Last November I attended a conference put on by Net Impact, an organization whose mission is to "use the power of business to positively impact social and environmental concerns." Everyone spent a lot of time talking about 'giving back' and 'social responsibility.' There was a strong underlying theme that 'making money' wasn't enough. Now, I agree with the principle of sustainability--that you should leave the environment, including the social one, at least as well off as you found it. It's sort of like the Hippocratic Oath of 'do no harm.' But let's face it--making money is a lot of fun. Is it inherently bad? I found a new, valuable perspective today at the Fast Company web site:
The way that corporations define social performance reinforces a pervasive but deeply flawed assumption -- that if there is a direct tie between an action and a profit, then there can't be any social benefit. It is unfortunate that we refer to social sector organizations in the United States as nonprofits. One company's annual report described how their newly launched medical device led to a radical improvement in post-surgical outcomes -- but only to explain the company's improving business performance. Apparently, medical breakthroughs have nothing to do with social performance.
You should read the entire article by Chris Trimble and Vijay Govidnarajan. They frame the issue beautifully in context of the recent movie "Farenheit 911."
Innovating new solutions for the market IS a social good. Being more efficient, being more effective, making more people happy is good. We can't be exploitive, making one group happy at the expense of the other, but isn't it just a matter of being a wise and well-informed business person?