Guest Post: The Role of Business in a Global Society: Progress or Protect?

Mar 13, 2012 10:15 PM ET

Posted by John Friedman

The concept of 'The Butterfly Effect' explains that even small actions can have far reaching and unintended consequences. This presents a unique problem for businesses operating in a global context because any business working across cultures must face the fact that -- no matter how they conduct their business -- they are going to have some impacts that will cause some stakeholder to question their actions.

To be sure, global standards such as GRI, the Global Sullivan Principles, and others define a minimum set of standards for global business. But for a business seeking to obtain competitive advantage in a global context, conforming to global standards is not a leadership position. In fact, any business hoping that adherence to minimum, agreed-upon standards will give them a competitive advantage is in fact relying on the assumption that its competitors engage in malfeasance or suffer from incompetence.

In light of Matt Browne's piece 'Can Global Brands Become a Force for Good,' I suggest that it is much harder to please some of the people all of the time, you can satisfy all of the people some of the time but will never satisfy everyone all of the time.

Fundamentally the question comes down to two extremes; whether people see businesses as having a responsibility to follow the 'highest' (often equated by one's own) standards and to serve as a driver for changes (seen as improvements) or whether they believe that the businesses have a responsibility to be respectful and protective of the local indigenous cultures wherever they do business.

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John Friedman, an award-winning communications professional and recognized sustainability expert with more than 20 years of experience, is co-founder and vice chair of the board for the Sustainable Business Network of Washington (SBNOW).

On social media, Friedman is a recognized as a thought leader in CSR, listing among the top voices in CSR by Forbes’ Brandfog. His insights on sustainability issues and strategy have been a regular feature on SustainableBrands since 2008 and have appeared on,, Vaultcareers, and JustMeans.

When not volunteering his time, Friedman serves as director of public relations for Sodexo, Inc. He can be reached at, is @JohnFriedman on Twitter and can be connected on LinkedIn and Facebook.


This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post website and can be found here. For more information and posts by the author, visit his profile page here. This post was distributed with full permision of the author.