CSR, Cause Marketing, Social Good or Creating Shared Value? Sustainability’s Tower Of Babel Moment
By John Elkington for CSRwire
Think of the state of the sustainability agenda and it’s hard not be reminded of one of the defining stories in western literature, that of the Tower of Babel—found early in the book of Genesis, which opens the Christian Bible. As many will recall, the narrative runs like this: after the Flood, which the Bible tells us swept the known world and drowned most people, a united mankind came together, speaking one language, to build a massive tower with its “top in the heavens”.
But that’s where things became a little sticky. God, spotting what they were up to, came down to inspect the works. Concerned that if they were left to complete the Tower there would be no stopping the builders’ ambitions, God decided to confound them—by mixing up their languages and scattering them across the Earth.
A Multiplicity of Terms
At its best, language can be a great unifier, but it can also create divisions and spur deep misunderstandings. We are not there quite yet, but my sense is that the fragmentation of languages across the sustainability agenda is already causing problems, and these are likely to get worse.
The events of 2012 have only fueled my concern. Recall the UN Rio+20 summit in June, where one of the key targets was meant to be “Green Growth” to spur the development of the “Green Economy”—but where some Asian countries, particularly China, expressed concern about the way such concepts are currently defined.
Towards Zero Impact Growth, a new study by our colleagues at Deloitte Innovation in The Netherlands suggests that the proliferation of languages across the corporate responsibility, accountability and sustainability agendas is, if anything, accelerating.
Now there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the evolution of language—indeed evolving fields of science and technology always spur the evolution of new (and often competing) concepts and terms. We also see the emergence of competing platforms, as in the early days of information technology, when rivals like Microsoft and Apple went head-to-head in terms of their different versions of the future, for example whether open or closed architectures would prevail.
Differing Sustainability Platforms
The same is now happening in the sustainability space. We’re confusing terms with concepts, adding new layers of complexities and reconfiguring the field with untested best practices and tips. John Elkington weaves his way through the mess on CSRwire Talkback.
Published: September 10, 2012 By: