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11.6 A New Compact Between Business and Society?

A third major force that has already begun to change decision making in boardrooms all around the world is the push for social responsiveness and stakeholder relations. Societal considerations increasingly force companies to rethink their approach to core strategy and business model design.This section draws heavily on Rochlin (2006). Dealing more effectively with a company’s full range of stakeholders is also emerging as a strategic imperative.“Pressure grows on U.S. companies to act on climate,” Environmental Finance magazine, Historically, the amount of attention paid to stakeholders, other than directly affected parties, such as employees or major investors in crafting strategy, has been limited. Issues pertaining to communities, the environment, the health and happiness of employees, the human rights violations of global supply chains, and activist nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), among numerous other issues, were dealt with by the company’s public relations department or its lawyers.

For example, according to Ceres, a coalition of investors and environmental groups that helps coordinate shareholder filings, investors filed a record 43 climate-related resolutions with U.S. companies during the 2007 proxy season.See “Investors and Environmentalists for Sustainable Prosperity,” at The resolutions sought greater disclosure from companies about their responses to the climate change issue, or called for companies to set greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets, and were filed by state and city pension funds and labor, foundation, religious, and other institutional shareholders, managing a total of more than $200 billion in assets.

Fifteen of these resolutions led to positive actions by businesses, leading to shareholders withdrawing their resolutions. Among the companies that addressed investor concerns, oil company ConocoPhillips responded to its resolution by announcing its support for an aggressive mandatory federal policy to reduce GHG emissions, committing to spend $300 million on low-carbon research, including alternative fuels, and agreeing to set a GHG reduction target.

Financial services company Wells Fargo committed to completing GHG assessments of key lending portfolios including agriculture, primary energy production, and power generation, while investment and insurance companies Hartford Insurance and Prudential Financial agreed to improve their public reporting and disclosure regarding the potential risks they face from climate change and strategies for mitigating those risks.

Seven resolutions were filed requesting that companies, including ExxonMobil, set specific GHG reduction targets from their operations and products. These resolutions received strong support, with more that 30% support at ExxonMobil, after investors raised concerns that the company is far behind competitors in addressing climate risks and investing in renewable energy. The increasing support for such resolutions shows that investors are looking for greater transparency about climate risks and information about how companies are preparing to meet the related challenges and seize the opportunities.

In this emerging environment, companies are finding that “business as usual” is no longer an option and that traditional strategies for companies to grow, cut costs, innovate, differentiate, and globalize are now subject to increased scrutiny by all stakeholders. Companies that accept, understand, and embrace this new reality will find that being a “good citizen” has significant, strategic value and does not detract but enhances business success. The late Milton Friedman might have had trouble accepting this new reality, but “good citizenship” has become “the business of business.”