GALVESTON BAY FOUNDATION REMARKS
SEPTEMBER 9, 2008
“THE PRIVILEGE OF PROFITS AND THE SOCIAL
RESPONSIBILITY OF LEADERS”
? Thank you to Bill King, Bob Stokes of the Galveston Bay Foundation
for the opportunity to speak with you today. And congratulations
again to Berdon Lawrence and the Kirby Corporation for the good
work that you do on behalf of the Galveston Bay Foundation.
? Galveston Bay, ladies and gentleman, is a perfect metaphor for what I
would like to present to you today. The title of my remarks is “The
privilege of profits and the social responsibility of leaders.”
? Galveston Bay is the perfect metaphor because it represents the best
and the worst of what we do in companies and large organizations
every day. In company after company, in organization after
organization, we do good work. The leaders, staff and entire supply
chain work together to produce the output that fulfills the purpose of
the company. They generate a revenue stream that pays the salaries
and other costs of the organization. They reward their shareholders
and other stakeholders with dividends and many benefits. They invest
in the future and perpetuate their ability to stay in business and to
continue to do good things.
? Likewise Galveston Bay Foundation does good work. It preserves,
protects and enhances the natural resources of the Galveston Bay
estuarine system for all of us here today and for our generations to
come. It seeks solutions to conflicts among the users of the Bay; it
develops projects that preserve and enhance the natural resources of
the Bay system; it provides resources and guidance for education
projects that develop a constituency for the Bay, from schoolchildren
to public officials; it supports the allocation of public and private
resources for research into the multiple resources of the Bay system.
? This is all good work. We can be proud of the work of companies and organizations throughout this region who fulfill their purposes for the good of all and we can likewise be proud of those many volunteers, Board members, advisors and the few paid staff who see to it that the Galveston Bay Foundation is run successfully.
? But what are the not so good aspects of Galveston Bay and what are those worst effects of companies and organizations in our area that I referenced. Why is there a dark side to talk about? How dark is it? Can we do anything about it?
? In the first instance the dark side of Galveston Bay has nothing to do with the Bay itself. It has to do with the abuse and neglect that it takes from those of us who live and work on and around it and use it for so many different purposes. It has to do with the damage that has been done to this bay over many decades when too many of us did not realize or did not care about its fragility and the cumulative impact of too many people with too little concern or knowledge doing too many things to it such that it has been damaged as much as it has. Its estuarine nature means that it receives whatever we send into it from fresh water sources and the surrounding shoreline and then also whatever the Gulf does to it.
? Over millennia nature had its own way of preserving, protecting, changing, restoring, refreshing Galveston Bay. It was home to nature’s bounty. In the past two plus centuries it has been impacted
by millions of people, their commerce, their harvests, their settlement and development, their thoughtlessness, their exploitation, and their wastes, industrial, commercial and human. To say that Galveston Bay has been stressed is an understatement. It has in fact been damaged. Let’s call it like it is.
? Regrettably Galveston Bay is not the only natural eco-system that we
sthave damaged in our region and in our country. In the 21 century we
have a lot to do to make up for the ignorance, neglect, carelessness and damage that we have inflicted on much of nature and our natural ththresources. The 19 and 20 centuries have to be described as a low
point in our history for what we have failed to do about taking advantage of what our forebears passed on to us. The unfortunate
attribute of “manifest destiny” in our cultural conscience not only pushed us from east to west geographically, it also fueled a sense of entitlement among us culturally that we could do whatever we chose to do economically, regardless of the consequences, because we took for granted that whatever was there to exploit, we had the right to exploit it and whatever was there to develop, we had the right to develop it, and whatever nature did about it was whatever nature would do about. We lived through a time when individualism and capitalism were twin engines of growth at all costs. When duty to shareholders, investors, was the main duty and for some the only duty.
st ? Well ladies and gentlemen it is time to pay the piper. In the 21century duty to shareholders will continue but it must continue in the larger context that shareholders are one group in the larger community of stakeholders. And just as shareholder stakeholders warrant what is their due, so too do the other stakeholders of companies and organizations at the same time. And among these stakeholders are those who are impacted or touched in a variety of ways by the work of companies and organizations, governments at all levels, and communities as they go about their daily activities. In other words we citizens are the stakeholders of all organized entities and we citizens live in a finite place called our eco-system, our region, our state and our nation.
? The future must be about social responsibility and sustainability as much as it is about economic growth and prosperity. We must proceed down a path that assures both at the same time. We must redefine the purpose of every organization, company, government and community to include both social responsibility and sustainability alongside whatever else they do in business, or any other pursuit.
? I heard the CEO of a major company recently say the following: “I work for my shareholders and no one else. If I spend my time doing anything that is not in the interests of returning on their investment, then I am wasting my and their time.” This was said in 2008. It would have been less surprising to me in 1908 or perhaps 1958. But to have such a mindset and to disseminate such a view throughout his organization in this time says to me this person is both out of touch and moreover out of line. Where did he come from, how did he get to
where he got, how did his board choose him? This person’s company is suffering reputationally today and will continue to suffer until this mindset catches up with where society and our economy are headed in this century.
? Let me share with you my closing remarks from comments I made st century leader to a group of recently when asked to describe the 21
MBA students at Rice University. As part of my remarks I talked about the need for contextual leadership, that is, to lead with a clear understanding of the technical, political and cultural context in which one operates. I also talked about organizational leadership, that is, the need to have the capacity, achievement and relationship requirements of the role the leader fulfills. I described some personal leadership requirements, which I believe are important, such as values, behaviors, skills, worldview, personality, diversity, and authenticity. Then I closed with the following:
? Leadership must embrace sustainability and social responsibility. Sustainability and social responsibility will be a hallmark of the
stdistinguished leaders in the 21 century. Our world is finite. Our
environment is vulnerable. Social relationships among fellow citizens all over the world are essential. Environmental degradation, social strife, international and geo-political disruption, excessive classism, poverty, hunger and ignorance, bigotry and inhumanity to man are regrettable and unnecessary. If today’s and tomorrow’s leaders are
not concerned, conscientious and taking steps to address the problems of society and mankind as part of what they do in their organizations, they are not stepping up to what leadership is ultimately all about. The end game is not your shareholders if your shareholders have to exist surrounded by such issues. The end game is to respect and honor all your stakeholders, including your shareholders, which includes all of us who share this earth, utilize its resources, and live our lives to self-actualization. A leader cannot throw his or her trash over the fence, ignoring the property line, foul the earth and the water and the air, exploit others for personal gain, disregard the common good and believe they can get way with it. Unfortunately ladies and
thgentleman, I said in closing, this happened all too often in the 20
century. Shame on my and past generations for this lack of leadership. May you all do better in your time than we have done in my time.
? I repeat for you today so that you know when I talk about the worst that companies and organizations do in our society it is to ignore or seek to avoid their social responsibilities and the levels of sustainability that we need to carry on through this century.
? We can’t do without Galveston Bay any more than we can do without the Gulf of Mexico, the Buffalo Bayou, the Trinity River, the Houston Ship Channel, the Central Business District, the Galleria, the Woodlands, the Johnson Space Center, the Medical Center, or any other natural and man made creation in this region. We have to learn to live together in ways that sustain and restore our natural surroundings even while we continue to develop and grow.
? It is no different for our natural surroundings and our man-made surroundings than it is for our nation and our energy needs of today and tomorrow. We cannot go forward without more energy. We need more energy from every possible source of energy. We need more hydrocarbons to use in today’s infrastructure and today’s technology.
We also need more different forms of energy, other than hydrocarbons and the technologies that get us there. We are learning to produce so-called “dirty energy” in clean ways. We can do more. We can use
technology and regulation to trap and store our gaseous wastes in affordable ways that same way we have learned over decades to capture and manage our solid wastes and our liquid wastes. While we have a ways to go to fully master the management of physical and liquid waste, we’ve nonetheless come a long way. We can do the same with gaseous wastes and we will all be better off for it. Sustainability and social responsibility apply every bit as much to the oil and gas, petrochemical and energy industries as they do to every other form of commerce and development.
? What will it take, ladies and gentlemen, to ultimately preserve and restore Galveston Bay and by that commitment do the same for every other natural and man-made resource and eco-system in our region and the nation? What will it take to elevate social responsibility and sustainability to the conscience of every leader in our community and beyond and then to download that conscience into a set of conscientious behaviors against which we can hold every leader accountable? Is that a doable task? Do we have the right to expect it? Can we enforce it?
? I say “yes” to all three questions. It is doable, we have the right to expect it and we can enforce it. “How?” you might ask?
? To start with there is a need to discuss, describe, explain and in general educate ourselves about social responsibility and
sustainability. Fortunately in the 1990’s many companies, and other organizations, government and communities began a dialogue on these subjects. We have made some progress. We have for example the Galveston Bay Foundation for several decades and the past decade has seen ever more attention and support for its work. There are numerous other efforts underway in our region and throughout our communities that likewise protect and preserve. But I would submit the discussions and education are not yet core in the manner in which we live our lives together. It still exists on the fringes. There are two ways we know this. One is that social responsibility and sustainability are not fully embedded in our educational processes and school curricula. What gets taught usually gets learned. We miss opportunities year in and year out to impact more and more of our young people with a consistent, informed education about social responsibility and sustainability from their earliest days through their entire academic life. The second is from our fund raising efforts. It is an ongoing challenge to raise money to do what it takes for preservation and protection. It’s important that people who do raise
money are persistent in what they do. Yet, it remains a challenge to explain and explain and work to convince companies, organizations, government and communities to do more with their funding.
? Second, this is where the privilege of profits kicks in. We do have a sound economic system that produces the most bountiful goods and services ever known to society because it is geared toward making money and returning to shareholders. The sustained privilege of profits must continue to be the hallmark of our economy. But here is the test of it: there is no alternative to preserving and protecting our st century. We’re onto a good thing these past eco-systems in the 21
couple of decades and we’re not likely to stop now. The costs of
preserving and protecting will only increase. There are essentially two ways to pay these costs. One is through higher taxes and user fees. Another is higher voluntary giving. I’m frankly for higher giving, if it will work. Taxes are generally the least efficient way to
collect and spend money. Government doesn’t exist to be as efficient as possible. It exists to take care of whatever society cannot take care of without it. Higher giving comes from our overall profitability, from companies, organizations and our communities, also ourselves. We are all the beneficiaries of the profits that we make. Let’s use them to benefit the stakeholders who are out there preserving and protecting our waters, shores and marshlands in the case of Galveston Bay and other sensitive needs wherever else in our region and nation more efforts are needed. To part with our money is a hard thing, for companies and for persons, and this is where we can take one more set of actions.
? We make social responsibility and sustainability more public than it is today. Everything about social responsibility and sustainability today is voluntary. People can jump in or not. Companies that take it seriously are recognized and their reputations are enhanced because it is perceived as the right thing to do. But what about those who don’t. What do we do about them? How do we establish a standard that is recognized as appropriate for all companies, organizations, communities and citizens? This is where the bite and the hard work have to take us next. Do I have a clear plan? No, I don’t. Not yet. But we should all work on it together. When we reflect on the history of this country and our region, we can see that we do have norms and standards that apply pressures on ourselves in many respects. This is what I’m talking about. How do we move in the direction that in addition to education and using the privilege of making money to give money, how do we also move towards an appropriate standard of what the outcome should look like? Naming and shaming may be a harsh approach. But it works. Taking our business to those who embrace social responsibility and sustainability and taking our business away from those who don’t is another tactic that works. Setting community
expectations through our voluntary organizations that people who want to join learn that the price of membership is active participation and contribution to doing what is for the social good and for the sustainable good of our region and the nation. Social pressure may work. We should endeavor to make it work.
? Failure to preserve and protect is not an option. I don’t look forward to a day when we have to rely on taxes and regulations as the last resort to do what we know is the right thing now.
? So Bill and Bob, thank you and your Board and your staff for the example you set with Galveston Bay Foundation. We thank you for what you have done and are continuing to do. You are a metaphor for the community and an example to all of us. Ladies and gentlemen, let’s all look forward to how we collectively and individually educate ourselves and our children about our social responsibilities and the opportunities to sustain our way of life and restore what we’ve damaged in another time. Let’s all contribute from the privilege we
have of making money and share more of our profits from our companies and our own pursuits to benefit Galveston Bay Foundation and so many other important efforts throughout our region. Finally let’s seriously consider the standards and norms for our community
and utilize social pressure, reputation pressure, and other civil forms of tolerance and intolerance to move people, motivate people who are not adequately knowledgeable or interested in the quality of our life and the eco-system we inhabit to be more curious and to contribute their share to our collective betterment.
? Thank you for your help and support. And thank you Galveston Bay Foundation.