A practical contribution to Corporate Sustainability

Why will companies adopt CS practices? Simply stated: they either feel obliged to do it; are made to do it or they want to do it. In this chapter we briefly investigate trends within companies and within society that support the development of CS.

4.1. Corporate challenges

Many companies have mastered their business operations and at the same time created "separate kingdoms".19 This manifests for instance in employees being more loyal to the business unit than the company, business metrics supporting unit management even at the expense of the performance of the mother company, transfer pricing and information asymmetry between HQ and its divisions. Another contemporary corporate challenge is managing issues in the supply chain. This is even more complex.

In quality management terms these phenomena relate to making shifts or progress in the sequence of quality orientations. Quality management can be oriented at a product level, at process level, at the organization as a systemic entity, at the supply chain and at the society as a whole. Each level includes and transcends the previous ones and each orientation represents a higher level of complexity.

The former ones - product and process quality - can be managed with rather technical and statistical instruments. Creating an organization that functions as a whole instead of separate departments or with managing issues in the supply chain, management needs a shift of approach: the employees and their suppliers have become more important. For instance, to be successful, management has to develop a climate of trust, respect and dedication and allow others to have their fair share of mutual activities (together win). We can conclude that organizations which continue to improve their quality, ultimately have to adopt a more social management style, in other words, move towards (higher levels of) corporate sustainability.

4.2. Changing concepts of business, governments and civil society

System theorists recommend, as "a cure to any diseased system, rooting out any holon that have usurped their position in the overall system by abusing their power . . ."20 and ignoring their duties and responsibilities, I would add. To root out cancer cells, medics developed surgical techniques and chemical cocktails. By fully abandoning business we would remove ourselves from the creation of wealth and necessary supplies, making the cure much worse than the disease. Mankind needs more subtle approaches to, for instance, increase the individual and collective level of awareness and understanding, support favourable behaviour and restore the imbalance of global institutions.21

Business forms an important triangular relationship with the State and the Civil Society. Each has a specific mechanism that coordinates their behaviour and fulfils a role within society. Generally, the State is responsible for creating and maintaining legislation (control), Business creates wealth through competition and cooperation (market), and Civil Society structures and shapes society via collective action and participation.

Both market and control mechanisms have shown major fallacies with respect to organizing societal behaviour. Since civil society has gained importance, both business and government have to respond to the collective actions of civilians, churches and especially NGOs. Corrective actions such as jeopardizing companies' reputations, challenge companies to apply more sustainable approaches in their business (Zwart, 2002).

Once, there were circumstances which resulted in clear-cut roles and responsibilities for both companies and governments, both relatively independent, and an impact on civil society that could be neglected. As complexity grew business and government became mutually dependent entities. Since their coordinating mechanisms were incapable of adequately arranging various contemporary societal topics, the importance of civil society increased. Various representatives stressed "new" values and approaches which politics and business no longer could ignore.

Business has to learn how to operate within interfering coordination mechanisms, with blurred boundaries and surrounding layers of varying degrees of responsibility, overlapping one other. Nowadays, governments increasingly leave societal issues within the authority of corporations. For instance, Schiphol Airport is supposed to limit noise and pollution, and at the same time accommodate the increasing demand for flights. NGOs and other stakeholders expect participation and involvement and request new levels of transparency

According to various sources in academic literature (e.g. Wartick and Wood, 1999) common values and norms play a major role in shaping society. Once it was the government elite that stated the societal values, later business leaders added theirs. Along with the process of democratization, representatives of the civil society have increasingly been introducing "common" values and norms and acting upon them to make government and business respond to these values. We see moving panels, changing circumstances and new existential problems arousing various members in society to act and transform into value systems and corresponding institutional arrangements.

Accepting their new position in society, companies develop new values, new strategies and policies and new institutional arrangements that support their functioning in areas that were once left to others, redefining their roles and rela­tionships with others.

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