As social activists who cut our political teeth in the 1960s, we tend to think of the phrase “capitalism with a conscience” as an oxymoron. It’s the nature of the beast to put profits before people and the planet.
The latest round of economic — and political — crises in the US and Western Europe, starting in 2008, sparked or regenerated all kinds of innovative movements and alliances in search of alternatives. The Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street and the Indignados of Spain lifted new voices (“We are the 99%!”) and adopted promising new, twitterized methods of resistance.
The response on the part of the business and political 1% has been mixed. Some are digging in their heels against change, cracking down on protesters and resisting even the meekest of economic reforms. Others, genuinely worried about the consequences of the crisis to society and the planet, are learning to live with change — or even foster it.
Corporate social responsibility or sustainability, which has been around for decades, is one such response. We’re skeptical of motives and critical of cosmetic approaches. But we’re also engaged: Rain Barrel has been helping one major corporation build its CSR program for the past four years. We’ve witnessed, up close, both the positive potential and the limitations of CSR.
But the potential is there. It deserves to be nurtured, even knowing that it can only go so far.
Here’s a recent USA Today article that captures some do-good efforts (and some not-so-good efforts) in the corporate world. Worth a read.