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1.6: Economic, Social, and Environmental Performance

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    Learning Objectives

    1. Be able to define economic, social, and environmental performance.
    2. Understand how economic performance is related to social and environmental performance.

    Webster’s dictionary defines performance as “the execution of an action” and “something accomplished” (Merriam Webster, 2008). Principles of management help you better understand the inputs into critical organizational outcomes like a firm’s economic performance. Economic performance is very important to a firm’s stakeholders particularly its investors or owners, because this performance eventually provides them with a return on their investment. Other stakeholders, like the firm’s employees and the society at large, are also deemed to benefit from such performance, albeit less directly. Increasingly though, it seems clear that noneconomic accomplishments, such as reducing waste and pollution, for example, are key indicators of performance as well. Indeed, this is why the notion of the triple bottom line is gaining so much attention in the business press. Essentially, the triple bottom line refers to The measurement of business performance along social, environmental, and economic dimensions. We introduce you to economic, social, and environmental performance and conclude the section with a brief discussion of the interdependence of economic performance with other forms of performance.

    Economic Performance

    In a traditional sense, the economic performance of a firm is a function of its success in producing benefits for its owners in particular, through product innovation and the efficient use of resources. When you talk about this type of economic performance in a business context, people typically understand you to be speaking about some form of profit.

    The definition of economic profit is the difference between revenue and the opportunity cost of all resources used to produce the items sold (Albrecht, 1983). This definition includes implicit returns as costs. For our purposes, it may be simplest to think of economic profit as a form of accounting profit where profits are achieved when revenues exceed the accounting cost the firm “pays” for those inputs. In other words, your organization makes a profit when its revenues are more than its costs in a given period of time, such as three months, six months, or a year.

    Before moving on to social and environmental performance, it is important to note that customers play a big role in economic profits. Profits accrue to firms because customers are willing to pay a certain price for a product or service, as opposed to a competitor’s product or service of a higher or lower price. If customers are only willing to make purchases based on price, then a firm, at least in the face of competition, will only be able to generate profit if it keeps its costs under control.

    Social and Environmental Performance

    You have learned a bit about economic performance and its determinants. For most organizations, you saw that economic performance is associated with profits, and profits depend a great deal on how much customers are willing to pay for a good or service.

    With regard to social and environmental performance, it is similarly useful to think of them as forms of profit—social and environmental profit to be exact. Increasingly, the topics of social and environmental performance have garnered their own courses in school curricula; in the business world, they are collectively referred to as corporate social responsibility (CSR)

    CSR is a concept whereby organizations consider the interests of society by taking responsibility for the impact of their activities on customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders, communities, and the environment in all aspects of their operations. This obligation is seen to extend beyond the statutory obligation to comply with legislation and sees organizations voluntarily taking further steps to improve the quality of life for employees and their families, as well as for the local community and society at large.

    Two companies that have long blazed a trail in CSR are Ben & Jerry’s and S. C. Johnson. Their statements about why they do this, summarized in Table 1.1 “Examples of leading firms with strong CSR orientations”, capture many of the facets just described.

    Table 1.1 Examples of leading firms with strong CSR orientations

    Why We Do It?
    Ben & Jerry’s

    “We’ve taken time each year since 1989 to compile this [Social Audit] report because we continue to believe that it keeps us in touch with our Company’s stated Social Mission. By raising the profile of social and environmental matters inside the Company and recording the impact of our work on the community, this report aids us in our search for business decisions that support all three parts of our Company Mission Statement: Economic, Product, and Social. In addition, the report is an important source of information about the Company for students, journalists, prospective employees, and other interested observers. In this way, it helps us in our quest to keep our values, our actions, and public perceptions in alignment (Benjerrys, 2008).”

    S. C. Johnson

    “It’s nice to live next door to a family that cares about its neighbors, and at S. C. Johnson we are committed to being a good neighbor and contributing to the well-being of the countries and the communities where we conduct business. We have a wide variety of efforts to drive global development and growth that benefit the people around us and the planet we all share. From exceptional philanthropy and volunteerism to new business models that bring economic growth to the world’s poorest communities, we’re helping to create stronger communities for families around the globe” (Scjohnson, 2008).

    Figure 1.9


    Environmentally Neutral Design (END) designs shoes with the goal of eliminating the surplus material needed to make a shoe such that it costs less to make and is lighter than other performance shoes on the market.

    ideowl – Carbon Neutral Shoes – CC BY 2.0.