on 1 April 2011
I have read quite a lot about the recent financial collapse and feared that this would be yet another overview and analysis of these events. However, I was pleased to find that it was much more than that.
The first part of the book is a summary of various ways that firms conduct themselves. the author sees these as evolutionary stages, but whether or not you agree with that is irrelevant, because you can read without that assumption.
Stage one is Greed. The firm works solely for its own profit, and this is justified by the trickle-down theory of wealth, which, from the examples given, appears not to be working too well. There are some obscene case studies here, such as Barings, Enron, Lehman Brothers, WorldCom and even the Dutch East India Company. Although executive greed is generally mentioned here, the same greed pervades the whole company structure, financial markets and banking too.
Stage two is Philanthropy, and is exemplified by Carnegie, Rockefeller, Buffet and Bill Gates giving most of their personal fortunes back to society. This exemplifies the trickle-down theory of wealth, but is at the cost of what their companies have done to society and the environment in the first place. Also, of course, too few companies or individuals do what Gates has done: most hang on to their wealth or distribute it only to their higher ranking employees.
Stage three is Marketing. One has only to look at oil, gas and tobacco to see examples "greenwashing" the worst exploits of a company to make it appear that all is well and good. Lobbying is the primary tool used.
Stage four is Management. Cadbury is an example of a firm that put welfare and sustainability at the forefront and to challenge the supremacy of shareholders in governing the direction a firm takes.
Stage five is Responsibility. Here a company tries to build sustainability into itself, as in Interface.
The author then builds a new model for Corporate Sustainable Responsibility (CSR 2.0) which builds on the mistakes inherent in the original CSR (CSR 1.0). This uses ideas such as Creativity, Scalability, Responsiveness, Glocality (think global, act local) and Circularity.
The whole book is buzzing with ideas, and would be worth buying just for the ten case histories examined in detail. Whether you are a die-hard capitalist or communist you will, I think, get a lot out of reading this book. It is all too easy to distort the message of capitalism and over simplify the issues of wealth distribution, pollution and sustainability into the mantra "capitalism works". Yes, it creates wealth, but society has to moderate its worst excesses just as it needs to do that for any individual in society. After all, a company has rights, by law, and should therefore have responsibilities too.
This is one of the best books I have read in the past year. Thoroughly recommended!
CSR 2.0 is more of a manifesto than a manual, but what it does it does excellently. It is packed with case studies and examples and trawls wide and deep through current and recent practice to explore practice, possibilities, ideas and vision for what CSR should (now) and could be (as we move forward). I defy the reader not to be appalled by the evidence of failure and risk and excited by the amazing things being done in the world.
Visser has credentials from mainstream and CSR consultancy and academic research and is deeply informed. That means that for anyone wanting to understand and be inspired by the current phenomena and ideas, he makes an excellent guide. He 1) analyses the ills of the world and why action and change are needed as well as 2) plotting out some themes for how this needs to happen - creativity, scalability, responsiveness, glocality, circularity. These two sections, approximately equal in length, constitute the bulk of the book and serve as seedbanks of ideas and a manifesto to act.
The last section is rather cursory and feels tacked on, pointing to some change models, methodologies and ideas and presumably hoping that the reader wanting to act will go read about or study them directly. And his suggestions are good approaches that deserve attention. I was glad to see David Gleicher's Formula for Change, for example. Perhaps the book would have benefited from building change method in from the start, although it would have made a chunky book even bigger? How and where do the Gleicher or the Scharmer principles show up in practice? The `monster matrix', which is his master model for change, is also flawed. First, in the Intention space it names two iconic figures (Newton and Descartes) whose thinking is widely seen now as totally counter to the principles of human system change (and this by figures he quotes) and the example he gives of Rachel Carson (not Caron, a proofing error!) and her book Silent Spring also shows the limitations of the thinking. He quotes her as the expert in the Cartesian mode but actually although her data and analysis was patiently plotted the impact of her work was devastating, paradigmatic, and revolutionary (another of his boxes). He also leaves our minimalist interventions and nudge as factors for change.
If a manual is not what it is, the manifesto is welcome and needed and should be read by every manager, leader, activist, interested person and social entrepreneur.
This is not a book; it is a detailed forensic analysis of management styles of the last 30-odd years. I thought myself a passably knowledgeable student of such matters, but was totally blown away by the depth and breadth of Dr Visser's treatise. It is going to take a me a long time to work my way through the twists and turns of the various aspects of Corporate Sustainability & Responsibility. Maybe I shall then have some idea of the future success chances of the concept.
On the front cover, there is a quote from Philip Kotler. in whose view, this book should be an instant classic. Kotler was one of the main marketing gurus of the 60s & 70s and I would not dream of contradicting him!
Well, it's not an easy read - it was hard work for me to get into, but the subject matter of socially responsible enterprise is certainly of great interest to me, and this book is full of insights on it.
It was slightly wider in scope to what I had expected, in that I thought it was going to be solely about companies where the social mission is a critical part of their DNA (like say, Kiva) as opposed to companies that practise some form of social responsibility/philanthropy but on the side in a way that isn't mission critical and of equal importance to the business of making a profit (like say, Goldman Sachs who donate quite generously to social causes and charities). This book covers both types, as well as a few others, and attempts to analyse the history and current state of corporate social responsibility, and then attempts to provide a manifesto for the future.
Overall I'd say it's a very relevant, and perhaps even important book (and even fascinating - once engrossed in it). Most importantly, I like the fact that in addition to casting an honest and critical eye over the current state, the book is fundamentally optimistic and hopeful for the future - and actually useful in terms of trying to provide answers instead of just supplying a critique.
Visser has been involved in CSR for the last twenty years and even he acknowledges that so far it has often failed and been nothing more than window dressing and green wash. For the first part of the book he looks at the history of CSR by using examples such as BP and Cadbury. He has shown how in the past we have failed because we look at repairing the consequences and not dealing with the causes. The second part of the book looks how we can change CSR to CSR 2.0 with the change from corporate social responsibility to corporate sustainability and responsibility. He tries to take a very pragmatic and not an idealistic (Utopian) approach and he sort of gets there but I am not convinced that we will make it. Certainly many in the new generation of business leaders will live by the "Do no evil" motto, but there is still a large amount of business that will not change its methods.
This book should be essential reading for any MBA course. With the right focus I think we can build the critical momentum for the change to CSR 2.0 to succeed, but I suspect that not enough people will get the message and the ideas will not be widely adopted, and so over-shoot and collapse will become inevitable and only through this will business change.
I enjoyed reading this - even having worked in CSR for several years at various points in my career, it provided me with an interesting history of the area, with solid case studies and a good overall structure. The author has created an accessible 'bible' with a worthwhile manifesto and I would recommend this to anyone with a passing interest, or indeed a career in CSR. Very good.
on 23 June 2011
I have a passing interest in corporate responsibility, partly because it impacts upon some areas of my work. As such, this seemed like a potentially helpful guide to the changing way in which CSR is viewed in the work of business. Indeed I found the tone of the book to be instantly accessible and though the details can be quite dense at times, I never felt bogged down in the text. The case studies are relevant and would be beneficial to someone who is either a student investigating these areas or for someone like myself who works in an environment that touches upon these themes. Some of the conclusions might seem a bit of a stretch, but then the author is very much 'an ideas man' so perhaps that is why they came across like that to me. An interesting read covering a topical subject.
on 4 March 2013
This is a great introduction to the subject of CSR, providing a thorough background of its history, its different stages as the subject has matured and finally an outline of what principles CSR2 should encapsulate. I love the way the book is constructed, each chapter beginning with an overview of iconic leaders, periods, key ideas and references to aid further reading as well as providing a context. Each chapter also begins with a case study to put the theory in a real life context. Very readable text and highly recommended!
To be honest I haven't read this book in its entirety as yet. However it is a excellent source for references for coursework of anthropology and developments studies (and similar subjects) at under- and post-grad level. I found the points that are being raised regarding the right and the wrong approach towards corporate responsibility and sustainability very refreshing. If you found 'The Spirit Level' useful & interesting then this is for you.
on 21 May 2014
Because CSR is not a fad, this book explain and show the way.
Although we need miles to go before we reach CSR 2.0 as Web 2.0
Despite the evolution of the notion CSR it still remain underdeveloped.
Thanks for the insights!!!
The book has a nice color and a convenient shape and a heavy fine mount.