`SOCIAL responsibility'' has been around awhile. But in the '90s, it has become something of a business buzzword. From recycling, to instituting flexible work schedules, to corporate involvement in the community, companies are slowly recognizing that such strategies are good for business and the bottom line.
``It is very impressive how quickly things have changed,'' says author Joel Makower in an interview. ``Three years ago, you could banish polystyrene coffee cups from your offices and initiate a modest recycling program and make the evening news.'' Today, firms are leap-frogging one other in innovation and creativity.
Rallying the troops
Makower's new book, ``Beyond the Bottom Line: Putting Social Responsibility to Work for Your Business and the World,'' is written for business leaders who want to implement such practices in their own corporations. But it is more an anecdotal rallying of the troops than a ``how to'' book.
``Beyond the Bottom Line'' is chock-full of inspiring testimonies from chief executive officers, managers, and employees of companies of all sizes and from all sectors of business. Mr. Makower includes practices from companies with generally well-known socially responsible reputations, such as Levi Strauss & Co., Ben & Jerry's, The Body Shop, and Stonyfield Farm. But he also uncovers those companies that have not been in the spotlight as much. For example, Dwight Minton, chief executive officer of Church & Dwight Company in Princeton, N.J., maker of Arm & Hammer Baking Soda, explains how his commitment to the environment led his company to develop a baking soda-based solvent to remove graffiti that is safer for the environment than other chemicals. Rhino Records, based in Santa Monica, Calif., gives employees Christmas week off with pay if they contribute 16 hours of personal time to community service.
While Makower admits that these companies are ``not doing everything right,'' they are some of the best role models for the future, he says. His eclectic collection of companies illustrates that there is no cookie-cutter approach to social responsibility.
Makower devotes most of the book to four areas: environment, workplace, community, and international marketplace. Here, he discusses such issues as recycling, profit-sharing, employee ownership, family-leave policies, diversifying the workplace, and community volunteering.
Social responsibility has become more accepted in recent years, Makower says, because of a confluence of trends such as the rise of the consumer and environmental movements, corporate downsizing, state and local governments' constraints to deliver social services, and the escalation of crime and homelessness.
But Makower stresses that more companies need to get on board. ``Companies that wait and hope that [social responsibility] all goes away will be bypassed and outclassed by their more enlightened competitors,'' he says.
He contends that the public's scrutiny of socially responsible business is healthy. ``It is raising questions about the motivations of companies that are setting themselves out there as socially responsible, and it's causing people to look beyond the ads, beyond the slogans, into the policies and practices ... behind the company.''
Makower, who has been a freelance journalist for about 20 years, has written more than a dozen books on green business practices, including ``The Green Consumer'' and ``The E-Factor: The Bottom-Line Approach to Environmentally Responsible Business.'' He is also editor of ``The Green Business Letter,'' a monthly newsletter about business and the environment.