Responsible business in a time of turmoil?

<p>Looks like rocky times ahead for all of us - financial markets in turmoil, fuel and food prices soaring, unemployment rising. The US and Europe are facing a long period of recession, with knock on effects across the globe.<br /> <br /> What does this mean for businesses that are trying to be responsible? I offer three propositions to think about:<br /> <br /> <strong>Proposition 1: Fundamental human needs remain fundamental</strong><br /> Manfred Max-Neef, the Chilean economist and environmentalist, argues we all have nine fundamental human needs: subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, recreation, creation, identity and freedom.<br /> <br /> These human needs haven't gone away, indeed recent events have reminded many of us their importance (housing, fuel prices. anyone?).<br /> <br /> <strong>Proposition 2: The real world still exists</strong><br /> We're still living on a real planet with an ecosystem stressed to the limit, and millions living in poverty. We've still got climate change. And water shortages, and collapse of fisheries. And regional conflicts.<br /> <br /> Public and political attention has recently woken up to many of these issues. Some distraction is understandable, but pretending they've gone away will be catastrophic.<br /> <br /> <strong>Proposition 3: We're still rich</strong><br /> As individuals, businesses and nations we may now be worse off financially. But we're still incredibly rich in terms of our skills and knowledge; our organisational capacity and our social systems. And there's still money looking for good investments.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> If we can identify the right things to do, and it may not be easy, we should be able to find ways of making, at least some of them, happen.<br /> <br /> Many businesses, green, ethical or otherwise, will face real difficulties. If they focus on survival and jettison social and environmental 'nice to haves' that will be understandable.</p>
<p>But I suggest businesses that have any room for manoeuvre, for the best chance of success, their strategies should be informed by these propositions:</p>
<ul>
<li>address real human needs, not fleeting desires</li>
<li>solve real world problems, don't exacerbate them for short term benefits</li>
<li>use all our capital - natural, social, human, manufactured and financial - creatively and imaginatively</li>
</ul>
<p>And finally, we all should encourage governments at every level, and across the world, to use the coming period of reconstruction to lay the foundations for a healthy society on a healthy planet - not a return to the unsustainable bubble that's now bursting.<br /> <br /> <em>Osbert Lancaster is a director of Scotland-based <a href="http://www.footprintconsulting.org/">Footprint Consulting</a>. His <a href="http://www.che.ac.uk/mambo/content/view/175/188/">Ethical Enterprise</a> course at the Centre for Human Ecology and the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow starts soon.</em></p>