Book Review--Capitalism at the Crossroads: The Unlimited Business Opportunities in Solving the World's Most Difficult Problems
by William Baue
According to author Stuart Hart, sustainable global enterprise holds the key to reducing poverty, reversing environmental destruction, and even counteracting terrorism.
SocialFunds.com -- Cornell and University of North Carolina Business Professor Stuart Hart's Capitalism at the Crossroads perfectly complements University of Michigan Business Professor C. K. Prahalad's The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, perhaps even surpassing it in significance. The two professors collaborated from 1998 through 2002 on the seminal article that gave birth to the "bottom of the pyramid" (BOP) concept that Prof. Prahalad explains so eloquently in his book (see related book review). The BOP market theory holds that multinational corporations (MNCs) can simultaneously profit and help reduce global poverty by serving a market they have largely ignored until recently: the 4 billion people in the world living on less than $2 a day.
As good as Prof. Prahalad's book is, however, it leaves unanswered the question of how the BOP theory fits into the larger context of sustainability, particularly environmental sustainability. Prof. Hart's book not only answers this question, but also presents a comprehensive and compelling argument that capitalism cannot afford to ignore sustainability--indeed, that capitalism will thrive by embracing sustainability (and vice versa).
"This book takes the contrarian's view that business--more than either government or civil society--is uniquely equipped, at this point in history, to lead us toward a sustainable world in the years ahead," writes Prof. Hart. "Properly focused, the profit motive can accelerate (not inhibit) the transformation toward global sustainability, with nonprofits, governments, and multilateral agencies all playing crucial roles as collaborators."
Prof. Hart introduces the book describing how the shift in the relationship between capitalism and environmentalism from antagonistic to (sometimes) complementary forces mirrored his own shift from distrusting capitalism to respecting its power to leverage positive social change. The "greening" revolution of the 1980s demonstrated that companies could profit by employing more environmentally benign processes, such as recycling or waste reduction.
However laudable the greening approach is, it became apparent in the 1990s that reducing the environmental impact of existing business models would prove insufficient to address the imminent environmental and social crises, according to Prof. Hart. He was among those who at that time promoted moving "beyond greening" through "creative destruction" of environmentally and economically wasteful processes, replacing them with environmentally (and economically) beneficial processes.
"Unlike greening, which works through the existing supply chain to effect continuous improvement in the current business system, 'beyond greening' strategies focus on emerging technologies, new markets, and unconventional partners and stakeholders," writes Prof. Hart. "Such strategies are thus disruptive to current industry structure and raise the possibility of significant repositioning, enabling new players to establish leading positions as the process of creative destruction unfolds."
The primary business strategy that promises to arise from the ashes of creative destruction is the BOP approach of serving the needs of the poor in ways that are culturally appropriate,
"Capitalism at the Crossroads is built on strong theoretical underpinnings and illustrated with many practical examples. The author offers a pioneering roadmap to responsible macroeconomics and corporate growth."
, Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School and author of The Innovator's Dilemma
"I hope this book will be able to influence the thought processes of corporations and motivate them to adapt to forthcoming business realities for the sake of their own long-term existence. Besides business leaders, this is a thought-provoking book for the readers who are looking for solutions to capitalism’s problems."
, Founder and Managing Director, Grameen Bank, Bangladesh and 2007 Nobel Peace Prize recipient
"Capitalism at the Crossroads is a practical manifesto for business in the twenty-first century. Professor Stuart L. Hart provides a succinct framework for managers to harmonize concerns for the planet with wealth creation and unambiguously demonstrates the connection between the two. This book represents a turning point in the debate about the emerging role and responsibility of business in society."
, Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, co-author of Competing for the Future and author of The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid
"Stuart Hart was there at the beginning. Years ago when the term ‘sustainability’ had not yet reached the business schools, Stuart Hart stood as a beacon glowing in the umbrage. It is clear commerce is the engine of change, design the first signal of human intention, and global capitalism is at the crossroads. Stuart Hart is there again; this time lighting up the intersection."
, University of Virginia, co-author of Cradle to Cradle
"Professor Hart is on the leading edge of making sustainability an understandable and useful framework for building business value. This book brings together much of his insights developed over the past decade. Through case studies and practical advice, he argues powerfully that unlimited opportunities for profitable business growth will flow to those companies that bring innovative technology and solutions to bear on some of the world’s most intractable social and environmental problems."
, Chairman and CEO, DuPont
"Capitalism at the Crossroads clearly reveals the essence of what sustainability means to today’s business world. Hart’s analysis that businesses must increasingly adopt a business framework based on building sustainable value speaks to the entire sustainability movement’s relevance. Sustainability is more than today’s competitive edge; it is tomorrow’s model for success."
, President and CEO, Dofasco Inc.
"Stuart Hart has written a book full of big insights painted with bold strokes. He may make you mad. He will certainly make you think."
, President, The World Resources Institute
"A must-read for every CEO—and every MBA."
, Chairman, SustainAbility
"This book provides us with a vast array of innovative and practical ideas to accelerate the transformation to global sustainability and the role businesses and corporations will have to play therein. Stuart Hart manages to contribute in an essential way to the growing intellectual capital that addresses this topic. But, beyond that, the book will also prove to be a pioneer in the literature on corporate strategy by adding this new dimension to the current thinking."
, Professor, IESE Business School, Barcelona, Spain Member, Group Management Committee (Ret.), Royal Philips Electronics
"Capitalism at the Crossroads captures a disturbing and descriptive picture of the global condition. Dr. Hart constructs a compelling new corporate business model that simultaneously merges the metric of profitability along with societal value and environmental integrity. He challenges the corporate sector to take the lead and to invoke this change so that the benefits of capitalism can be shared with the entire human community worldwide."
, CEO of Tandus Group
"Stuart L. Hart makes a very important contribution to the understanding of how enterprise can help save the world’s environment. Crucial reading."
-Hernando de Soto
, President of The Institute for Liberty and Democracy and author of The Mystery of Capital
"Stuart Hart’s insights into the business sense of sustainability come through compellingly in Capitalism at the Crossroads. Any businessperson interested in the long view will find resonance with his wise reasoning."
, Founder and Chairman, Interface, Inc.
"This stimulating book documents the central role that business will play in humanity’s efforts to develop a sustainable global economy. Professor Hart presents an attractive vision of opportunity for those corporations that develop the new technologies, new business models, and new mental frames that are essential to a sustainable future."
, Former President of Cornell University
"The people of the world are in desperate need of new ideas if global industrial development is ever to result in something other than the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, with nature (and potentially all of us) suffering the collateral damage. Few have contributed more to meeting this need over the past decade than Stuart Hart by helping to illuminate the potential role for business and new thinking in business strategy in the journey ahead. Capitalism at the Crossroads challenges, provokes, and no doubt will stimulate many debates—which is exactly what is needed."
, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Chairperson of the Society for Organizational Learning, and author of The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of The Learning Organization