Lunch with… the CEO of the World Wildlife Fund
Being absolutely lucky as we were, our program director arranged to have us meet with Carter Roberts, now the president and CEO of the WWF for lunch today. We (the students) were all in slight awe of his humble attire, his sense of humor, and his relatively realistic view of conservation (thanks largely to his business background, I think). Looking back, though, many of the answers to our questions were carefully crafted–which, unfortunately, seems very common for someone based in Washington, DC, as we have now learned. Nonetheless, he made some interesting points worth sharing:
When asked how to measure success: “Only count those things [results] that will influence your decisions.”
Markets aren’t a captivating topic–but animals are.
“If you avoid [working with] government, you do so at your own peril.”
Organic farming is the least efficient method possible. It takes more water, land, and other inputs. The only things you don’t use any of are pesticides and herbicides.
Echoing the words of an employee and another CEO: “Corporate social responsibility” is dead. Sustainability as a business approach is now increasingly seen as a competitive advantage rather than a burden.
Roberts also spoke of a different model for business called “benefit corporations,” where the goal is not to maximize profits–but to increase benefits to your employees and to society. It’s essentially what I look for in a great company (and one of my first arguments for why classical economics needs to be updated to account for these kinds of businesses.) He pointed to Patagonia and their recent “Common Threads” campaign as an example; the campaign tries to stop overconsumption by teaming with Ebay to sell used clothes. However… it’s not at all the most visible aspect of their website, and a person wouldn’t be aware of it unless they specifically searched for the link. I like the idea, but I’m not very convinced yet that it’s their main goal, or even a priority.
This is actually a great search engine for all kinds of benefit corporations–I never realized there were now so many, but it’s a promising trend if it’s not abused. B-corps, as the lingo goes, have been written into law in Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia, Vermont, New York, California, and Hawaii, and are pending in three other states and DC. The legislation requires certification by an independent certifier, but it lets b-corps get away with not maximizing profits–which shareholders can sue a corporation for in normal instances.