Old-world CSR vs. new-world sustainability. What’s the difference?

Following my last post, Kevin Keohane very kindly gave a nod to his readers that, if they wanted to get to grips with the difference between old-world CSR and new-world sustainability, they could do a lot worse than swing by this blog. (Ta, mate!)

In the same vein, I’d encourage folks to take a shufti at the shortlist for the Guardian Sustainable Business “corporate sustainability innovator of the year” award.

It’s one helluva shortlist, with profiles of the nominees and links to various articles, blogs and Q&As providing some fantastic illustrations of the new sustainability in action – i.e. sustainability not as peripheral greening, but as core business strategy; the cultural impetus to create new business models that emphasise the creation of shared value.

Among that list, you’ll find a couple of folks who’ve been mentioned on this blog in the past – Mike Barry, for example, M&S’ head of sustainable business (and point man for delivery of Plan A); also Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever (the man at the helm for the launch of Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan).

You’ll also find Hanna Jones of Nike (architect, amongst other things, of their GreenXChange open innovation platform) and Ian Cheshire, CEO of Kingfisher (yet another progressive and passionate CEO prepared to shout from the rooftops about a more constructive form of capitalism).

Rationally speaking, any of the candidates would be deserving winners for the work that they are doing to emphasise what sustainable business is really about, but I’ve got a soft spot for Mike and cast my vote for him!

Reason 1: When I was in the throes of my Saudi sustainability project, I reached out to Mike for his assistance in developing an M&S case study. I wanted to scratch beneath the surface of all the public pronouncements and understand much more deeply how M&S were setting about embedding sustainability in organisational culture. Mike very graciously obliged and offered some really great insights – a favour that deserves returning!

Reason 2: maybe it’s the British obsession with supporting the plucky underdog? Whatever, I just feel that the bloke who’s got his sleeves rolled up actually delivering on Plan A deserves recognition, perhaps more so than the big name CEOs.

Reason 3: lest you think that my judgement is based on entirely subjective and emotional reasons, let me just reinforce that there are actually bloody good, legitimate, logical reasons for casting a vote in Mike’s favour too. Take these two further slides from my recent Landor presentation, for example, as illustrations of the scope and ambition of Plan A.

Jonathon Porritt’s verdict, I think, says everything that needs to be said about why Mike and M&S would be worthy winners of the award:

M&S is addressing the right things, in the right way… It’s not just progress against all the specific actions that matter, but the way in which M&S is transforming its core business model through Plan A.

That, in a nutshell, is what the new sustainability is all about.

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