Sustainability: The Engine that Drives Corporate Social Responsibility

Barbarow, William H. (Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company)



Al Gore’s book, An Inconvenient Truth, awakened us to how our life styles and business practices are impacting our world; accelerating pace of melting polar ice caps, rising seas, toxic chemicals in our water and food supplies, climate changes, and limited access to resources. Concern over a toxic environment is not new. Rachel Carson exposed the dangers of pesticides in her book, Silent Spring. Now we understand the impact industry and life styles have on our environment, and we are requiring a personal and professional environmental accountability for our actions.

Businesses are looking for green solutions. Corporate social responsibility is becoming the new yard stick that individuals, society, and companies are using to determine who they will work for, invest in, and do business with. It is no longer acceptable to do no harm; you now must do some good for your employees, the environment, and your community. Companies are seeking out these new business solutions that address profits, the environment, and society which is referred to as the “Triple Bottom-Line.”

Companies have a sense of urgency to implement green solutions. The safety, health and environmental professional is taking on a risk management role, looking at a 360° view of possible solutions, beyond the task and solution and evaluating how these changes can introduce new loss exposures to the workplace and community. These professionals will evaluate new technology and chemical/mechanical/biological exposures for which little information may be available. Many of these potential hazards are not regulated, evaluated, or adequately addressed by existing OSHA standards. Hazardous chemical exposures in particular present challenges because substitution is not always a workable solution. These chemicals may not have complete safety analysis, be too costly, or they may not fit the task’s technical requirements. Socially responsible companies demand the highest level of job safety, creating a culture of protection as opposed to a culture of compliance or, as Ray Anderson of Interface calls the practice, “being as bad as the law will allow.”

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