World Business Council for Sustainable Development just released the highlights of its 2005 global sustainability study. And what jumped out to me is the sharp decline in ratings for Scandinavia, the European Union, the US, and Canada for successful management of the transition to sustainability (broadly defined along the “triple bottom line” criteria of environmental, social responsibility, and economic performance). Scandinavia still leads the pack, at 59 percent, but in 2002, the rating was 83 percent. EU: 23 percent this year, 37 percent in 2002; Canada from 25 percent down to 12 percent; and the US, from an already measly 4 percent down to just 1 percent. Japan, on the other hand, boosted its performance form 20 percent up to 25 percent. Brazil, China, and India were rated for the first time this year, all of them in the single digits.
In the government-supported US climate of Money Uber Alles, it’s not surprising that the US has fallen off. And the EU has just absorbed a lot of former East Bloc countries that are still recovering from the traditional neglect of human factors under their old authoritarian regimes. But what, I wonder, happened to socially progressive Scandinavia, with its strong safety net and seeming immunity from major business scandals? Have these counties backslid, or are their populations simply judging them by tougher standards?
Of course, in my book, Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First, I show how a concern for the triple bottom line builds the economic success of a company in the long run. And isn’t that what sustainability is really about?