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September 28, 2001
Book Review: The Civil Corporation
    by Meghan Connolly

The New Economy brings increased competition, faster dissemination of information and the rise of corporate citizenship.

In his latest book, Simon Zadek provides a macro, yet comprehensive analysis of the growth of the corporate social responsibility movement. In The Civil Corporation: The New Economy of Corporate Citizenship, his knowledge, experience, and passion are obvious. Dr. Zadek lures the reader through the book with vivid examples that both support and contradict his own thinking.

The book flows from an illustration of the New Economy, through the triple bottom line argument, and concluding with an attempt to address some of the constraints companies face in achieving sustainable development. He barely falls short of making readers believe that if they flip to the last chapter of the book, they will find an answer to the question of how companies can become more sustainable and socially responsible. It is conceivable that Dr. Zadek has the answer and is holding out for the sequel.

He suggests that the values reflected in corporate citizenship will be integral in the New Economy. The New Economy, says Dr. Zadek, will be marked by three underlying dynamics: firstly, speed of change, which he concludes reaches well beyond technology into the business and trade sectors; secondly, increased importance of knowledge and communication; and thirdly, shifting proximity, meaning the demise of geographical boundaries as constraints on business and information flow.

Dr. Zadek adequately conveys the complexity of balancing sustainable growth and stakeholder demands in the modern global economy. The Civil Corporation gives objective assessments of the key building blocks to sustainable growth, including codes of business, social auditing challenges, and measurement tools. Perhaps the most critical message Dr. Zadek conveys is his reminder that corporations do not have a conscience and only operate based on the will of their investors and consumers.

Although admittedly optimistic, the book makes the case for the rise of the civil corporation which he defines as "one that takes full advantage of opportunities for learning and action in building social and environmental objectives into its core business by effectively developing its internal values and competencies."

Dr. Zadek's concluding remarks serve as a call to action for companies seeking to meet stakeholder expectations in the future. He suggests that leading civil corporations will be those that go beyond their own operations and actively promote frameworks that raise the standard of business.

Corporate citizenship may be an inevitable result of the New Economy, as Dr. Zadek says, depending on how a company can leverage its good deeds as a competitive advantage. But taking stakeholder demands into consideration does not automatically translate into sustainable success.


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