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Overview and extracts

From the foreword: ‘Why we wrote this book’

“We have sought careers that enable us to live the values we believe in – not in the fringes of the economy, but in its mainstream. We wanted to experience big business and discover how sustainability would fair when merged with the desire to make money” 

“We wanted to put corporate responsibility to the test and understand what change we can affect by working inside business” 

“With more than thirty years between us in working to bring sustainability to life inside business, where do we stand on the responsibility of big business? Have we sold out, captured by the glamour of global corporations? Or have we become disillusioned, unable to create the change we were seeking? We stand in remarkably similar positions to where we started. Has big business changed for the better? Yes. Is the change going far enough? Not yet. And most importantly, what can we do about it? Continue to work with business to ensure that it creates, not destroys, value for society”

From the introduction:

“Big Business; Big Responsibilities shares the inside track on why some of the world’s best known brands are doing this as a core part of business strategy: protecting the environmental systems they depend on, building consumer trust and creating new markets to ensure long term success” 

“This book describes the surprising speed with which business is recognizing that it will thrive best in societies that succeed and identifies the major challenges that still need to be overcome for business to make its full contribution” 

“This is, at its heart, an optimistic book. We argue that companies succeed best in societies that succeed, and that businesses have a strong interest in supporting economic and social development and environmental protection. We have seen, and believe in, the potential of business to lead change and progress” 

“But we know also that this potential is severely limited if it is undertaken in isolation from others. It is only through collaboration, shared learning and consensus building between business, government and civil society that we will attain the systemic change required to achieve sustainable development”

Book Overview 

Part One 

  • We describe the scale of the social, environmental and ethical problems facing the world today, challenges that are increasingly shaping the landscape in which business operates.  
  • We set out why and how leading companies are responding to these challenges, and why this is increasingly done in collaboration with government and civil society.  
  • But knowing just how much still needs to be done, we also describe why reforms that are good for everyone can still be defeated by vested interests and how, despite the goodwill of many in big business, sensible changes can still be thwarted.

 Part Two 

  • We examine the connection between businesses and consumers. We consider how businesses can help consumers reduce their own environmental footprints and how companies and governments are even restricting consumer options (‘choice editing’) in the name of sustainability.
  • We also describe how in both the virtual and real worlds businesses can often find themselves in coalition with consumers in support of more proactive or responsible actions by governments. 

Part Three

  • We address the question of who is driving this change.  
  • We describe how in certain emerging markets with weak civil society it is governments that are playing a strong role in shaping the actions of companies – but at the same time are bracing themselves for new waves of civil activism.  
  • By contrast, we describe how in more developed western markets an intriguing interplay between CEOs and increasingly engaged employees (‘everyday champions’) is enabling innovation for sustainability and the development of more responsible approaches by big business. 

Part Four

  •  We set out our vision for a more responsible and sustainable future. We look back a generation to reflect on just how much business has been transformed in this time and take an optimistic view on what is within society’s grasp over the next 35 years.
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