We see it all around us now. Whether it is in the new book of Dutch author Jeroen Smit about the struggle of former Unilever CEO Paul Polman to get his company and its products more aligned with the current wishes of society. Or the Dutch institutional investors issuing a first of a green paper on their views of companies reporting on non-financial, sustainability issues. More and more often, ‘society’ expects organizations to act in accordance with the current rules of ethical, environmental and social behaviour.
It is hard to predict what directions these demands of society will go into, but one thing we do know: they will evolve over time. Setting goals on these themes is quite difficult: ‘society’ has a broad definition, so it is hard to define whose expectations you want to meet, the next generation workforce won’t join your organization if they can’t make an impact and climate experts are expecting you to come up with more actions than your shareholders will probably like. How can these expectations be aligned with the obligations to perform better on a financial basis quarter after quarter? Sometimes these requirements seem to contradict.