Several trends are creating a new set of challenges for corporations. For example, even as a global company facing resource scarcity must create more efficient products and production techniques and invest in research into how to use raw materials that are more sustainable, it also has to advocate for stronger government protection of such resources in emerging markets, where regulations may be weaker. Furthermore, the company needs to show the world that it is doing something about sustainability to protect its reputation and avoid potential backlash from various stakeholders. What’s more, corporate leaders are facing these challenges at a time when the public’s trust in institutions, particularly market-based ones, is low.
However, businesses that actively address these issues in collaboration with government and social-sector leaders (and sometimes, where warranted, even with their competitors) can help shape a better future in which citizens have more of their needs fulfilled, businesses act more responsibly and earn the right to operate more freely in a cooperative ecosystem, and the economic climate fosters growth and innovation. It sounds utopian, but it’s not. This scenario is attainable—and preferable to the path down which we may be headed. To be sure, the world will always have problems, but helping to solve them is increasingly in businesses’ best interests. Many corporate leaders recognize that they should engage. The question now is not whether, but how.
This article synthesizes the input we gathered from more than 40 CEOs and over 40 thought leaders (from retailing, logistics, health technology, chemicals, basic materials, consumer packaged goods, energy, financial services, telecommunications, and pharmaceuticals) who are already grappling with these issues. Based on their insights, we have assembled some straightforward guidance for making two key decisions required for organizations to have a measurable and meaningful impact as social actors: picking the issue(s) to engage on and forging the collaborations necessary for success.