A Rethink for Corporate Sustainability: A Sustainability Ombudsperson?

Oct 14, 2014 10:00 AM ET

Business is not doing enough to address environmental problems. It’s time to rethink how we can be most effective – perhaps we need a strategy that enables our CSR leaders to act as direct conduits between the firm and external interests.


My first big CSR/sustainability event was the 2010 Net Impact Conference held at the University of Michigan’s Ross Business School. I had been invited there to speak on a panel on the topic of intrapreneurship, which gave me the opportunity to sit in on a number inspiring and insightful talks. One of the sessions I attended was an interview with Aron Cramer, the CEO of BSR. As I recall, much of that hopeful, engaging discussion centered on transparency – a topic that’s close to my heart.

The talk left me wanting to pick Aron’s brain, so I stuck around afterwards with the hope of having a brief conversation with him. Aron was very gracious, and we discussed the yawning gap between the current state of business and the one needed to confront the myriad wicked problems faced by humanity, and he introduced me to the idea of “radical transparency”, a term that has really stuck with me. I probably wouldn’t recall any details of the discussion, had it not been for the way that Aron lit up when discussing radical transparency. It was as if we had hit on the word of the day and the duck had dropped down on Groucho Marx’s old TV show, “You Bet Your Life.”

The concept of radical transparency is pretty simple. It’s the idea that firms will endeavor to be as transparent as they possibly can, both externally with customers, communities and competitors and internally throughout the organization. It’s akin to asking a fully armored knight to strip down to a fig leaf. This is an idea I fully agree with, and it’s one that helped give rise to the idea which prompted this post.

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