The Responsibility Revolution

Emily Holbrook


March 1, 2010

Resp.-Revolution-artTraditionalists and cynics may disagree, but it is a fact-companies and organizations large and small are implementing corporate social responsibility (CSR) as one of their core missions. Understanding that business success depends not only on the bottom line but on doing good, companies new and old are realizing that the modern world demands much more than balance sheets and board meetings.

The Responsibility Revolution is written by Jeffrey Hollender, co-founder and chairman of Seventh Generation, a leading brand of eco-friendly household products and a pioneer in the realm of "good" companies. Hollender uses many companies as examples of those embracing CSR, but focuses mostly on the actions of a few. Organic Valley, a Wisconsin-based agricultural cooperative, is one company he sees as a model for the new generation of socially responsible companies. What started as a handful of family farms selling dairy and meat products, has grown into a co-op of 1,332 farmer-owners with a 2008 revenue of $527 million. Along the way, Organic Valley has abided by its mission to save family farming culture and produce the highest quality organic products while helping Mother Nature by cutting the use of pesticides, growth hormones or other land and body toxins-ultimately proving that companies that work to better their industry, community or environment can also be profitable.

But Hollender also highlights something much more groundbreaking-companies that have actually created corporate cultures based on openhearted, community-based virtues like happiness, love, freedom and service. One such company is Linden Labs, maker of the virtual reality game Second Life. Linden Labs frowns upon the fear that is so prevalent in most offices and instead encourages creativity and enthusiasm, citing a study by a Harvard Business School professor that found that anger, fear and anxiety are negatively associated with business creativity. And at Linden, it is not the board of directors or senior executives who decide who receives bonuses-the employees decide themselves. They are given an equal portion of Linden's net profit, which must be given to co-workers who, in that employee's opinion, deserve it. Also somewhat revolutionary is the fact that in its early years, Linden's engineers were not assigned projects. Instead, they were given the opportunity to pick from a database of available tasks, allowing employees to work on what interested them, in turn making them happy (or at least content). And a happy employee, through increased productivity, equals a successful business.

Woven throughout these real-world case studies are suggestions, lessons and advice on how to make any company, whether a two-person, grassroots startup or a blue chip Fortune 500 company, socially responsible. Hollender gives guidance in chapters that focus on building a purpose-driven community, why companies should be as transparent as possible and how to build profits and solve problems through mass collaboration. And in a world where consumers are increasingly demanding that companies contribute to the greater good, the information and examples included in The Responsibility Revolution are practical and useful.

"Business can, in fact, help build a better world than the one we've inherited," writes Hollender. "The goal of replenishing society and the environment is certainly within our grasp, so long as we cut through the constraints of settling for what's acceptable and dare to imagine what's transformational."
Emily Holbrook is the founder of Red Label Writing, LLC, a writing, editing and content strategy firm catering to insurance and risk management businesses and publications, and a former editor of Risk Management.