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What Matters Most: How A Small Group Of Pioneers Is Teaching Social Responsibility To Big Business, And Why Big Business Is Listening Hardcover – December 23, 2003

4.8 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

CEO Jeffrey Hollender, whose Vermont-based company Seventh Generation is a poster child for corporate conscience, has written a brave and detailed blueprint for a new paradigm of "responsible business." Written in the dog days of Enron/Inclone/Martha Stewart scandals, Hollender's vision is passionate and panoramic. "Corporate responsibility is a broad social movement centered in the corporation as much as the anti-war movement of the 1960s was centered in college campuses." He builds a persuasive case for global citizenship, with in-depth analysis of case histories (For example, the "peace pops" controversy after Ben and Jerry's ice cream was acquired by Unilever, the commitment to healthcare coverage during Starbuck's global coup d'etat).

Hollender borrows from best sellers such as Built to Last but he is willing to ask the tough questions: When do core values conflict with goals and commitments? Does being a responsible business really cost shareholders more money? How do corporate charters inhibit social responsibility? How can reputation become a corporate pressure point? His answers are provided in seven approaches to social responsibility. Each defines new metrics to define prosperity, environmental stewardship and corporate citizenship. For example, he unpacks the strategy of "transparency" in descriptions of Challenger explosion, the embedded journalists of The Gulf War and the SARs epidemic. Sometimes these powerful strategies are swamped in an overabundance of examples, sources, or acronyms of activists groups. But Hollender's comprehension shows us the forest and the trees. --Barbara Mackoff

From Publishers Weekly

The corporate scandals of recent years have underscored the growing emphasis on responsibility and accountability, and even the world's largest businesses have been heeding the call. Hollender (with writing and research assistance from professional business scribe Fenichell) checks in with Nike, McDonald's, Starbucks and other companies to see what they're doing about altering their products and processes to fit with sustainability, which values environmental impact as much as consumer satisfaction. Hollender's tenure as head of Seventh Generation, manufacturers of ecologically safe home-cleaning products, ensures his credibility on corporate social responsibility issues, though some readers might wish for more behind-the-scenes stories about grappling with those issues on a daily basis. He's also good friends with the founders of Ben and Jerry's and the organic yogurt makers Stonyfield Farm, both initially small companies that have been acquired by international food conglomerates. Will the smaller companies' values be subsumed by the bottom line or infect their new owners with progressive ideas? Hollender appears to favor "inclusive globalization," but he takes care to devote as much attention to those who would prefer a more radical outcome-crippling the giants and bolstering smaller, local economies. And he's sharply critical of both sides: McDonald's may have a long way to go, he points out, but is it really fair to attack their unhealthy menus while giving Ben and Jerry's a free pass to make fattening ice cream? This honest assessment of the difficulties corporations large and small face in fostering social change adds a welcome tone of moderate optimism to the globalization debate.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (December 24, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0738209023
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738209029
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,777,230 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Dr. Gary B. Brumback on September 10, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This review is an adaptation of my review published in Personnel Psychology, Winter 2004 issue.

As one of the pioneers in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement, Hollender is evangelical about promoting the implementation of CSR "in all of its forms." I'm not sure I know what he means by that. As he acknowledges, it's in the "mind of the beholder" because there's "no firm consensus" about what CSR means. I certainly can't criticize him for not pinning down the concept. Professor Ronald Sims (2003), in his own book on the subject for instance, has offered five different definitions. I think Hollender equates CSR with the idea of a triple-bottom line of responsibility and accountability for fulfilling what he thinks should be the financial, social, and environmental obligations of a corporation.

Margaret Mead once said in effect that social change always starts and can only start with a small group of people. The small group identified in the book as pioneers in the CSR movement include small business entrepreneurs like Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream, socially responsible investment funds like the Calvert Social Investment Fund, and a host of advocacy groups or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like the activist group, Greenpeace, and the more reserved Businesses for Social Responsibility (BSR) that was conceived as sort of an alternative Chamber of Commerce.

The book gives an interesting account of the different ways in which these pioneers promote CSR among big corporations. One way, for instance, is non-confrontational and educative in trying to "bring big business [no matter how socially irresponsible] to the table and then move the table.
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Format: Hardcover
This book provides evidence for those trying to promote socially responsible business practices, hope for those feeling disillusioned and inspiration for those trying to put the business community back on to a sustainable foundation. It is comprehensive, informative, and a great book for anyone looking to "green business" as a way of working all the time, not just an ideal to be gabbed about at cocktail parties.
Hollender identifies the real heroes and heroines of today's CSR movement - those people taking strong stands, putting their wallets and mouths where they claim their values to be.
If you have any interest in changing the way business relates to the rest of society so we all can see a better future, get this book!
- John Renesch, author, Getting to the Better Future
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Format: Hardcover
Another leader of an iconic "green company", Jeffrey Hollender - founder and CEO of Seventh Generation (yes, I use their laundry detergent exclusively) discusses the challenges of running a business with high integrity and full disclosure. In particular, Hollender recounts Seventh Generation's stint as a publicly traded company and posits that public ownership inevitably leads to an erosion of core values by the pressures of the markets. He cites also the example of Ben and Jerry's take-over by Unilever. I personally believe that positive social change can be wrought through the public securities markets and that values driven investing is the most significant tool available.

I appreciate What Matters Most as a cautionary tale keeping me alert to some of the perils of my chosen approach (Socially Responsible Investing as a vehicle for change). I had the privilege of hearing Jeffrey Hollender speak at a Working Assets brown bag lunch lecture. He is a forceful presence and very inspiring in his forthrightness in answering questions probing the gray areas that an ethical company must struggle with.

P.S. A recent addition to my review: The Resources section at the back of the book is very well researched and thorough. It would be worth buying the book merely for that appendix.
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Format: Hardcover
This is corporate social responsibility up close and personal.
Through the experiences of real executives and entrepreneurs,
Hollender and Fenichell show that social responsibility is not just a slogan but a way of doing business. The authors are clearly sympathetic to their subjects, but they do not blanch when it comes to controversy and debate. Readers will appreciate their realistic take on the challenge of merging financial success with social commitment in today's global economy. A good read with practical lessons for anyone in business.
Prof. Lynn Sharpe Paine - Harvard Business School
In a readable and optimistic manner, Jeffrey Hollender defines the need for both small businesses and large corporations to practice social responsibility. Then, he takes the next step in offering practical ways to reach this goal.
Nell Newman, Co-founder and President of Newman's Own Organics
This is an important book, not only because Jeffrey describes the shift going on in society making responsible corporate behavior an imperative, but why it is that consumers, employees and non-profits play a critical role in keeping corporations "honest" - this book is a must read, for the business person as well as the consumer - governments will never do this because they are economic governments, businesses will never do this on their own because they are incapable of truth, it is the ethical consumer, the vigilante consumer, that will make this happen. This book is really really relevant.
Anita Roddick - CEO The Body Shop
Our environment is a direct result of how we design our things and how we get them. Without leadership and social responsibility from business, we will fail in our efforts for a better environmental future.
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