Sustainability and CSR start with values

May 17, 2015

There is a reason why corporate social responsibility (CSR) is discussed around board room tables – it is legitimately a governance matter.  CSR is about leadership and the values that inform how decisions are made in an organization.  Some governance structures – like co-operatives and B Corps – are built around a shared set of social values. Ensuring cities are sustainable and smart is a similar undertaking but at a community level.

The initiatives that I have seen to be most successful in advancing sustainable and smart cities have started with a conversation about what matters.

Through an extensive community conversation, our community’s understanding of sustainability evolved to embrace four dimensions: economic opportunity and prosperity, social justice and well being, environmental stewardship and culture and heritage.  The ability to think and act simultaneously within all four dimensions has created value for our community. I would think the same would hold true for a business.

And while still lots to do to “open” government, our understanding of engagement has also evolved to recognize a spectrum of opportunities from consulting (gathering information), involving (discussing), collaborating (working together) to empowering (partnering).  Empowerment – when you create shared ownership over a solution – is where real innovation if found.

The industrial age divided our world into hierarchies and silos where the hoarding of information and the control of decisions has became an art form.  As we deepen our understanding of natural ecology, human economy and even how our brains are wired, we are building a new story where old concepts are being replaced – interdependence replaces isolation, co-operation replaces control and abundance replaces scarcity.

My entrance into municipal politics was driven by a keen interest in engaging people in local decision making and integrating the principles of sustainability into municipal management.  Given the challenges facing cities, I could see how the community would have to share leadership – with their local government – in building a more sustainable and resilient future – and that to achieve this partnership would require a significant change in the way that local government worked.

As we continue to understand what it means to embrace values of openness and collaboration, we are being empowered to play a more central role in shaping our communities – not unlike the changes in relationship occurring between business and their customers and employees.

I look forward to exploring these ideas more at an upcoming conference in June.