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Is Corporate Sustainability Broken?


Our planet’s in trouble. This podcast asks whether corporate sustainability efforts are making a difference – and what you should do.

Let’s tackle the big question. Are corporate social and environmental actions meaningful — or just empty gestures? NBS brought together two insightful people with different views.

Canadian Brad Zarnett, founder of the Toronto Sustainability Speaker Series, has called corporate sustainability activity “a small fix from within a broken system.” Andy Hoffman, professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, sees companies moving in a more positive direction.

We asked Brad and Andy to make their cases for what companies have accomplished and where we need to go next. What role do companies have in saving the planet?

In the discussion, Andy and Brad address:

  • How the market — our economic system — is stressing the planet

  • How the role of government in shaping the market has weakened

  • What impact can be made by individuals — both CEOs like Paul Pohlman at Unilever and the average middle manager

  • Why sustainability requires structural change, not just new products and services

  • Whether current challenges will lead to positive change or alarming gridlock

Listen to their analysis — and their advice for those who want to make a difference.

On the go? Listen to this podcast on Spotify or iTunes.

More about Andy

Andy Hoffman is the Holcim (US) Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan; a position that holds joint appointments in the Stephen M. Ross School of Business and the School for Environment and Sustainability. Andy is a leader in using organizational, network and strategic analyses to assess the implications of environmental issues for business, and has published 14 books and over 100 articles and book chapters on the topic. Prior to academics, Andy worked for the US Environmental Protection Agency (Region 1), Metcalf & Eddy Environmental Consultants, T&T Construction & Design, and the Amoco Corporation.

More about Brad

Brad Zarnett is a Canadian sustainability strategist and the President of Eco-Opportunity Consulting. In 2008 Brad founded the Toronto Sustainability Speaker Series (TSSS) to showcase sustainability leadership and has since hosted more than 40 events. Brad’s current focus is to broaden the conversation as to why Corporate Sustainability, CSR, Impact Investing and Profit with Purpose have not lived up to their promise and, more importantly, to identify the best path forward to ensure that we pass along a functioning planet to our children. Brad has a Masters in Environmental Studies from York University in Toronto and you can follow him on twitter @bradzarnett.

Recommended Resources

Andy and Brad recommended some of their favourite resources for understanding business sustainability.

Book: Winners take all: The Elite charade of changing the world (Anand Garidharadas)

Andy: “There’s a lot I resonated with in that book. He’s pointing out that the fictional win-win is a dangerous mirage. If you want to really deal with the serious issues we face, it’s not going to be as simple as just create a new market, sell a new product, make yourself rich and the world becomes better. But I’m hesitant to go in the direction of blaming all our social problems in the hands of a small number of the powerful elite.”

Podcast Series: Pitchfork Economics (Nick Hanauer)

Brad: “His message is that if we don’t get this right, the pitchforks are going to come for us. The inequality is obscene. I think change is coming, and I don’t think it’s going to be the incremental kind of change.”

Article: The Next Phase of Business Sustainability (Andrew Hoffman)

Andy: “For the past 25-30 years, we have been trying to fit sustainability into the existing models and metrics of business practice and theory — what is called ‘enterprise integration.’ But it is clear that this will not work for addressing the new types of environmental issues of today — climate change, species extinction, ocean acidification, and other aspects of the Anthropocene. These are systemic changes to the ecosystem and they can only be addressed by systemic changes to our models and metrics of business practice and research. This new mode — what is called ‘market transformation’ — is the renewed focus of my research, teaching, and corporate engagement.”

Blog: Is CSR Working (Brad Zarnett).

Brad: “After 12 years of working in Corporate Sustainability I began to look more closely at why the promise of a more sustainable world has not been delivered. My focus these days is to start a conversation as to what happened and what is the best path forward to ensure a better future for everyone.”

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