Blurred lines: Are corporations beating the social sector at the sustainability game?

It's no news to most that the old 'charity' vs 'business' lines have blurred significantly. Corporate Social Responsibility is moving from simply 'greenwashing' to being an integrated part of value chains, as customers and the planet demand change.

However, what does still come as a surprise to me, is when I see businesses outperforming the social sector on matters of sustainability.

An example of this that I saw recently was with waste. When attending a meeting at a large development organization's offices, I noticed that their cafeteria offered no recycling options, and the plates, cups and cutlery were all made of plastic. Their trash cans could hardly contain all the landfill waste accumulating as people ate their lunch. Contrasting this, a visit I made to a well-known corporation's campus revealed that they had decreased waste associated with dining by over 10% by getting rid of all take out boxes and offering all left over food to homeless shelters. Not a plastic fork in sight.

Perhaps strangely, instances like this fill me with hope. In my opinion the traditional 'third sector' exists to fill gaps that standard corporations and government ignore. But given that the financing structure tends to breed dependency, and relies on exit strategies - the fact that corporations are starting to fill certain gaps themselves can only be good news.

Add to this the fact that we are now in the age of new types of business, new ways to finance innovations, and any number of ways individuals can engage with issues of sustainability - the lines are likely to keep getting more blurry. I say thank goodness for that.