Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category
Author: Peter Koslowski
Did the attitude of the banking industry towards ethical issues play a starring role in the financial crash of 2008? In this book, the recently-deceased expert on ethics and finance Peter Koslowski provides a thorough overview of the ethical requirements relevant to all banking business areas… most of which have been far from fulfilled in recent years.
In a great introduction, the author outlines the main arguments used by financial industry managers in order to justify the alleged “irrelevance of ethics” in modern finance: creation of shareholder value and maximum return on investment are priority and non-negotiable, as well as a strict adherence to neoliberal economic orthodoxy (which involves an unconditional belief in full rationality of market participants, perfect information and infallibility of the market). Considering these approaches to be utterly unsustainable and irresponsible, professor Koslowski devotes the rest of the book to dismantling them one by one, with an authority informed by his deep knowledge of the particularities and nuances of the banking business.
The first part shows the conceptual alternatives that underpin Finance Ethics: Ethical Economy, Economic Ethics and Business Ethics. The second and most extensive part details a number of ethical and economic implications of the markets for credit, capital and derivatives which, together with bad corporate governance, had a decisive influence on the rise of the financial crisis of 2008, as explained in the third part.
The book can be read at different levels. On the one hand, anyone interested in the subject can easily make the most of it, thanks to the plain language used, the many examples and the references to cases we all know through the media. However, some of the sections on capital and derivatives markets do provide arguments of significant technical depth, more aimed at financial professionals, who can find economic, legal, academic… and even semantic, philosophical and theological arguments.
In short, The Ethics of Banking: Conclusions from the Financial Crisis is essential reading for those who think that the future sustainability of the banking industry relies on a rigorous application of the ethical filter to all its business areas.
Cristina Carrillo, CSR International
The Difference Makers: How Social and Institutional Entrepreneurs Created the Corporate Responsibility Movement
Author: Jorgen Randers
Publisher: Chelsea Green
2052 is a bold declaration on the likely state of the world one generation from now, by veteran trend-tracker and future-modeller Jorgen Randers. In this book, almost uniquely, a highly respected scientist has nailed his colours to the mast and said not what should happen, or what he would like to happen, or even what might happen, but rather what he thinks will happen – in our lifetimes.
The book picks up where the controversial series of Limits to Growth reports for the Club of Rome left off, but with a number of crucial differences. First, all three Limits to Growth books – which Randers co-authored with Dennis Meadows and Donella Meadows in 1972, 1992 and 2002 – were framed as scenarios, whereas 2052 is a forecast, i.e. a prediction, rather than a set of stories about the future.
Second, the Limits to Growth models covered the period to 2100, whereas 2052 is only for the next forty years. Third, while the Limits to Growth scenarios all ended in an ‘overshoot and collapse’ of resources and population, Randers does not see this happening at a global scale by mid-century, although he does issue sober warnings about the decades that will follow.
2052 is nothing if not ambitious. The five mega-issues it tackles are capitalism, economic growth, democracy, intergenerational equity and climate change. The book is packed with data and charts on everything from population and labour productivity to food and CO2 emissions, but it remains highly readable, with fascinating analyses presented at global and regional levels. It also has short ‘glimpses’ of the future on particular issues that are written by guest contributors (for example, I wrote one on the future of CSR). In addition, Randers offers some very practical advice in the conclusions.
Randers describes the book as a kind of self-therapy – an attempt to lay to rest the ghosts of the future that have haunted him all his life. In the process, he surprises himself – and the reader – with some of his conclusions. For example, population is expected to peak much earlier (in 2040) and much lower (at 8.1 billion) than most would predict, while global economic growth will slow, with GDP doubling by 2052 rather than the more commonly expected tripling.
The consequence is that, on some issues, the world is in better shape in forty years than many – especially sustainability activists – expect it to be. But Randers is at pains to point out that this only buys us a little more time to solve our global challenges. Runaway climate change in particular could still overwhelm us before 2100 and prove the original ‘overshoot and collapse’ hypothesis of the Limits to Growth studies to be accurate.
Happily, armed with the insights from 2052, we have every motivation we need to be proactive. As Randers told me in an interview for Cambridge University in 2008, ‘having a positive view has a stronger motivational force than scare tactics.’ Therefore, as he says in the closing words of 2052, ‘please help make the forecast wrong. Together we could create a much better world.’
Wayne Visser, CSR International
Author(s): Howard Schultz with Joanne Gordon
Publisher: Rodale books
In 2008, Howard Schultz, the president and chairman of Starbucks, made the unprecedented decision to return as the CEO eight years after he stepped down from daily oversight of the company and became chairman. Concerned that Starbucks had lost its way, Schultz was determined to help it return to its core values and restore not only its financial health, but also its soul. In Onward, he shares the remarkable story of his return and the company’s ongoing transformation under his leadership, revealing how, during one of the most tumultuous economic times in history, Starbucks again achieved profitability and sustainability without sacrificing humanity.
By far, the greatest appeal of this book is the way the narrative is driven by Howard Schultz’s personal account of all the dilemmas he faced, combined with insights from Starbucks’ employees in letters they sent to him. In addition, Schultz describes in detail the relationships he struck up with mentors, which included Michael Dell of Dell Corporation, and communications agencies, organizational specialists and more. The blow-by-blow account of the way Schultz put in place the right people to deliver his renewed vision is well worth reading.
At all times, Howard Schultz takes pains to reiterate the importance of values and the way conflicts were resolved in the organisation from a values-based standpoint under his leadership. Schultz is not usually the first name that springs to mind when people talk about sustainability visionaries of stature from the business sector – Anita Roddick, Yves Chouinard, Ray Anderson, and Ben and Jerry, and a few others, generally make the list. Schultz doesn’t usually figure. However, in Onward, Schultz stands out as a visionary and a person of principle, striving to make his business as relevant and valuable to society and environmentally sustainable as have any of the other business sustainability celebs. Another demonstration of this is the way Starbucks confirms its impacts on society and accepts accountability through the transparent reporting practices of the Company.
Offering readers a snapshot of a moment in history that left no company unscathed, the book zooms in to show how one company struggled and recreated itself in the midst of it all. Onward is a compelling, candid narrative documenting the maturing of a brand as well as a businessman.
Elaine Cohen, Beyond Business Ltd.
Adapted from a review originally published on www.csr-books.com