Leadership attitude rather than legal change is the route to a new era in responsible capitalism

The latest polling from UK B-Corp puts data behind what many of us have been thinking: there has been a shift in public opinion regarding corporate responsibilities post phase-one pandemic. I’ve seen a lot of recent polling recording a general mood-swing toward greater appreciation of “nature” and the importance of “local”; but it would seem there is also growing support for changing businesses for good.

At the moment, businesses are seen as the main villain – the cause of our social and environmental problem – poll after poll has told us that. In response CSR, then Sustainability policies, have become de rigueur. Sticking plasters that mask the problem. But companies are set up to make money; returning a profit is what company directors are legally obliged to do.

Public polling shows that there is now a definite majority (72%) in favour of changing business purpose to include a legal duty toward people and the environment. And a simple majority (52%) for doing so without overthrowing the system.

I’m always sceptical of research conclusions that suggest tomorrow will be radically different to today – and guess what, that future will look exactly how the commissioner of the research wants it to look – but this report is well-founded and suggests that the public are getting fed-up. They want capitalism “fixed” rather than replaced. That feels right to me. In reality, very few things will change in the new world, but this may very well be one of them.

During my lifetime, no one worth listening to has questioned capitalism – a basic building block of our economy – but now, post-Covid, this might be the cause taken up in the mainstream. Changing the law would change things enormously for company directors – but would it change the world? Taking the legal route definitely has the odour of Hollywood about it. Liberal lawyers fighting the good fight, blah-blah. I believe it will help, but the courts and the law really won’t fix this, not on their own.

Take the public sector. Public sector organisations don’t have a singular profit motive. They pledge to look after their staff – who enjoy centrally negotiated terms that give better conditions and security than practically anyone paying for them in private employment. But a duty to improve the environment – you must be joking. PPE procurement is a prime example, where huge public institutions have algorithms that always go for the cheapest, just in time and often the most polluting items. There is little regard for “locally sourced” or “environmentally friendly”. That was kind of understandable in the rush of a pandemic, but now, really? What’s the bigger threat – Covid or Climate Change? Or are both exacerbated by the same mindset – a disregard for nature and the environment we rely upon?

Changing legal responsibility is a tool that will help us address social and environmental pressures – but it will be down to leaders to adopt new responsibility-led strategies to ultimately “fix this”.

What our clients say

Project Rome worked with us to develop a purpose-driven strategy for Yorkshire Building Society, aligning our commercial ambitions with our societal and environmental responsibilities. The team were an absolute pleasure to work with, and their knowledge and experience were invaluable. We couldn’t have delivered the work without them.

Tanya Jackson, former Head of Corporate Affairs, Yorkshire Building Society

Project Rome has helped shape, challenge and then support the further development of original thinking, critical to the successful transformation of our sustainable business and asset strategy. They are also hugely well connected regionally and nationally. Their work has led to enhanced customer value and environmental performance for Yorkshire Water – an important outcome at a pivotal time.

Jon Brigg, Manager of Innovation, Yorkshire Water

The team at Project Rome are great to work with; consistently delivering results and adding valuable contributions but also easy and enjoyable to collaborate with. They are impressive in their ability to build rapport with different audiences and quickly apply a strategic mindset and technical expertise to bring structure, clarity and direction.

Gordon Rogers, Head of Sustainability, Yorkshire Water

It has been my pleasure to work with Project Rome over a number of years.  Simon has always brought clear strategic thinking and analysis at corporate level and worked with me as a member of the executive team in WYG plc over an extended period as we grew the business.  I have greatly appreciated his wisdom and help in setting direction for growth and implementing strategy.

Douglas McCormick, Executive Chairman, Gleeds UK and former CEO of WYG

I would sum up Project Rome in three words: diligence, expertise and accuracy. But what’s more, they are a true pleasure to work with. If we have a complex project, Project Rome is our first port of call.

Jeremy Biggs, CEO, NCL Technology Ventures Ltd

Project Rome worked on a one-to-one basis to quickly build relationships and gain the trust of key stakeholders, from clinicians and support teams to Executive Directors. The result was a significant leap forward in our ability to effectively collaborate at all levels. They were also an absolute delight to work with, bringing humour and a sense of fun to the team. We loved every minute of working with them!

Rebecca Malin, former Programme Director, Acute Provider Collaboration, Airedale NHS Foundation Trust, Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

The Project Rome team has an open, approachable style that worked well with our entire team, from Executive Directors to junior admin colleagues. They were politically and culturally sensitive to the need of the population and the multiple stakeholders, and creative and thoughtful about ways to get the optimum outcome from their work.

Stacey Hunter, Executive Director Acute Provider Collaboration Airedale FT and Bradford FT NHS Trusts, Chief Operating Officer, NHS Nightingale Hospital Yorkshire and the Humber

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