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September 08, 2004
Book Review--Corporate Social Opportunity: Seven Steps to Make Corporate Social Responsibility Work for Your Business
    by William Baue

Book provides extensive real-world examples and hypothetical scenarios to help business people transform corporate responsibility from risks to opportunities.

This book adds a new acronym to the business vernacular: CSO, or corporate social opportunity, a term that turns on the extant, well-known acronym CSR (corporate social responsibility). While many businesspeople focus on risk management when addressing CSR, the new term refocuses on the business opportunities of corporate responsibility. This seemingly slight semantic shift may prove profound, as it transforms an essentially negative outlook (avoiding risk) into a positive one (seizing opportunity) accompanied by financial incentive to capitalize on opportunity. The strength of this concept could fuel a paradigm shift for corporate responsibility; whether it is powerful enough to inspire widespread adoption of a new acronym remains to be seen.

Authors David Grayson, former managing director of Business in the Community (BITC), and Adrian Hodges, managing director of the International Business Leaders Forum (IBLF), acknowledge that they did not invent the term CSO. While this book represents the most in-depth treatment of the concept, the authors cite an early mention of the idea in the 2002 Procter & Gamble (ticker: PG) Corporate Sustainability Report.

"We can never lose sight of our responsibility to the outside world and our employees," states Paul Polman, president of Procter & Gamble Western Europe, in the report. "But to be really sustainable in the long term, companies need to link business opportunity to sustainable development."

"By harnessing their creativity and innovation, companies can find new products, new services, new initiatives, develop new markets and business models that can deliver a better quality of life to all, for now and for the future," he continues. "We need to move beyond Corporate Social Responsibility to embrace our Corporate Social Opportunity."

Messrs. Grayson and Hodges intend the book to serve less as a philosophical tract and more as a tool for practitioners. Toward this end, they break up their concept into seven steps: identify triggers, scope what matters, make the business case, commit to action, integrate and gather resources, engage stakeholders, and measure and report.

Another practical tactic they employ is dividing the book into two parts. In the first part, they explain each step in depth, illustrating with real-life examples presented in gray boxes sprinkled generously throughout the text. This strategy is perhaps one of the strongest aspects of the book, as it provides a road map through what would otherwise be un-navigated territory for many readers.

For example, to illustrate the servicing of new or under-served markets in step two on scoping out opportunities, a gray box describes a joint venture between DaimlerChrysler (DCX), Shell (RD), and Norsk Hydro.

"A Shell-branded hydrogen station has opened in Reykjavik, Iceland," the text states. "The station refuels DaimlerChrysler fuel cell buses. It uses Norsk Hydro plant to produce hydrogen from water by electrolysis."

The initiative is part of larger project to shift from oil and coal dependence (Iceland currently produces the most greenhouse gas emissions per capita in the world) to a hydrogen-energy economy. For its part, Shell intends to open similar hydrogen stations in Washington, DC, Hamburg, Berlin, and Tokyo.

According to the authors, what enabled these three companies to collaborate on such an innovative project was their approaching fossil fuel dependence not as a risk to be minimized but rather as an opportunity to be maximized.

In the second part, the authors take a different tack to illustrate their seven steps in practice: they invent a fictitious company and describe its journey through the entire seven-step process. This approach provides a completely different kind of roadmap, one that scripts an entire hypothetical scenario instead of piecing together a collage of isolated real-world snapshots.

The strength of this section is its inclusion of process forms that can act as blueprints for practitioners seeking to transform corporate social responsibility initiatives from risk mitigation exercises into corporate social opportunities. Greenleaf Publishing has posted blank versions of these process forms on its website to accompany the book in providing a complete toolset for encouraging CSO practice.


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