Corporate social responsibility: Can we afford not to get this right, and can creative problem solving play a part?

I was struck by Apple’s recent public commitment to be carbon-neutral by 2030.  It’s no surprise to me that Apple, which prides itself on thinking differently, has demonstrated real leadership in this area.  However, it is my firm belief that all similar Fortune 500 companies should demonstrate this kind of leadership.  

Doing the right thing should never be a hard decision, but in reality, it can take real guts, especially if that decision runs counter to making a profit. A good example of this is Delta’s CEO Edward Bastian (whom I have had the pleasure of meeting) who recently said:

“If you board the plane and you insist on not wearing your mask, we will insist that you don’t fly Delta in the future.” It is a clear message that is backed by science, but has become political in the US for various reasons.  This is a clear example of doing the right thing. It’s right for the company as it encourages safe travel, it’s right for travelers because it improves their safety, it’s right for society because it reduces the spread of the virus and it’s right for shareholders because it supports sales in the mid and long term.  

Delta has also demonstrated great leadership with regard to the environment. In February 14, 2020 Delta announced its intention to become the first carbon-neutral airline.  Now, with all the challenges facing the travel industry, this might have been a premature wish.  But it demonstrates the kind of stance and commitment that business leaders at all levels need to take.  This program will cost the airline well over 1 billion dollars to implement. However, directionally it seems like the same type of ‘win win’ approach as the mask wearing statement. This approach is right because it protects mid and long term profits for Delta – and not just Delta, because ALL businesses require a sustainable environment and a functioning and stable society to protect revenues – both for today and for future generations. 

These kinds of challenge can be addressed in part by programs like Salesforce Pledge 1%, in which 1% of sales, support, time and products are given to good causes. These kinds of programs will need to be more broadly adopted if we are going to overcome the kinds of challenges that many parts of the USA are witnessing.

COVID-19 has been an acute and real problem, swamping everyone’s thoughts but we should not forget the significant environmental changes we will face in the next fifty years which bring their own, very real challenges. To that end, even oil companies like BP are getting in on the act with a 2050 goal of being carbon neutral. Oil and gas operations are being completely offset by more efficient production, production reduction strategies and carbon sink projects. I believe that 2050 is a cop-out target personally but directionally at least, the right leadership stances are being taken. 

Now Imagine if Delta and BP could accelerate their business model changes to support each other to create a real win for all stakeholders.  With just a little creative problem solving, the possible becomes probable. We need more of this kind of thinking. Creative thinking that looks at constraints as opportunities, that see problems as a catalyst to drive significant and real change. We need more effective partnerships that avoid win-loss and strive for success for all stakeholders. 

With a focus on network analysis and the connections between businesses, we can enable new partnerships that can lead to breakthrough business models which solve society’s most pressing problems. We should use employee diversity and creative problem solving to do the most important and valuable work in the post-COVID-19 world, leaders of all spheres of influence need to demonstrate new levels of humanity and compassion for each other and raise the bar for their organizations and society. 

This leads me to a future topic—is there such a thing as good profits and bad profits?

I am interested in everyone’s views as a business leader, employee or an investor. Please share your thoughts. 

#leadership #corporatesocialresponsability #creativeproblemsolving