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July 28, 2006
The Pages of Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility
    by Bill Baue

Books addressing climate change dominate the fourth annual SocialFunds.com Summer Reading List recommended by socially responsible investing and corporate social responsibility leaders.


Summer reading is synonymous with sitting on a hot beach, soaking in the sun's rays while absorbed in a new thriller or sci-fi classic or even a work-related book--one looking at the bigger-picture that we lack the time to read on the job. This summer may find readers seeking refuge from the sun instead, judging from the predominant theme in SocialFunds.com's fourth annual Summer Reading List of recommendations from leaders in socially responsible investing (SRI) and corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Climate change emerged as the primary concern of the recommended titles. Luckily, the books not only identify the problem, but also offer some solutions--besides simply hiding in the shade.

Leslie Lowe, director of the energy and environment program at the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), recommends The Weather Makers (2006 Atlantic Monthly Press) by paleontologist Tim Flannery.

"It's an excellent discussion of the evidence supporting the science of climate change, the implications for our survival, and alternative visions of our future," Ms. Lowe told SocialFunds.com.

Many reviews pair this title with Field Notes from a Catastrophe (2006 Bloomsbury), in which New Yorker reporter Elizabeth Kolbert tackles the issue of global warming after traveling around the world. The book, recommended by Amy Davidsen, director of environmental affairs for JPMorgan Chase, made it onto the seventh annual JPMorgan Private Bank Summer Reading List for its clients.

Ms. Davidsen also recommends Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change (2006 Cambridge University Press), a collection of essays by environmental experts resulting from a 2005 conference by the same name hosted by the UK Government. British Prime Minister Tony Blair contributes the Foreword and Secretary of State for the Environment Margaret Beckett a Ministerial Address.

"Mrs. Beckett and the book's distinguished authors intelligently address climate change and, more importantly, recommend ways to slow the damaging effects that can be caused by carbon emissions," Ms. Davidsen told SocialFunds.com.

Also from the UK comes a recommendation of James Lovelock's The Revenge of Gaia (2006 Basic Books) from Emma Howard Boyd, head of SRI and Governance at Jupiter Asset Management and former chair of the UK Social Investment Forum (UKSIF). Ms. Boyd heard about the book on a BBC interview with the author, who in 1979 posited the Gaia theory that the earth and its inhabitants are one interconnected organism and is now renowned for embracing nuclear energy as a last hope to reduce carbon emissions and avert climate disaster.

"I was expecting more of a grumpy old man with a doom and gloom outlook, but he had a twinkle in his eye and a wonderful optimism within all that he said, despite the pessimistic forecast--there are still things we can do," Ms. Boyd told SocialFunds.com.

Mindy Lubber, who as president of Ceres is one of the most effective proponents of companies addressing climate change, recommends a book not about global warming but about cooking the books: The Number (2003 Random House) by New York Times reporter Alex Berenson.

"It's an insightful, highly-readable analysis of Wall Street and corporate America's obsession with quarterly financial results and how it is diminishing the market's ability to evaluate what companies are really supposed to do--build profitable businesses with sustainable futures," Ms. Lubber told SocialFunds.com.

David Satterthwaite, CEO of Prisma MicroFinance and founder of online microfinance information resource MicroCapital, recommends Effective Management of Social Enterprises (2006 Harvard Center for Latin American Studies), with editorial coordination by the Social Enterprise Knowledge Network (S EKN).

"As a manger of two social enterprises, I found the book important because it provides practical examples of how other social entrepreneurs turn their civil mission into a competitive advantage in the marketplace," Mr. Satterthwaite told SocialFunds.com. "Additionally, the book examines social enterprises within the context of emerging markets."

Finally, Lloyd Kurtz, SRI portfolio manager at Nelson Capital Management, recently picked up a copy of Albert Hirschman's Exit, Voice, and Loyalty (2006 edition Harvard University Press) on recommendation from Georgetown professor Pietra Rivoli. (Mr. Kurtz highly recommends Prof. Rivoli's The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy (2005 Wiley), but Social Investment Forum President Tim Smith beat him to the punch in last year's SocialFunds.com Summer Reading List.)

"Hirschman outlines two basic strategies--exit, which is the classic economic response, and voice, which is more political in nature," Mr. Kurtz told SocialFunds.com. "Which strategy you follow depends on loyalty, which for Hirschman means your reasoned judgment of the likelihood that the organization will do the right thing at some point in the future."

The book was written in the early 1970s, before the SRI movement had gained traction.

"But its theme--how we should respond when organizations engage in objectionable behavior--is at the heart of what SRI does," added Mr. Kurtz, who founded the Moskowitz Prize, maintains the SRIstudies database on SRI research, and writes the SRI Notes blog. "Short, readable, and relevant, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty was well-received when it was first published, and deserves a revival today."

 

 
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