As much as the media makes corporate responsibility and sustainability (CSR) out to be mainstream, it isn’t. There are still way more companies that are ‘in transition’ and unfortunately only a handful of leaders. But that is why it is so important to support those companies that are just starting down the sustainability path. So that we can create more leaders and truly make CSR mainstream.

In the Next Sustainability Wave, Bob Willard talks about Sustainability Continuums. He describes 5 stages of companies:

Stage 1: Pre-Compliance The company feels no obligation beyond profits. It cuts corners and tries not to get caught if it breaks the law or uses exploitative practices that cheat the system. It ignores sustainability and actively fights against related regulations.
Stage 2: Compliance The business manages its liabilities by obeying the law and all labor, environment, health, and safety regulations. It reactively does what it legally has to do and does it well. Emerging environmental and philanthropic social actions are treated as costs, projects are end-of-pipe retrofits, and CSR is given lip service.
Stage 3: Beyond Compliance The company moves from defense to offense. It realizes it can save expenses with proactive and incremental operational eco-efficiencies , cleaner processes, and better waste management. It recognizes community investment and social marketing can minimize uncertainty, enhance its reputation, and can help maximize shareholder value. However, sustainability initiatives are still marginalized in specialized departments – they are tacked on as “green housekeeping,” not built in and institutionalized.
Stage 4: Integrated Strategy The firm transforms itself. It re-brands itself as a company committed to sustainability and integrates sustainability with key business strategies. It captures added value from breakthrough sustainability initiatives that benefit all stakeholders. Instead of costs and risks, it sees investments and opportunities. It makes cleaner products, applies eco-effectiveness and life-cycle stewardship, and enjoys competitive advantages from sustainability initiatives.
Stage 5: Purpose & Passion Driven by a passionate, values-based commitment to improving the well-being of the company, society, and the environment, the company helps build a better world because it is the right thing to do. Visit www.vbnetwork.ca for great examples of Stage 5 businesses.

I love supporting and promoting businesses that are at Stage 4/5 – they already get it! But I also enjoy the challenge and reward that comes from working with companies that are at the tipping point (Stage 2/3) – working where social change meets the old paradigm and bringing enlightenment into that zone. Where along the sustainability continuum do you want to affect change?

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