Many have observed that the BP oil spill is a reminder that corporate responsibility to community and the environment requires more than a clever re-brand.
There’s something missing from the conversation, however. These observations of BP (and the many companies who are very glad they are not BP), don’t seem to make the link between company displays of sustainability and the utter lack of a corporate culture of sustainability in so many companies. No community investment, eco-certification or annual report can replace a culture of sustainability which would have prevented the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the first place.
The recent intense focus on ‘the business case for sustainability’ retards, perhaps, business leadership (CEOs, COOs, CFOs) understanding and acceptance of the potential sustainability can have for a business. Beyond the savings which result from eco-efficiency initiatives, beyond the increased stock value from consumers who trust the brand, beyond the practical benefits of recycling or supporting community, sustainability for business is more about philosophy and spirit that it is about any series of actions or stated commitments.
This philosophy of sustainability guides responsible actions and sparks innovation for better practices. In a culture of sustainable business, certain decisions don’t get made because they violate the fundamental tenets on which the business-and the greater natural order– are based. Reward systems are created to inspire greater commitment to the philosophy of balance and restoration than short term profit and exploitation.
Have you ever known (or been?) an absent parent or lover who substituted emotional investment with monetary investment? The purchase of a new bicycle after a family argument, or the buying of flowers for the forgotten anniversary might serve as familiar examples. But what would most people rather have? Most would choose to have the heart, spirit and trust-affirming emotional presence of the loved one, rather than a material surrogate.
BP invested heavily in Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives. Yet, in spite of their focus on the Carbon Disclosure Project, or their annual reports compliant with Global Reporting Initiative criteria, or their contributions in support of communities struck by natural disaster they, like so many companies, missed the larger point. It might be said that The Deepwater Horizon tragedy was the result of a lack of corporate culture—an emotional investment in sustainability as a core value and business philosophy and way of working that would have prevented the disaster in the first place.