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Hardcover What Matters Most: How a Small Group of Pioneers Is Teaching Social Responsibility to Big Business, and Why Big Business Is Listening Book

ISBN: 0738209023

ISBN13: 9780738209029

What Matters Most: How a Small Group of Pioneers Is Teaching Social Responsibility to Big Business, and Why Big Business Is Listening

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Book Overview

Under what conditions can a business hope to deliver consistent financial results, inspire employees, protect the environment, and make the world a better place? The question gets to the heart of a set of fundamental questions: What is the purpose of a business? In what ways does a business create value, and whom does it really serve? Can a business promote social causes and yet remain robust, competitive, and profitable?Jeffrey Hollender has run...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

This book matters a lot.

This review is an adaptation of my review published in Personnel Psychology, Winter 2004 issue. As one of the pioneers in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement, Hollender is evangelical about promoting the implementation of CSR "in all of its forms." I'm not sure I know what he means by that. As he acknowledges, it's in the "mind of the beholder" because there's "no firm consensus" about what CSR means. I certainly can't criticize him for not pinning down the concept. Professor Ronald Sims (2003), in his own book on the subject for instance, has offered five different definitions. I think Hollender equates CSR with the idea of a triple-bottom line of responsibility and accountability for fulfilling what he thinks should be the financial, social, and environmental obligations of a corporation. Margaret Mead once said in effect that social change always starts and can only start with a small group of people. The small group identified in the book as pioneers in the CSR movement include small business entrepreneurs like Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream, socially responsible investment funds like the Calvert Social Investment Fund, and a host of advocacy groups or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like the activist group, Greenpeace, and the more reserved Businesses for Social Responsibility (BSR) that was conceived as sort of an alternative Chamber of Commerce. The book gives an interesting account of the different ways in which these pioneers promote CSR among big corporations. One way, for instance, is non-confrontational and educative in trying to "bring big business [no matter how socially irresponsible] to the table and then move the table." For example, BSR works closely with big companies to promote a set of best practices that hopefully will not only further the CSR progress of those companies but also entice other companies not to be left behind. Another way is confrontational, involving pressure tactics and sometimes law suits. Greenpeace, for example, gradually succeeded in pressuring Royal Dutch Shell to choose a more environmentally responsible way to dispose of an obsolete oil storage tanker and loading platform in the North Sea. As you can well imagine, the notion of CSR is controversial and fraught with issues. The authors clearly know that and for the most part deal with the issues relatively well in my opinion. I'll mention and discuss a few of the issues. Perhaps the biggest issue is over what should be the legitimate purpose of business. Hollender, understandably, totally rejects what he considers to be the "hysterical" opinion of conservative economist Milton Friedman that CSR is "fundamentally subversive" and that the only legitimate responsibility of business is to make an honorable profit. To Hollender, CSR "in all of its forms" is the legitimate purpose. Thus a corporation that seeks to ameliorate public problems not of its own making is a more socially responsibl

Honest and Transparent

The CEO of Seventh generation, Jeffrey Hollender, pens this book on responsible business. I came across this book because Seventh Generation recently decided to sell their wares through Target instead of Wal-Mart. Most small businesses would love to be courted by the Wal-Mart retailing giant but Jeffrey Hollender felt that Target agreed more with Seventh Generation. In this book, Jeffrey discusses his thoughts on running a responsible business. The opening chapters were somewhat difficult to get through. Perhaps it just took several pages for me to get used to his prose? The underlying message I felt was that having a socially responsible business is possible but will require a lot of work on everyone's part. Everyone is so connected to each other now. Perhaps an environmental conscious entrepreneur decides to open a chain of organic restaurants and ensures that farmers are paid a fair price. But what if the restaurant hires an exterminator that uses a toxin that ends up contaminating the soil for generations? The idea is to have a closed-loop business model ... that leaves things in the same condition as when the company began. For example, think of the credo of camping sites. Moreover, the closed loop business model is more than just your business but includes your suppliers and customers. Specifically, there are hidden costs to disposal of things like electronics and the ubiquitous clear plastic bags. Of course, we every day consumers can throw them in the trash for someone else to deal with. But someone does deal with our trash and there are some real costs. The book gives a story of a putrid land in China where a lot of our electronic waste goes. I have always loved companies that are transparent with their business models from a financial perspective. Transparency is about communicating to shareholders, consumers, and employees. Transparency is about being candid and introspective on dealings and reasoning for decisions. There are a mixed bag of corporate stories mainly with Ben & Jerry Ice Cream (who is now part of Unilever) and Seventh Generation. There is of course some mention of Johnson and Johnson's Tylenol case and also on electronic companies like Hewlett Packard and Dell. There is some applause for British Petroleum for a decision to put no money to politics and Shell who compromised with Greenpeace on an issue in Africa. Surprisingly this is a well thought out book that doesn't get hysterical. It's honest, transparent and I recommend it.

A Necessary Perspective

As a professor management who is interested in corporations acting more responsibly, I have just begun to use this book in my senior strategic management course. Hollender is a thoughtful and insightful proponent of socially responsible business. Each chapter covers a specific characteristics of SRB (accountability, transparency, sustainability, etc.). He recognizes that running a company using these principles is not easy but definitely worth it. He covers most of the pioneers in the field (Roddick, Cohen, Anderson, Chouinard) and their struggles to live their corporate lives in a responsbile way. I highly recommend it. Dale Fitzgibbons

Highly Recommended!

This is an insider's stroll through the confusing and ominous woods where the beasts of economic reality meet the lambs of social responsibility. Author and corporate survivor Jeffrey Hollender (who wrote this with scribe Stephen Fenichell) clearly admires the cast of socially responsible companies, such as Ben & Jerry's and The Body Shop. He covers the informal history of the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) movement and his own troubling experiences as chief of a company that saw itself as socially responsible. His presentation is heartfelt, if short on rigorous logic. He candidly discusses having his ideals challenged and trying to justify his compromises. The book labels some behavior socially responsible and some socially irresponsible, but its yardstick is not clear. For example, it condemns the use of child factory labor in developing countries, yet never expresses awareness of the lack of practical alternatives for those children - perhaps starvation. The book explores both the value of the Corporate Social Responsibility movement and its uncomfortable contradictions. We recommend this trip inside the hard work of melding social responsibility with business.

People who have read the book and commented:

This is corporate social responsibility up close and personal.Through the experiences of real executives and entrepreneurs,Hollender and Fenichell show that social responsibility is not just a slogan but a way of doing business. The authors are clearly sympathetic to their subjects, but they do not blanch when it comes to controversy and debate. Readers will appreciate their realistic take on the challenge of merging financial success with social commitment in today's global economy. A good read with practical lessons for anyone in business.Prof. Lynn Sharpe Paine - Harvard Business SchoolIn a readable and optimistic manner, Jeffrey Hollender defines the need for both small businesses and large corporations to practice social responsibility. Then, he takes the next step in offering practical ways to reach this goal.Nell Newman, Co-founder and President of Newman's Own OrganicsThis is an important book, not only because Jeffrey describes the shift going on in society making responsible corporate behavior an imperative, but why it is that consumers, employees and non-profits play a critical role in keeping corporations "honest" - this book is a must read, for the business person as well as the consumer - governments will never do this because they are economic governments, businesses will never do this on their own because they are incapable of truth, it is the ethical consumer, the vigilante consumer, that will make this happen. This book is really really relevant.Anita Roddick - CEO The Body ShopOur environment is a direct result of how we design our things and how we get them. Without leadership and social responsibility from business, we will fail in our efforts for a better environmental future. Jeffrey Hollender represents the next wave of environmental leaders - people who produce visible examples of how we need to do things and show artistry in pointing the way to better design. Peter Bahouth - former Executive Director of Greenpeace In What Matters Most, Jeffrey Hollender and Stephen Fenichell persuasively demonstrate that it is not only possible to run a profitable and socially responsible business, but that it is vitally necessary for the future of our planetTensie Whelan - Executive Director, Rain Forest AllianceJeffrey Hollender has been a pioneer in the world of environmentally proactive business for over 15 years. . He has shown that doing the right thing does pay off both in terms of building a brand that generates great customer loyalty and a business that has consistently generated superior growth. Now if I can only get my supermarket to stock the seventh generation line. Ben Cohen - Ben and Jerry's I just received a copy of What Matters Most. I must admit I was skeptical that it would be a good read, as much of the CSR literature strikes me righteous and irrelevant. I have to admit I was wrong. I loved your book! I really like both the effort you made to talk directly with so many key players, and your analysis of each i
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