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July 4, 2008

IBM and the new crusade

IBM is an interesting company to watch. Whenever they start talking about something it is because they are ahead of the curve on an issue, or because they have decided to make it their own.

Take a recent press release on where they look at some of the business positives of being "green" and socially responsible

Corporate Social Responsibility (or CSR as they term it) is apparently a big deal these days.

So much so that "Big Blue" (is that term still around?) is talking up their CSR Benchmarking service to help other companies evaluate their CSR related activities, obviously a spearhead for a range of "long-tail" services.

The article went on to state that this service is based on work with C-Level execs from 250 companies globally and determined that a majority thought it had the potential to increase revenue as well as a competitive advantage.

The article goes on to talk about gaps between reality and the vision, as well as the planned spending of a large number of companies in the future.

Good reading, fascinating story, which shows some of the global commercial ramifications of the Stern report among other things.

But it is also a frightening view of where the business world is headed.

Wait...frightening? Why?

Well for one thing they only asked their counterparts in other companies.

Who thinks that this is important? People who sell to consumers.

And who is spending a lot of money because they think this is important? Ah...the people who sell to consumers again?

And who hasn't been asked? (That would be the consumer?)

All a little bit circular isn't it?

Okay, so let's say I'm being unnecessarily cynical. Let's say that their is evidence of a consumer demand.

Where would this be? England?

Maybe...current Prime Minister Gordon Brown answered the Stern Report with a range of measure designed to tax that country back into the stone age.

Europe? Probably there as well as the US and Oz also.

But let's get practical. Who is really going to continually spend more of their income in higher costs for products and services as well as an additional taxation burden?

Maybe part of the middle classes (which are shrinking) and above. Definitely not all, and definitely not if it means a significant difference to how they presently live.

So who is not in that picture? How about the majority of the populations (and many corporations) of China, India, Africa and the Middle East. Don't believe me? Go there...

These areas, particularly the first three, are the looming economic superpowers in the world.

While there may be some token statements or actions from these places, they are, in general, profiting from high energy costs (Middle East) and funding rampant expansion without consideration of the long term environmental implications (China).

And doing it on the back of very low level wages and with questionable social ramifications.

So what are we left with? A cannibalistic business initiative that is at best a distraction and at worst a competitive barrier while companies and state backed institutions from developing nations surge forward unchallenged by these "trivialities".

Don't misunderstand me, I'm worried too. I grew up in the bush, and in a country where we are proud of what we call "the fair go".

I try to do what I can in my own area of business for the environment, and watching the misfortune of poverty stricken people in developing nations is truly heart breaking; but I do not believe this is the way to tackle the issues.

In fact I see it as just s symptom of Success Guilt that many in the Western economies tend to feel. This is the modern equivalent of "the white mans burden". The belief that we have the responsibility to deal with the environmental and social problems for "everyones own good".

And again the targets of this |responsibility" couldn't care less.

I do not know the way out of this. Bransons' approach to Bio Fuels is wise because it hits the environmental issue while helped by high oil prices.

Bono's "Red Label" idea was a really cool concept. But I haven't heard much about it after its great start.

Cynical? Paranoid? Maybe, I have been called worse...but then again I have worked in all these places...

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