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Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business (The Conscientious Commerce Series) Paperback – September 1, 1998
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Polish poet Stanislaw Lec asked, "Is it progress if a cannibal uses a fork?" Elkington applies the question to twenty-first-century capitalism as he ponders whether holding corporations accountable to a "triple bottom-line" of economic prosperity, environmental quality, and social justice constitutes progress. Elkington cofounded SustainAbility, a London consulting firm that advises major corporations on how to be more environmentally sensitive and socially active while prospering economically. He is also the author of several books on corporate "greening" and "green" consumerism. Published last year in Britain, Elkington's book identifies the seven dimensions of--or revolutions leading to--a sustainable future. For each of the seven, he examines the "blind-spots" most corporate leaders have that prevent them from joining in the revolution. Focusing mostly on environmental issues and using examples from his impressive client list, Elkington invokes the mantra of sustainable development and assures us that this is progress. David Rouse
About the Author
John Elkington is co-author of the million-copy bestseller The Green Consumer Guide, Chairman of London-based SustainAbility, Europe's best respected sustainability consultancy firm, and a regular Guardian columnist and contributor to Harvard Business Review, Management Today, and Tomorrow Magazine.
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Top customer reviews
It is essential reading for anyone seeking to build a resilient business at a time when company profits, environmental concerns and social justice need to find new balance and visibility on the corporate dashboard.
While these two aims appear contradictory, they are linked via the organisation's system of shared values.
Values work in the present and the future. They set the framework for consistent decision making, yet remain with an organisation long after its physical assets have depreciated. Values also link the organisation to the society in which it operates and to its social agenda, namely the creation of wealth, the protection of the environment, and the support for social equity.
It is in the context of the social agenda that John Elkington asks us whether capitalism is sustainable, and whether it has made progress over the last hundred years. "Is it progress", he asks, "if a cannibal uses a fork?"
Not that we expect progress to be uniform. Lenin measured progress as two steps forward, and one step back, and even that is steeped in the paradigm of central planning. Free enterprise progresses by many steps in many different directions. Yet the record shows that de-central systems make progress, less systematically, but perhaps more surely than central ones.
However, the random nature of such progress generates many deceptive examples, where the same instance may be used to support contradictory theories. Thus, The Body Shop and Shell become symbols of corporate responsibility, but also corporate duplicity, while Nike and Intel become examples of corporate greed but also corporate responsiveness. Unplanned progress appears as a subtle, difficult to navigate, terrain.
Yet the pitfalls are great. We live in a world, where renewable resources such as trees are "mined rather than harvested". We find children on the one side of the planet working as slaves to produce fashion items for consumers on the other side. Furthermore the public, ever more aware of social and environmental issues, mobilise suddenly and to dramatic effect as ABB, Intel, Monsanto, Shell, Nike, and Texaco and many others testify.
To help us navigate, Elkington introduces his triple bottom line, which comprises of social, economic, and environmental measures. He uses this to expound on `the seven revolutions affecting sustainability': Markets, Values, Transparency, Life-cycle Technology, Partnerships, Time, and Corporate Governance. He looks at the need for regulation, but also for regulatory frameworks "which operate, as far as possible, through market processes and are intrinsically pro-competition". The triple bottom line becomes his yardstick for corporate values.
When people start talking of values, said Mark Twain once, it is time to count the silver. Since the early sixties environmentalists have told us that "things will go very well and then suddenly collapse". Yet this proved indistinguishable from the prediction that "things will go very well, and then even better". The predictions of our demise have proved to be greatly exaggerated.
Yet, `Cannibals with forks' raises all the relevant issues. If you are in an industry, which is subject to the whim of public pressure, or if you are trying to solve the riddle of long term sustainability, then `Cannibals with forks' will make an interesting and profitable read.