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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Legal Doesn’t Equal Sustainable

This past Friday I spoke at the Conference Board’s Leadership Conference on Global Corporate Citizenship. On my panel, I joined speakers from Bloomberg, Mott MacDonald and Truist to discuss the CSR programs our organizations have run outside of the USA.

I focused on some of the contrasts I have observed between the US and the UK and how I see them having influenced differing corporate approaches to sustainability. I raised contrasts in roles of government and corporations, sense of community obligation, cultural attitudes and political differences.

The area of contrast that interests me the most is the impact of the more legally driven and litigious nature of the American business world. I have come to believe that the prominence of law as a business guide has led us to a point where legal and illegal is often seen as defining good and bad. We see this all the time with politicians such as former Illinois Governor, Rod Blagojevich and other prominent personalities, defending their actions by claiming they did not break the law, as if that defines that their actions are okay.

Accentuating the impact is the strongly advocacy-based culture in which we operate, which I do not think is supportive of good sustainability action. An advocacy-based approach requires each party to take sides, present only their best perspective, and wherever possible undermine the position put forward by the other party. Sustainable thinking requires seeing both sides of an issue, resolving problems holistically and looking for solutions that none of the participants may have conceived of alone.

Of course, I believe a strong and transparent legal structure is an absolutely necessary partner to a well functioning commercial environment. But it serves a specific function and in the US in particular, we would be well served to go out of our way not to confuse it with distinguishing between good and bad and not to let its methods define our approaches to sustainability.

1 comment:

  1. Keep up the great blog, Kevin. We could certainly use some different corporate models for behavior these days! I look forward to reading the next entry.