Claims of novelty and sustainability are legion in the business world in the first decades of the twenty-first century, yet as Dr. Wayne Visser amply illustrates in his seminal The Age of Responsibility: CSR 2.0 and the New DNA of Business, most of these are of questionable systemic merit. Visser, the Founder and Director of think-tank CSR international who has literally reconceptualised CSR from Corporate Social Responsibility to Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility, posits that only a holistic 'base' can engender a economically- and ecologically-sustainable 'superstructure': grafting CSR initiatives and even entire departments onto extant multinationals is akin to applying a small sticking plaster to a gaping wound.
The wound is all too real, and goes far beyond the oft-cited statistics on global temperature variation: when the combined environmental damage of the world's 3,000 largest companies is estimated at US$2.2trn for one year in the late 2000s, and when the nominal annual value of the degradation inflicted on the Earth's ecosystems and biodiversity is somewhere between US$1.9trn and US$4.5trn, it is clear that business is confronted with a problem of existential proportions. The thesis that the rapid spread of technology and information is enabling a dystopia rather than any other outcome is, on the evidence before us, a seductive one.
Yet as Jeffrey Hollender - the co-founder of natural household products company Seventh Generation, Inc. - has averred, it is also probably true that business is the only force in today's world capable of remedying the above problems, and not just because in so many instances it is the direct cause of them: business can act much faster than government bureaucracies and possesses economic clout beyond the dreams of non-governmental organisations.
But is the embedding of CSR 2.0 into everyday business practices enough for CEOs and their organisational subordinates to unite and save the planet? Perhaps not. We would argue that while CSR 2.0 is essential, it is not sufficient. Ultimately, businesses are run by human beings with decision-making, and moreover, moral agency. If the average CEO is making decisions within a moral context that condones long-term ecological destruction in the pursuit of short-term economic gain and has not internalised a level of restraint and vision that obviates environmentally-harmful activities as unconscionable, then the most noble corporate aims will be voided. Addressing this is not necessarily beyond the remit of business, but one or two other domains may have to be consulted to map out this new and more distant journey.