environment being sacrificed to keep companies well fed?

This article questions many of the beliefs which dominate economic thinking today, and asks whether we can design an economy “as if people and the planet mattered” – a sustainability-driven elephant economy.

Myth 1: The bushveld exists solely to serve the lion-king

One hundred years ago, nobody questioned the role of the economy in our lives. Business and the economy existed to serve the welfare of society – to provide the goods and services we needed in order to maximise our quality of life. Certainly, it was not the other way round. People did not exist to serve the economy.

And yet, some time in the past century, the tables have turned. Personal, community and even country survival are increasingly dependent on working within the formal, money economy. Furthermore, companies are able to justify all kinds of unethical practices in the name of profits or job creation, whether it is restricting the accessibility of lifesaving drugs, or causing wholesale destruction of the natural environment.

Partly this is a systemic problem in the way our economy works. It encourages dependency on money, institutionalises growth and incentivises short-sighted thinking. It is also about the balance of power and accountability. Today, many companies are more influential than whole countries, yet they remain accountable only to their shareholders, whose sole criterion is dividends.

This entrenched situation is the same as saying that the entire bushveld exists only to serve the lion-king. Which, of course, is neither desirable nor sustainable, even in a “survival of the fittest” context. In actual fact, nature is dominated by cooperative, symbiotic relationships that weave together into a complex, dynamic balance.

Myth 2: The bushveld contains unlimited food for the lion

We all know that economies depend on the natural environment, both to supply resources and act as a sink for our wastes. But the rate at which most modern economies are gobbling up raw  …

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[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”download” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/article_predatory_economy_wvisser.pdf”]Pdf[/button] Economics: An Environmental Perspective (article)

Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.csrinternational.org”]Link[/button] CSR International (website)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”info” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/business-frontiers”]Page[/button] Business Frontiers (book)

Cite this article

Visser, W. (2002) Economics: An Environmental Perspective – Unmasking the myths of the predatory lion economy. The Enviropaedia: World Summit Edition, Eagle Environmental: Durban.

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