The Age of Responsibility

Richard Hardyment


Posted in: Reviews

The Age of Responsibility

April 26, 2011
The Age of Responsibility
CSR 2.0 and the New DNA of Business
By Wayne Visser
It’s refreshing to come across a book on CSR that says something genuinely new. Too many outline the same leading-edge examples (General Electric anyone?) the tried-and-tested business case (costs savings! Innovation!) and make vague platitudes about the potential for game-changing, world-saving businesses.

Wayne Visser breaks the mould. Although “CSR 2.0” is an over-used phrase that conjures up an image of letting customers write sustainability policies (as in “Web 2.0”), the ideas are clearly set out and informative.

“20 years of CSR wonder and trickery” are reviewed in the opening chapters. Visser mocks the “age of greed” where companies like Enron (“stuffed to the gills with CSR initiatives”) and Lehman Brothers spun themselves dizzy.

He then sets out a bold case for a “different kind of CSR”, based on five principles: creativity, scalability, responsiveness, glocality and circularity (such as cradle-to-cradle design).

The Age of Responsibility is a weighty compendium of ideas for future corporate ventures. Visser paints an exciting vision of businesses supplementing internal goals with lobbying for big, external commitments. His other insights are also refreshing, such as forecasting a shift to “sustainability ratings” – like the “A+” financial credit ratings – to replace the checklist approach that is currently popular.

There are some particularly useful criteria for scaling up and maximising the positive contribution that businesses can make. One thought-provoking chapter looks at creating change – structurally in organisations as well as identifying the right people. His conclusion is typically novel: although many have worked hard to shift from vague values to a strong business case for CSR, Visser’s own research suggests that a “moral case” can resonate more powerfully in organisations.

CSR 2.0 is food for thought for anyone interested in the next big thing in responsible business practices. Having surveyed the landscape, it’s now up to practitioners to apply the thinking, test out his ideas and create the Age he envisions.