Sustainable Frontiers. Unlocking Change through Business, Leadership and Innovation
Visser, W. (2015). Sustainable Frontiers. Unlocking Change through Business, Leadership and Innovation, Sheffield: Greenleaf Publishing, ISBN 978-1-78353-485-2
- 1 20 March 2015, Newcastle University Business School
1As businesses are more and more aware of some of their negative impacts on the world we live in and also as they are more and more aware that some natural resources are exhausted, “Sustainability” appears as a “buzzword” sometimes implemented in their daily operations and sometimes used as a marketing tool to improve their corporate image. “Sustainability” is also a topic widely covered by academics. Conferences are organised (for instance the ESRC seminar entitled: “Architects of a better world: Building the post 2015 business engagement architecture”1); books are published (for instance Blowfield, M. and Murray, A. 2014, Corporate Responsibilities, Oxford: Oxford University Press), etc.
2Now they are aware of the issues, finding solutions to ‘solve’ the problem is the next step. The title of Wayne Visser’s book is quite explicit and seems to suggest that a clear set of principles to guide the transformation to sustainability will be offered in the 196 pages of the book. The title also seems to say that, sustainability can be achieved through a change of business model, leadership and type of innovation. The eight chapters of the book provide specific information to clarify what the author means in the title and provides actionable solutions for a sustainable and thriving world. From this angle, Visser’s latest book differs from other books on the same topic.
3The introduction summarises perfectly the content of this innovative book. The following lines give the gist of the book: “we will explore how we must find ways to let go of an industrial system that has served us well, but is no longer fit for purpose. We will need to let go of old styles of leadership and outdated models of business, high-impact lifestyles and selfish values. We must learn to let go of cherished ideologies that are causing destruction and beliefs about ways to tackle problems that are failing to resolve crises (...) If we are to reach sustainable frontiers, therefore, it must begin with changing our collective minds—and only then will we change our collective behaviour” (Visser, 2015: 1- 4).
4Chapter 1 – “Unlocking change through transformational leadership”
This chapter emphasises the fact that changes will only occur if leaders actually have the wellbeing of every single stakeholder at the heart of every single action they are undertaking. Their personal desire should not be part of the equation. The author ends the chapter by suggesting a reformation in business that can start with an evaluation of leaders following a set of 7 criteria.
5Chapter 2 – “Unlocking change through enterprise reform”
To ensure that changes happen through enterprise, the author suggests a deep reform that can only happen if we change the purpose of businesses. He believes that this is possible as over the years we have already witnessed a few changes as we have moved from the point where the sole function, goal and responsibility of businesses are to make a financial profit to a belief that businesses have some social responsibilities. The ideal change would be to change the mission and culture of corporations.
6Chapter 3 – “Unlocking change through technology innovation”
For Visser, technology innovation is central to a sustainable development of the world. The current boom in technology innovation that can be compared to ‘another renaissance’ can bring solutions in the agri-food sector / chemical sector, etc. The fact that sustainable technology is being applied by businesses shows that the current business model is no longer fit for purpose.
7Chapter 4 – “Unlocking change through corporate transparency”
The author starts by highlighting the fact that information has never been more readily available and technology (as covered in the previous chapter) plays an important part in this new paradigm. This trend started in the early 1990s, catalysed by the disclosure requirements of the EU Eco-Management and Auditing Scheme (EMAS) and subsequently promoted by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and other institutions and standards; it has continued to gain momentum and is set to continue into the future. The 2014 KPMG Survey of Corporate Responsibility Reporting indicates that the Americas have now overtaken Europe as the leading reporting region.
8Chapter 5 – “Unlocking change through stakeholders’ engagement”
Social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ and many others) have helped companies to build their brand, convey messages to interested parties, and to augment their reputation, preservation and crisis communication function (Useful Social Media, 2013). At the same time, social media (crowdsourcing) are also putting pressure on companies to improve their performance.
9Chapter 6 – “Unlocking change through social responsibility”
This chapter starts with a genesis of CSR. However, the key information in this chapter is the fact that the author believes that CSR has broadly failed and that it will continue to do so until its natural death, unless it is reborn and rejuvenated. The other key point is the question concerning the need for a new CSR model that would not only contribute to the enrichment of shareholders and executives, but also improve the economic context in which a company operates.
10Chapter 7 – “Unlocking change through integrated value”
This chapter introduces shared value as the new CSR, as it has the ability to reshape capitalism and its relationship to society.
11Chapter 8 – “Unlocking change through future-fitness”
The last chapter is quite interesting as it asks an important question regarding our fitness for the future: “How can we—as individuals, businesses, communities and policy-makers—prepare for the future? How can we maximize our chances of success, not only by being ready, but also by helping to shape the future that we desire?” These questions can lead to future discussions and research.
12Despite the value of this book, a few comments can be made regarding:
Structure and content – Chapter 6 is very long. Do we really need this lengthy genesis of CSR? Chapter 6 and chapter 2 could have been combined as the two chapters are covering more or less the same topic.
Despite a very thorough evaluation of current practices and despite the fact that author acknowledges that one size does not fill all and that glocality in CSR is very important, it would have been good to see the application of some of the principles developed in this book to the main service industry in the world, namely tourism (hospitality and events sector) as this sector is particularly problematic when it comes to the “S” word.
13Overall, this book provides a very specific overview of all the challenges and potential solutions our world would have to implement in order to achieve some kind of sustainability.
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Hugues Séraphin, « Sustainable Frontiers. Unlocking Change through Business, Leadership and Innovation », Études caribéennes [En ligne], 33-34 | Avril-Août 2016, mis en ligne le 13 juillet 2016, consulté le 28 mars 2017. URL : http://etudescaribeennes.revues.org/7899Haut de page
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