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Sustainability: More than Just Being ‘Green’

Experts say there will be another 2 billion people living on our Earth by 2050.  To support these folks — and those already here — we will need the resources of almost three Earths.  To state the obvious, this need poses some imminent and urgent global challenges.

Optimization and conservation of the Earth’s finite natural resources will be the defining growth drivers over the coming decades. Solutions that help sustainably feed, hydrate, house, move, power and keep the growing world community healthy will drive business success.

No single company, government or institution alone can solve these inter-connected global challenges. To the contrary, truly impactful solutions will derive from collaborative innovation between corporate, governmental, non-governmental and academic institutions.

For companies aspiring to help drive these impactful solutions, being a trusted and trust-worthy corporate citizen is prerequisite. Whether you have 100,000 employees or 100, in today’s world of social media and the 24-hour news cycle, the links between and among reputation, business success, and sustainability have never been stronger, and the costs of unethical behavior and a damaged reputation have never been higher.

In his acclaimed book “How,” Dov Seidman makes a compelling case for the value of ethical behavior, asserting to great effect that the value of what you do is determined in large measure by how you do it. The best and really only way to ensure ethical behavior within a business, he says, is to institutionalize it – establishing a culture of “self-governance.”

On the surface, the concept of “self-governance” seems a bit naive and idealistic, and certainly, blind trust absent the necessary context and groundwork would be imprudent, to say the least. There must be clear parameters that define acceptable behaviors; consequences for non-compliance must be swift, severe, public and unmistakably understood.

But over the long-haul, inspiration is a far more potent motivator than the fear of reprisal. The Zero Tolerance Mindset must be married to a far more positive “tone at the top,” and just as important, the right “tone in the middle.” Visible, vocal executive engagement spawns manager and employee engagement. Like safety – which we talk about at every BASF meeting – the behaviors reflected by our Code of Conduct are discussed frequently — and not just from the podium at the Town Hall. We talk with folks, not just to folks; we do it on the shop floor and in the lunchroom — not just in the boardroom.

Leadership’s mandate is to make meticulous attention to ethics and compliance a pride point among team members.  This means “living” ethical behavior without exception, talking about it at every opportunity and never, ever accepting anything less.

This is the currency that allows us to stand – on equal footing – with others in the global community of stakeholders.  It is our license to participate in the process of solving the great global challenges ahead.

Just like environmental stewardship and social responsibility, ethical, upright, and transparent business culture is indispensable to sustainable business success and the sustainable future of our planet.

David Stryker is general counsel and chief compliance officer at BASF Corporation, the North American affiliate of BASF SE, Ludwigshafen, Germany. BASF is the world’s leading chemical company: The Chemical Company. David has overall responsibility for legal, intellectual property, compliance, and government affairs at BASF in North America. He came to BASF after 10 years at Siemens Corporation in New York. Before joining Siemens, he was a partner in the Chicago and New York offices of Kirkland & Ellis, and started his legal career as a judicial clerk for the Honorable Robert H. Bork, Judge for the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

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