The idea of sustainability has been around for a while and whilst many businesses are starting to realise the economic, social and environmental benefits of operating much more sustainably, we now need to go beyond incremental change. Only by influencing the nature of the systems in which they operate can businesses create a context in which they can innovate for long-term success.
On Wednesday, Unilever chose Universal Children's Day to launch the latest phase of their work to integrate the creation of a better world into their marketing. At a time when the world's politicians are winding up in Warsaw after another round of failing to do anything significant about climate change, it is wonderful to see one of our largest corporations taking unilateral action in such committed fashion.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been a buzzword for companies since the turn of the 21st century, particularly from 2010 onwards. However, the dynamics of CSR have changed during this period, due to the growth of new communication tools and new areas of operation. This has resulted in CSR developing a new set of parameters.
A Department of Business, Innovation and Skills consultation on realising the full benefits of corporate social responsibility (CSR) has recently closed. It asks two big questions 'should there be more robust measurement of CSR programmes to really understand the impact and where they add value' and 'should big businesses be made to invest?'
I can see the issue from both points of view, and the debate seems to have polarised with the solution probably being somewhere in the middle. I certainly don't think that zero-hours contracts should be banned outright. However, at my company, The Clean Space, nobody is on a zero-hour contract, despite them being extremely common in the cleaning industry as this list of vacancies shows.
In Kind Direct's work generates huge benefit to the thousands of charities and the millions of people they serve every year. Now 17 years on, over 900 companies have donated £130million pounds worth of goods for more than 6,200 benefiting charities. It's a simple solution which makes sense for business, charities and environment - truly an example of The Prince's vision of a 'virtuous circle' in action.
When we talk about Olympic legends, it is hard to look beyond Michael Johnson. Three Olympic Games and four Olympic gold medals - two in his home Games in Atlanta - are enough proof of that. Michael's achievements on track have meant that he has stayed at the heart of sport and the Olympic Movement for more than 20 years.
It seems that every day another company hits the headlines for behaving badly. The offences vary, it can be multinationals avoiding tax, banks wrecking the economy, energy giants polluting the environment, utilities price fixing, tech companies passing consumer data to governments or many other things.
The issue of trust is something I feel strongly about. As a businessman and the owner of an ethical company, The Clean Space, I hear a lot of talk about building trust in terms of ethical credentials.
Here are some stats from a survey we recently conducted amongst around 1,000 respondents, in conjunction with ResearchBods. Less than one in 10 British people consider the contribution of businesses to their communities as being 'very good' or 'excellent' - 37% feel it is poor, while 54% judge it to be average.
With all the investment in behaviour change campaigns and infrastructure, why is there still material that can be recycled going into the bin in our homes? Only half of all plastic bottles are currently sent for recycling, revealing a significant gap between the strong environmental values people profess and their behaviour.
What is clear is that emerging factors have combined to expose big business and its place in society to increasingly intense and critical scrutiny. A very selective list might include the banking crisis and corporate tax scandals, the shrinking state, climate change and other environmental impacts, and the inequities and injustices in value chains, so horribly highlighted at the Dhaka garment factory.
Some have suggested a consumer boycott of Bangladeshi garments at these retailers, but a boycott could be counter-productive because doing so could jeopardise the job security of the garment workers. The best course of action is to put consumer pressure on Primark. We can't shift our society's addiction to cheap fashion overnight, but we can insist that as the buyers, Primark must put pressure on their supply chain to adhere to the basic tenets of a safe working environment.