Eighteenth-century economist Adam Smith propagated profit maximization as the incentive for businesses to create goods and services that society needs. He argued that free-market competition would ensure consumers get the best quality product at the cheapest price.
Two hundered years later, Milton Friedman agreed in his seminal 1970 New York Times op-ed that the sole responsibility of business is to maximize profits ‘so long as it stays within the rules of the game’. Incentives coupled with some regulations were to henceforth safeguard societal interests.
Instead, incentives created bad behaviour. Regulations were routinely bypassed with intelligent loopholes. Despite this—to encourage sustainability today—we are again using incentives and regulations. That’s predominantly what the ESG framework focuses on. And what do we see? Rampant greenwashing and box-ticking.
To address today’s existential challenges, we need innovation of the highest order. Innovation can neither be legislated nor driven by extrinsic incentives alone. We need a values-driven revolution. We need steward leadershipsteward leadership—the ability to create a win-win-win future for stakeholders, society, and the environment. ESG must upgrade to ESL, where the ‘L’ stands for Steward Leadership. In ESL, ‘G’ is a subset of ‘L’.
Sustainable Sustainability lays out a practical, step-by-step playbook for any commercial entity that wants to succeed at marrying profit and purpose.
About the Author
Rajeev is the CEO of Stewardship Asia Centre (SAC) in Singapore, and Founder President of the Leadership Energy Consulting (LEC) Company in Seattle, WA, USA.
Author of the Wall Street Journal and Amazon bestseller Open Source Leadership (McGraw Hill), Too Many Bosses, Too Few Leaders (Simon & Schuster), co-author of Be the Change (McGraw Hill) and a regular writer for Forbes, he constantly challenges conventional wisdom on leadership, management, stewardship, sustainability, and corporate governance.
Prior to joining SAC and starting LEC, he was CEO of the Iclif Leadership & Governance Centre. Formerly, he has been Chief Learning Officer of both Coca-Cola and Morgan Stanley, and has held senior positions at American Express, HSBC and Goldman Sachs. At Goldman, Rajeev helped found Pine Street – the firm’s acclaimed leadership academy – and headed Pine Street for Europe and Asia. In his early career, he was a banker and currency trader.
A high-energy inspirational speaker, Rajeev provides speaking, coaching, consulting and advisory services to corporate and public sector clients globally; and serves as guest faculty at leading business schools. He is a sought after international speaker and has been widely featured in international media platforms such as CNN, Bloomberg TV & Radio, National Public Radio (NPR), Harvard Business Review, CNBC, Fast Company, Leader to Leader, American Management Association (AMA) magazine, Leadership Excellence magazine, The Times of India, Straits Times, Business Times, and many more.
In 2014 and 2017 he was named one of Top 100 Global Thought Leaders for Trustworthy Business by ‘Trust Across America’.