How Governments Can Tap Corporate Responsibility to Address Public Issues

This article was originally posted by Dan Chenok and Ken Stockman on the Business of Government Blog.

The concept of corporate responsibility covers a broad spectrum of corporate “give back” including governance, social responsibility, philanthropy and, most recently sustainability. Generally, corporate responsibility focuses on an individual organization’s relationship with its community, stakeholders, and customers, and the way in which it contributes to the world around it beyond profit and shareholder value — sharing and contributing to something bigger than the immediate economic well being of the organization.

An example of this new public – private collaboration rooted in corporate responsibility is work being done by a broad coalition of organizations, led by the Corporate Responsibility Officer Association, and including dozens of executives from across the business community, NGO/non-profits, academia and government, focused on sustainability in the federal supply chain. As part of its support for Executive Order 13514, the Council for Environmental Quality (CEQ) established a Sustainable Supply Chain Community of Practice on, with the intent of harvesting the best ideas from the private sector for creating a more stable, sustainable supply chain. Through the involvement of an ongoing public and private steering committee, this collaborative effort hopes to demonstrate that sustainable practices, both within an organization and along its value chain, can deliver tested and proven tools for cutting operating budgets.

This initiative, which began in March of 2012, will culminate in a presentation of ideas and direction at the 2012 GreenGov conference. The primary focus of has been to seed the development of sustainable supply chain practices in the federal government (at GSA initially) based on actionable lessons learned and observed data from private sector organizations that have done this as part of their own corporate responsibility, sustainability, and cost reduction activities. While the collaboration will initially focus on six key product areas for the federal government, GSA and CEQ would ultimately expand the guidelines to all federal acquisition if successfully implemented.

As a model, relying on the private sector corporate responsibility ethos won’t work for everything government needs to do. Private sector organizations are profit-driven and don’t make a practice of giving away free advice to government agencies unless it impacts their bottom line in some way. But interestingly, given the participation to date in this effort by leading private sector organizations such Deloitte, Coca Cola, UPS, Dow, Siemens, SAP, and IBM, there is a resonance that government is tuning in to in the sustainability space. The opportunity to showcase what can be done is a compelling path for all stakeholders, and a novel way for the government to leverage an existing knowledge base to examine their operations and supply chains to cut costs, create new value, and improve sustainability.

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