Book Reviews

Book Reviews

Consultant CSR Aware

During my time as a lecturer in Scotland, I was very conscious of opposition to the inclusion of sus- tainability or corporate responsibility in management education. It is therefore always a pleasure to find colleagues dedicated to pursuing the Principles for Responsible Management Education [PRME1]. For those unfamiliar with those principles, it is useful to copy the main points from the website:

“As institutions of higher education involved in the development of current and future managers we declare our willingness to progress in the implementa- tion, within our institution, of the following Principles, starting with those that are more relevant to our capaci- ties and mission. We will report on progress to all our stakeholders and exchange effective practices related to these principles with other academic institutions:

Principle 1 – Purpose: We will develop the capabilities of students to be future generators of sustainable value for business and society at large and to work for an inclusive and sustainable global economy.
Principle 2 – Values: We will incorporate into our academic activities and curricula the values of global social responsibility as portrayed in international initiatives such as the United Nations Global Compact.
Principle 3 – Method: We will create educational frameworks, materials, processes and environments that enable effective learning experiences for responsible leadership.
Principle 4 – Research: We will engage in conceptual and empirical research that advances our understanding about the role, dynamics,
and impact of corporations in the creation of sustainable social, environmental and economic value.
Principle 5 – Partnership: We will interact with managers of business corporations to extend our knowledge of their challenges in meeting social and environmental responsibilities and to explore jointly effective approaches to meeting these challenges.
Principle 6 – Dialogue: We will facilitate and support dialog and debate among educators, students, business, government, consumers, media, civil society. organisations and other interested groups and stakeholders on critical issues related to global social responsibility and sustainability.

We understand that our own organisational practic- es should serve as example of the values and attitudes we convey to our students.”


For my reviews, I have chosen two contrasting books. The first is written by colleagues from a lead- ing Higher Education institution from the UK. The contributions come from practitioners and lecturers representing the cross-disciplinary nature of business management, and business sustainability in particular. Cranfield is famous for the quality of its education, and also for its consultancy work. The second book is written by someone with considerable academic credentials who spends much time on consultancy, and is an autobiographical account of one man’s journey through the sustainability “minefield”. Together they provide an up-to-date and entertaining overview of current thinking and practice of business sustainability and corporate responsibility.

Cranfield on Corporate Sustainability

Edited by David Grayson and Nadine Exter

Greenleaf Publishing 2012

ISBN-13: 978-1-906093-75-4 Paperback

Cranfield University2 has embraced the notion that “the business of business is sustainable business” in accordance with PRME. This book is one of their contributions towards clarity in the difficult area of “corporate responsibility” and a discussion about what business schools should be teaching in this area. What is it? What is its scope? The chapters cover a wide range of functional issues from strategic performance through marketing, cradle to cradle [C2C], supply chain implications to employee engagement and CS reporting.

The terminology frequently confuses people as the words mean different things in different contexts. The title is interesting: rather than the usual Corporate Social Responsibility [CSR] the phrase Corporate Sustainability [SR] has been used. Cranfield focuses on corporate sustainability as:

“a business approach that creates long-term value to society at large, as well as to shareholders, by embracing the opportunities and managing the risks associated with economic, environmental and social developments; and builds this into corporate purpose and strategy with transparency and accountability to stakeholders.3”

In the forward, the late Nigel Doughty suggests that:

“Companies must develop the tools to respond to these challenges if they want to retain their licence to operate and build the foundations for sustainable growth.”


Thus, CS is not just about policies and products to prolong the life of the organization, but implies concern for people, preservation of natural resources, climate change, ethical trading, restriction of the use of hazardous substances, corporate governance and much more. The acronym ESG [environmental, social and governance] has begun to replace CSR.

The authors suggest that there are “no formulaic answers” to questions about sustainability. The next generation of business leaders [and surely the current ones!] will cope with many conflicts of interest. They need both “hard” and “soft” skills, together with sen- sitivity to local and global issues. Increasingly this is seen as “good business” rather than an add-on. I would suggest that there is a parallel with the early days of the quality movement – the problems of implementation were very similar. Surely in time sustainability will be absorbed into business practice in the same way as quality was? In fact, it would help if lessons from the evolution from quality control to quality assurance to total quality management [QC-QA-TQM] were used more often to aid implementation of sustainability processes. Unfortunately like many academics, some authors stick to their own functional view when the situation requires cross-functional solutions.


The first chapter illustrates the need to embed the values of sustainability by including a lengthy case study: Unilever. This company has an excellent “Sustainable Living Plan.4” Whilst there is much to be admired in such case studies, they very rarely include the drawbacks. I so wish authors would include the downside of the case studies. The failures are never mentioned! Companies do not necessarily have to be named [I appreciate the legal implications] but many of us learn most from our mistakes. For example, Unilever played an important part in setting up the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.5 This is a major tool used by companies but according to Greenpeace “The RSPO standard does not prevent deforestation, and is therefore only a limited instrument in the search for responsibility produced palm oil.6” Whatever Uni- lever may be doing, we need to know more about the less conscientious companies as well.

A feature of the book is the inclusion of a variety of lists in many of the chapters. Students find this useful for exam revision, but whether the number of steps be 5, 10 or 20, implementation requires a culture change within an organization. That is not achieved by following “steps” or “stages”. Ladkin partially acknowledges this by suggesting new role models for CS. Choose a “poet”, “philosopher” or “trickster” – roles to challenge the traditional “hero”, “warrior” or “knight in shining armour.” There is also a good discussion about embedding governance of responsi- bility at Board Room level. In practice much relies on good facilitation – but “facilitators” are not in fashion!

The importance of designing for manufacture and including C2C concepts in new products is crucial, and usually includes ideas of concurrent engineer- ing. It is very surprising to find that Cranfield are offering a linear process without any feedback loops. The usefulness of this staged diagram is that identi- fies potential cross-functional conflicts, but it looks somewhat old-fashioned.

Whilst some might still argue that sustainable mar- keting is a contradiction in terms, it was refreshing to read Lynette Ryals comment that “shock horror for many marketers – companies may actually need to discourage consumption.” Ryals also discusses “nudge theory” and novel ways to change behaviour. Her example of the VW “Fun Theory” really is fun – see examples on the website7!


Examples such as fun theory are so much more enjoyable than reading academic books. The authors genuinely want to stimulate debate – but also no doubt to encourage people to go to Cranfield or to use their consultancy services. This is an interesting textbook but not an inspiring one. To engage people who find this subject “boring” as I have found in my own work, you need more fun. There are many excellent academic references but few social media sources quoted. As an ex-Cranfield graduate I know that studying there is an intense and exciting experience, but this is not reflected in the style of this book. A more friendly conversational style would be more persuasive. I would recommend starting with Chapter 11 – Sense and Sustainability. This will touch a chord with many readers trying to make sense of all the issues. And as Jackson says, if you are brave enough:

“Throw away the glossy CR reports written by marketing consultants and start again with a fresh ap- proach. There used to be a raw passion and authentic feeling around sustainable business, but sterile identi- cal reports are less than inspiring.”

The Quest for Sustainable Business: an Epic

Journey in Search of Corporate Responsibility Wayne Visser

Greenleaf Publishing 2012

ISND-13: 978-1-906093-76-1 Paperback

The style of this book is in total contrast to the Cranfield work. It relates a personal discovery of the meaning and implementation of sustainable business and corporate responsibility. Visser does not follow a linear pattern but gives a kaleidoscope of informa- tion, putting flesh on the theories and giving them life and colour. His can-do attitude encourages us to be courageous:

“because until we reduce the stranglehold that shareholders and financial speculators have over our companies and markets, it will always be like trying to sail against a gale, using only a handkerchief – namely CSR – as a sail.”

I so liked Visser’s idea of going out into the field on:

“a CSR quest world tour, which took me to 20 coun- tries on five continents, travelling continuously for 9 months. It was one of those great ironies of my life that I had to leave one of the world’s premier educational institutions in order to advance my learning……….I wanted to reconnect with what was happening on the ground.”

Yet I longed for him to tell stories of “getting his hands dirty” so to speak and reaching down to the level of the ordinary worker. In practice this is the story of his own rather privileged life and the people he has met or with whom he has worked. There is some discus- sion of some basic schemes such as the role of social entrepreneurs: Cabbages and Condoms in Thailand;


Lentil As Anything in Australia; the World Toilet Organization. Yet most of the book is about Visser’s consultancy and interviews which have contributed to his various books. I did feel that it was all rather biased towards consultancy and that his case studies were all based on senior management views.

There are times when Visser’s self-promotion [called “autobiographical” on the back cover] becomes a little excessive: his journey is very personal rather than “epic”; his numerous references to his presenta- tions at conferences as key note speaker; the hints about his consultancy abilities; and his inclusion of his poems might well have been edited out by the publisher. I had never previously read a book in which the author promotes only his own books. At the end of the book there is no reference list to help the reader find the sources that he quotes. There is only a list of his own publications including his poems! Reference to online company sites such as that of Unilever or Braungart’s Cradle to Cradle [C2C] page8 would be rather helpful.


There are summaries of Visser’s earlier interviews [many from 2008 which are still online] which certainly aid the reader to find key points from key con- tributors to the CSR story. For a beginner, the use of acronyms might be a little daunting [a glossary would have helped] and some general background knowledge is assumed throughout. It is useful to have the CR timeline provided on the Cranfield site as a reference document, to set Visser’s new model “CSR 2.0” into context. This puts forward the idea that we need an integrated model to embrace both sustainability and responsibility. I think other authors have been saying this for some time, but Visser moves very strongly towards C2C ideas.

When I started to review Visser’s work on the In- ternet, I found that parts of the content were already online, the words almost identical. Why should I buy a book when the content is already freely available? I then tried to find the many videos that were referenced. These videos are a series of interviews that Visser had carried out, and available on YouTube and the Cam- bridge/CSR International sites. I have had little suc- cess in finding some of them but those I did find were fascinating vignettes of local situations. For example, Maryjka Beckman [AAR Holdings] describes how, after doing all the basic CSR things like governance, she helped the schools in Kenya with their firewood by planting trees. The money saved from buying firewood when they harvest their trees can be used for health and education. Without health there can be no education.

However, can you forgive the sometimes patron- izing attitude such as:
•    Commenting on poverty in India: “everywhere in evidence, but nowhere near as overwhelming or pervasive as I had expected. Perhaps I am just accustomed to slums and scenes of hand- to-mouth existence, having grown up in South Africa and travelled extensively in developing countries”.
•    Commenting on China: “Despite labour con- ditions remaining a concern, human rights abuses are starting to become the exception rather than the rule.”
For an experienced practitioner of CSR to ignore the real politick of such countries subtlety undermines the message he is trying to convey, which is aptly summarized in an extract from an interview with Muhammad Yunus [page 87]:

“We are not plunderers on this planet, we are resi- dents. This is our house and we want to make it safe. We want to make it beautiful, for when we hand it over to our next generation. And the next generation’s job will be to make it more beautiful and more safe when they hand it over to the next generation. We’re doing the reverse – we’re making it worse. That’s not a way to go, so we have to reverse the process.”

If I was teaching, I would use this book for an ex- ercise in critical analysis. The students would enjoy reading it on several levels, and I would ask them to carry out several tasks. For example, I might set a number of small groups and allocate each a different chapter.    They could consider the following:

•    Critically analyse the chapter, going back to the original material quoted in the text and articles published by writers such as Lovins and Braungart.
•    Find evidence to contradict Visser’s view of progress on CSR.
•    Discuss his CSR 2.0 model, and discuss the pros and cons of using such models when implementing change management in orga- nizations.
•    Discuss the usefulness of consultants in busi- ness.
•    In what ways does implementation of CSR parallel implementation of TQM? What is the relationship between the movements?
•    Is there a need for philanthropy as well as CSR?

What are the virtues of this book? Despite my misgivings, I found this a very appealing book. I felt as if I the author was having a conversation with me. It
is extremely readable with many anecdotes and stories which will engage students and managers alike. If it can inspire them to go online and explore the many issues in more depth, it will have served an extremely useful purpose!


2. Corporate Social Responsibility and Environ- mental Management Corp. Soc. Responsib. En- viron. Mgmt. 15, 1–13 (2008) Published online 9 November 2006 in Wiley InterScience

5. tions/Campaign-reports/Forests-Reports/Palm- Oil-Scorecard/

6. Published 29 October 2012 Accessed 30 October 2012


Professor and consultant CSR Aware

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