A new specter of capitalism looms, portending an era of social responsibility instead of Gilded Age greed.
A generation or two ago, despite the place of Small Is Beautiful high atop the bestseller lists, the thought that companies might measure themselves along social dimensions such as sustainability and environmental impact would brand the thinker as a hopeless softie. Now, writes business consultant Piasecki (Doing More with Less: The New Way to Wealth, 2012, etc.), the final stage of a successful corporation’s development is a focus on ESG: environmental, social, and governance practices. “When we say social response capitalism,” writes the author, “we mean a twenty-first century form of capitalism in which firms compete not only on price and quality, but also on social and governance issues.” Sickened by examples of corporate greed and irresponsibility, consumers are looking closely at the practices of the companies they buy from, avoiding corporations whose politics or footprint offend—and not just consumers, Piasecki argues, but also investors looking to put their money into companies that are out to do good or at least minimize harm. “You ignore ESG metrics at your risk,” he warns business readers. “Follow them if you want to significantly increase your long-term investing success.” The thought of a friendlier corporation is a welcome one, but one wishes that the author had included more real-world examples and ones that did not invite counterargument. Toyota may be trying to be socially responsive, but it still pollutes, while Uber and Airbnb illustrate the free-rider problem in economics, evading regulation and taxation while making use of social goods that regular taxicabs and hotels must pay for. The book comes to life, though, when Piasecki writes about the energy sector, in which he foresees great forward movement toward a renewable future even as big investment money is moving away from the fossil-fuel economy.
Optimistic and full of good intentions: a book for green-money investors and consumers bent on putting their money to work in positive ways.