The debate over a modern corporation’s obligations is nicely summarized in a 2005 article from Reason’s archives entitled Rethinking the Social Responsibility of Business, in which economist Milton Friedman, Whole Foods’ John Mackey and Cypress Semiconductor’s T.J. Rodgers square off on their differing philosophies, according to Joanne Maypole, Ph.D., Dean of Business and General Education, American Sentinel University.
With the advent of globalization, consumer expectations of businesses have changed dramatically to embrace not only societal but environmental ethics. According to a 2008 study by the strategic agency Cone LLC and the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship, “People are listening to, interested in and positively affected by environmental messaging… Fully 38 percent say they feel informed by such messaging [and] only 14 percent of the population says environmental messaging makes them feel cynical or overwhelmed.”
In the U.S., the debate can be traced to no less a controversial figure than John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937). It might surprise many to learn that he remains “a classic example of how frugality with supplies and materials (sustainability in today’s language) can create tremendous wealth. Obviously, he employed many other means to amass wealth, but his careful conservation of materials was impressive,” as were his enormous philanthropic contributions to education, medicine and science, says Dr. Maypole.
Dr. Maypole believes it’s possible to create winning business strategies concurrently with an appreciation for efficiencies that help the planet: “In their book Green to Gold, Daniel Esty and Andrew Winston argue that attention to the environment helps spur innovation, create value and build competitive advantage for businesses.”
Dr. Maypole continues, “Many business students come into their online degree programs with interesting preconceived notions. They may (or may not) think that social and environmental concerns are the business of business. At American Sentinel University such questions are interwoven into all our business degree online programs, notably in our Marketing in the Global Environment and Business and Society courses.” She believes it’s the university’s job to provoke discussion on topics like:
- How do the concepts of corporate responsibility, social responsibility and ethics collaborate?
- What is globalization? How does the concept of environmentalism positively or negatively impact it?
- What are the ethical issues of doing business globally, especially in the international arena?
- What is the objective of a business? How does a company maximize its value?
- How do you integrate a global business strategy into corporate citizenship? How has the global recession increased large corporate interest in investing in clean technology?
- How might globalization weaken democracy at the local, national and global levels?
- What will be the skill and experience levels of the current workforce 20 years into the future?
American Sentinel’s investigations are more than academic, concludes Dr. Maypole. A solid foundation in these issues is essential for a successful business career today and will become even more so in an increasingly globalized future. For the business professional fully immersed in these concepts — along with the companies he or she serves — the return on investment can be extraordinary.
To paraphrase one global CEO, when business leaders set out to do good, their businesses ultimately end up doing well.