Greenleaf at 21: “I think we are just getting started”

Namestyle_21Welcome to the Greenleaf at 21 blog series. To celebrate our 21st birthday, over the next few months we will be sharing original posts by influential Greenleaf authors, in which they discuss how their field has changed over the last 21 years and what they hope to see change in the future.

We’re kicking off this week with an exclusive interview with Deborah Leipziger, author of The Corporate Responsibility Code Book, the groundbreaking guide that brought much-needed order to CR frameworks and is now an invaluable reference for companies trying to understand the landscape of Corporate Responsibility. As if this wasn’t enough, game-changer Deborah helped create the SA8000 standard which is now widely used by the apparel industry. In this interview she shares her thoughts on how far CR has come, and how far it still has to go.

How do you feel CR has advanced since the publication of the influential Code Book?

Corporate Responsibility has evolved in significant ways and at the same time, it is still in its infancy. After working in this field for more than two decades, I see a growing interest in social innovation and social value creation.

Social entrepreneurs are making strides to address problems such as poverty, hunger and gender inequality. Social intrapreneurs, or entrepreneurs on the inside of companies, are addressing social and environmental problems.

My next book, Social Value Creation, co-authored with Cheryl Kiser and Jan Schubert, provides some great examples of how companies can create social and economic value simultaneously.

For example, IBM’s Peace Corps-like programmes – the Corporate Service Corps and the Executive Service Corps – address many of the problems associated with globalisation, deforestation and access to health care and clean water. This programme has helped to enhance IBM’s understanding of the needs of developing countries and to provide leadership training while also generating contracts from emerging markets.

There is still so much to be done in the field of corporate responsibility. I think we are just getting started.

What, to you, has been the one major event in the advancement of CR is the last ten years? (Apart from the publication of The Code Book, of course?)

"The Code Book is more relevant now than ever and I think it will continue to grow in relevance". - Deborah Leipziger

“The Code Book is more relevant now than ever and I think it will continue to grow in relevance”. – Deborah Leipziger

There have been many major developments, but to me the most significant advancement has been the articulation of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, also known as the Ruggie Framework. These principles define the role of states (to protect human rights) and the role of companies (to respect human rights).

Both states and companies have a role to play in providing remedies where human rights are abused. By distinguishing the role of states and the role of companies, the Guiding Principles have brought the field forward. The Principles also require that companies develop a human rights policy and conduct human rights due diligence.

The Guiding Principles will be added to the third edition of The Code Book, due out later this year.

Is it important to have a publisher that specialises in CR publications?

Absolutely. It is essential to have a publisher who understands the issues and communities in which CR is practiced. Greenleaf is able to influence decision-makers because it is very well networked within the CR and sustainability communities.

I am very pleased to see Greenleaf’s partnership with GSE Research to create the world’s leading sustainability publisher.

Do you feel awareness of CR-related issues has grown in the last ten years?

Without a doubt. Awareness of CR issues has grown in exciting new ways. Social value is being built into the design of products and services and is even affecting the mission of companies. For example, Ford no longer just sees itself as a car manufacturer, but sees itself as providing mobility services, which extend beyond selling cars to providing mobility solutions in markets where traffic and pollution are very serious concerns.

We will need to learn to consume less but at the same time consume products that last longer and have greater social value.

While awareness has grown, so has the amount of green-washing that companies are engaged in. There is more awareness, but action and impact are lagging behind. I think many companies are simply going through the motions of appearing to care about these issues rather than making lasting and meaningful change.

If you could choose to have only one major advance in the field, what would it be?

I think every stock exchange should require listed companies to report on social and environmental practices through integrated reporting. Companies would need to report on which codes and standards they are working towards or in compliance with. For the past two years, stock exchanges have been meeting under the auspices of the United Nations to address how they can promote sustainability.

Some stock exchanges are already making strides in this regard, including the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

Widespread reporting would allow for investors and consumers to compare information across companies and would drive change. Greater transparency would allow for greater accountability.

What do you see changing in the next 20 years?

As part of the Advisory Committee for Aviva plc, I was invited to provide input into a report by Forum for the Future on what a sustainable economy would look like in 2040. My reaction is that we do not have the vocabulary to even discuss sustainability in 2040. I am working with a team of thought leaders on developing the emerging terminology for catalysing change.

We do not have the vocabulary to even discuss sustainability in 2040… consumer attitudes are shifting.

I think stock exchanges will continue to evolve social and environmental requirements. Trade agreements will also continue to introduce and address CR issues. I also think we will have sectoral partnership and agreements between companies, which will drive change.

I also think consumer attitudes are shifting. We will need to learn to consume less but at the same time consume products that last longer and have greater social value.

Are you surprised by the success of The Code Book?

Yes and no. I am very pleased to see The Code Book going into a third edition. The Code Book is more relevant now than ever and I think it will continue to grow in relevance. I hope to see some translations into other languages in the coming years.

I am very pleased with the Indian edition which came out in 2012 and an e-book edition. There has been an interest in companies licensing The Code Book in order to share it with their suppliers.

Because of my consulting practice, I have a good sense of what companies need and how challenging it can be to understand complex codes and standards. I have also helped to draft codes and standards, and this gives me a sense of the DNA of a good code or standard.

With thanks to Deborah Leipziger.



codebook2ndAs part of our 21st birthday celebrations we will be offering exclusive discounts on classic and bestselling books by our most influential authors. To claim your 10% off the second edition of The Corporate Responsibility Code Book just visit our website and enter the code GL21CB at the checkout.

We are also offering an 80% discount on the first edition of The Corporate Responsibility Code Book.

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