Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


The Quest for Sustainable Business

July 2012

The Quest for Sustainable Business is two things: the most important and, in certain respects the only, historical account of corporate responsibility to date, and a bloody good read.

Visser’s project is much-needed. CSR has long existed in a historical vacuum that has too often led to a vacuity of ambition and statement. The Quest for Sustainable Business, with a comprehensive historical sweep taking us from apartheid South Africa to the EU’s Enterprise 2020 initiative, puts us back in the picture.

Despite its unnecessarily transcendental title, the book is rigorously grounded in the material realities that have shaped CSR since the 1980s, and robust in its comparisons of different approaches for promoting corporate responsibility, always keeping the particular historical conditions in mind.

Visser provides a crucial lesson in self-knowledge: that CSR has not always been as it is today, and that what we now accept as truisms in the industry were once hotly debated and treated quite differently. In sum: the CSR world has been one of change.

The Quest for Sustainable Business is a short book, and one that mainly impresses with the ease in which it switches from one context to another at pace, allowing the reader to keep its various strands in mind.

The book negotiates the difficult tension between historicising and making relevant for today, and between abstract argumentation and real-life, day-to-day business. Its lessons for the latter, as the CSR world enters another period of fluidity and upheaval, may prove invaluable.

Ben Hickman

Wayne Visser, The Quest for Sustainable Business: An Epic Journey in Search of Corporate Responsibility, Greenleaf. 266 pages. £17.50

Ben Hickman | UK & NI Ireland | Sustainability

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