Taking Responsible Investing Seriously

Responsible investing continues to grow up, go mainstream. In September, three events--the publication of two reports and the launch of a new investment product--highlighted the diverse ways in which it's doing so.

Early in the month the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI) published its Annual Report on Progress. As this is the fifth year that the six principles have been in place, UNPRI took the opportunity to look back, to review the evolution of responsible investing since the principles were launched in 2006 at the New York Stock Exchange by then-Secretary General of the UN, Kofi Annan.

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Tension of Either-Or

Back in July Seth Godin published a blog post entitled No Such Thing as Business Ethics. I've never read a book by Godin. I'm not a regular reader of his blog. So, I didn't happen to see the post until mid-August. It's stayed with me since.

Around the same time that I read Godin's piece there was a front page story in The New York Times about a labor dispute taking place in Palmyra, Pennsylvania. 300 foreign students walked off the job at a Hershey's plant to protest what they claimed were unfair labor conditions in summer jobs they had paid to obtain, under the auspices of the State Department's J-1 Visa designation, a short-term cultural exchange program for college students.

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Five Books Every CEO Should Read

This is a list to embolden.

Earlier this summer, I dipped my toe into the waters of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in an article entitled Love is the Single Bottom Line. As I wrote then, I've been following the evolution of the conversation about CSR for a number of years. Over time I have come to conclude that the CEOs who take a truly responsible approach to their work simply get down to business, doing the right thing because it's what they believe in, commit to. In their companies goodness is not a department, it is naturally embedded into every fiber of the organization.

These five books have influenced and bolstered my views. All are firmly rooted within the framework of capitalism, profit-making, girded by a passionate belief that companies run well are powerful forces for good in society. Three are written by CEO-founders of large, global enterprises. Two by investors (there's overlap--Vanguard Group founder John Bogle is both).

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Love is the Single Bottom Line

Over the past several years I've followed the evolution of the conversation about Corporate Social Responsibility with great interest. The notion first hit my radar screen when I was an investment banker working with retail companies and apparel manufacturers and Nike was challenged to address working conditions at its factories in Asia.

On a trip to Vietnam in 2003 I had the opportunity to visit several of Nike's plants outside of Ho Chi Minh City.  The company's routine jobs--mostly for women--carried education, health care and meal benefits. When measured against the alternatives I saw in the rest of my travels throughout the country--back-breaking work under hot sun, knee deep in water-filled rice patties--it was hard for me to conclude that Nike was being anything other than socially responsible in its day-to-day operations, creating steady income and positive opportunities for its employees and their families.

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Meet Mobius One

Meet Mobius One. I'm a little bit in love with this sassy little car. Never mind the fact that it happens to be the prototype for a feel-good durable, functional, affordable car for the African middle class consumer. It's just feisty.

Mobius One may be tiny, but manufacturer Mobius Motors' ambitions are anything but. It estimates that the African transport market is $60 billion. It wants to play a role in transforming and refining that market--and, in the process of doing so to generate $2 billion in revenues by 2020.

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Innovation Lab

On January 28th nominations for the Aspen Institute's 2011 First Movers Fellowship are due.

If you are a CEO or Senior Manager focused on integrating the fundamentals of what is variously called Shared Value (discussed by Michael Porter and Mark Kramer in this month's issue of the Harvard Business Review), New Capitalism (described by Raj Sisodia, Jag Sheth and David Wolfe in their book Firms of Endearment) or Conscious Capitalism (a term popularized by Whole Foods CEO John Mackey and now promoted by the Conscious Capitalism Institute) into your corporate strategy and business practices, consider sponsoring one of your team members for this terrific program.

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