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Category — Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

Al Gore Reinvention? (From ‘climate change’ to ‘sustainable capitalism’)

“Business that is everything to everyone is not anything at all in itself.”

 - Elaine Sternberg,  Just Business: Business Ethics in Action. Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 33.

No doubt his handlers have given Al Gore the word: go easy on climate warming (aka climate change). The issue has little traction. You are the wrong voice for the cause. Solyndra. Climategate 2.0. Winter snows…. Not now, Al.

Take it up a notch! they must be telling him. Think bigger. Subsume the issue…. And so Gore’s new piece in the Wall Street Journal barely mentions his pet issue of (man-made) climate change but something much larger and amorphous.

“A Manifesto for Sustainable Capitalism,” coauthored with David Blood, calls for “abandoning short-term economic thinking for ‘sustainable capitalism’.” Such is code for that subjective, holistic, anything goes doctrine of corporate social responsibility, which I elsewhere questioned as follows:

The discipline of business ethics should be reoriented around a more sophisticated understanding of capitalism proper. Business ethicists should also respect methodological individualism given that in both the primary and final analyses, businesses do not act, individual businessmen and businesswomen do. Because corporate social responsibility (CSR) speaks to the elusive whole more than to the parts, much business-ethics thinking has become prone to a central- and social-planning mentality.

Think Enron! As I wrote in this rebuttal letter published yesterday in the Journal:

Al Gore and David Blood’s “A Manifesto for Sustainable Capitalism” (12/14/11) reminded me of nothing so much as Enron Corporation, whose demise ten years ago is still the topic of debate and learning.

“We believe that incorporating environmental and social considerations into the way we manage risk, govern our projects, and develop products and services will help us maintain our competitive advantage,” Ken Lay stated Gore-like. “As we move forward, we will leverage our intellectual capital and innovative capabilities to promote sustainable business practices around the world.” [Read more →]

December 20, 2011   8 Comments

Remembering ‘Green’ Enron (Part II: Corporate Social Responsibility)

[Ed. note: This week marks the 10th anniversary of Enron's bankruptcy filing (December 2, 2001). Enron's view of energy sustainability drives the Obama Administration today. Yesterday, this series looked at Enron's Kyoto moment.]

 In the fall of 2001, Ken Lay set the tone for what would be Enron’s last Environmental, Health, and Safety Management Conference:

We believe that incorporating environmental and social considerations into the way we manage risk, govern our projects, and develop products and services will help us maintain our competitive advantage. As we move forward, we will leverage our intellectual capital and innovative capabilities to promote sustainable business practices around the world.

At this meeting, Enron’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) task force listed its “Accomplishments to Date,” which were:

  • Secured board oversight of social/environmental performance
  • Expressed support for Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • Completed corporate responsibility task force
  • Developed and pilot-tested human rights audit
  • Developed security and human rights guidelines
  • Established formal partnerships with WBCSD [World Business Council on Sustainable Development], IBLF [International Business Leaders Forum], and CI [Conservation International]
  • Identified language to strengthen code of ethics
  • Providing project support—Calypso, Transredes, Dabhol and Cuiabá
  • Responding to stakeholder concerns on an ongoing basis

The goals for 2002 included:

  • Formally adopt CERES Principles
  • Complete indigenous peoples’ policy
  • Specify social/environmental expectations in formal relationships with vendors and contractors
  • Review results of stakeholder survey and develop strategy to address outcome
  • Create awareness of social/environmental trends among [Enron’s] origination and investment groups
  • Add corporate responsibility performance attribute to PRC [Performance Review Committee] process
  • Present task force recommendations to Dr. Lay and senior management

Make no mistake—Enron was trying to practice CSR, so that it could monetize its “green” energy model. This had been Lay’s strategy for a decade with natural gas, as well as internationally, as with Enron Global Affairs’s 1999 launch of the Social and Environmental Responsibility Program. [Read more →]

December 2, 2011   2 Comments