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The Quest for Sustainable Business
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The Quest for Sustainable Business

An Epic Journey in Search of Corporate Responsibility 

Wayne Visser
20% discount on this title
June 2012   256+ viii pp   234 x 156 mm  
paperback   ISBN 978-1-906093-76-1   £25.00  £20.00  

Alternative formats: eBook (ePub)   eBook (PDF)

Review copies   Inspection copies
Stories, ideas, links to video interviews, best practices and tools for making sustainable business work in a myriad of different contexts, cultures and settings.

"The Quest for Sustainable Business is two things: the most important and, in certain respects the only, historical account of corporate responsibility to date, and a bloody good read."  - Ethical Performance

Preview samples    Introduction   Prologue

Water footprints: lessons from Kenya's floriculture sector Wayne Visser in The Guardian, 20 August 2012

In January 2010, author, academic and social entrepreneur Dr Wayne Visser set off on a nine-month, 20-country “quest” to talk to entrepreneurs, business leaders and innovators and learn about how companies in all parts of the world can and are helping to tackle the world’s most pressing social and environmental problems. His aim was to explore the many varieties of global approaches to sustainable business practices first-hand and to share some of the most innovative global examples.

The result is this treasure trove of a book, full of stories, ideas, links to more than 100 video interviews, best practices and tools for making sustainable business work in a myriad of different contexts, cultures and settings. Besides sharing insights from his 2010 “CSR Quest World Tour”, the author captures his professional experiences and the evolution of sustainable business over the past 20 years.

The path begins in Africa and winds its way through Asia, North America, Europe, Australasia and Latin America. The author shares what he has learned in encounters with mega-corporations and small farmers, and conversations with CEOs and social entrepreneurs. There are facts and figures about world trends, and interviews with thought leaders and activists. This is a tale that consciously weaves the personal and the professional, mixing anecdotes and case studies. It looks outwards and reflects inwards, and is both autobiography and the life story of a global movement.


The Quest for Sustainable Business is two things: the most important and, in certain respects the only, historical account of corporate responsibility to date, and a bloody good read.

Visser’s project is much-needed. CSR has long existed in a historical vacuum that has too often led to a vacuity of ambition and statement. The Quest for Sustainable Business, with a comprehensive historical sweep taking us from apartheid South Africa to the EU’s Enterprise 2020 initiative, puts us back in the picture.

Despite its unnecessarily transcendental title, the book is rigorously grounded in the material realities that have shaped CSR since the 1980s, and robust in its comparisons of different approaches for promoting corporate responsibility, always keeping the particular historical conditions in mind.

Visser provides a crucial lesson in self-knowledge: that CSR has not always been as it is today, and that what we now accept as truisms in the industry were once hotly debated and treated quite differently. In sum: the CSR world has been one of change.

The Quest for Sustainable Business is a short book, and one that mainly impresses with the ease in which it switches from one context to another at pace, allowing the reader to keep its various strands in mind.

The book negotiates the difficult tension between historicising and making relevant for today, and between abstract argumentation and real-life, day-to-day business. Its lessons for the latter, as the CSR world enters another period of fluidity and upheaval, may prove invaluable.
Ben Hickman, Ethical Performance, July 2012


This book is a journey of two kinds. First, it is an autobiography of Dr. Wayne Visser, one of the world's top 100 thought leaders in Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility, and a Top 100 Global Sustainability Leader. Second, the book presents the recent evolution of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) or as Dr. Visser's coined the term - Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility.

The Quest for Sustainable Business takes the reader on a voyage from the African continent to Europe, then to Asia Pacific and the Americas with the final destination in the United Kingdom. Incidentally, this route reflects the life journey of the author, who was born in Zimbabwe and spent his childhood in South Africa, and who now lives in London, UK. With the CSR concept much promulgated in Western society, the book can be a surprising discovery of CSR undertakings in the developing world. For example, the book highlights a number of market and government initiatives in Kenya, Nigeria, China and India. Nevertheless, it is somewhat disappointing that the author does not elaborate on the state of CSR in Russia - a country with worlds largest energy resources and forest reserves.

The book can be valuable to anyone who is interested in the diverse and contested concept of CSR and its development in different parts of the world. As the reader discovers along the journey, drivers for CSR range from economic, political, social, cultural and even geographical characteristics. The latter becomes apparent when comparing the Netherlands and Australia. How does this happen? Perhaps it would be better to let the reader find out what a difference can be made by the immediate need for a remedy and how this can transform the identity of a nation.
Karina Yadav, CSR International Book Review Digest

Author’s introduction

This item available in PDF format for free download     Download

Prologue: Roots and shoots. Early days (Zimbabwe)

This item available in PDF format for free download     Download



1. Divided and united: Investing in change (South Africa)
2. Holism and hope: Towards a SANE society (South Africa)
3. Governance and greed: Accounting for impacts (South Africa)
4. Tears and flowers: Recreating a culture of ethics (Kenya)
5. Friends and foes: Oil on troubled waters (Nigeria)


6. Directives and policies: Eurocrats take on CSR (Belgium)
7. Green and growing: Re-engineering growth (Germany, Austria)
8. Breakdown and breakthrough: Navigating the chaos (Hungary)
9. Partnerships and poverty: New governance for a new world (Switzerland)
10. Cycles and cradles: Faster, further and higher (The Netherlands)


11. Kaizen and kyosei: Driving a better future (Japan)
12. Yin and yang: Striving for harmony (China)
13. Too much sun: A slow starter (Australia)
14. Merlions and orang-utans: A new breed of entrepreneurs (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand)
15. Access and justice: Purpose out of chaos (India)


16. Mythology and pathology: Unmasking the corporation (Canada)
17. Plantations and houses: The lessons of shared responsibility (Guatemala, Mexico)
18. Emergence and convergence: Birth of a new capitalism (United States)
19. Globalisation and innovation: Redefining growth and progress (United States)
20. Economics and evolution: Barefoot journeys towards abundance (Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador)


21. Humans and ecology: From New Age to ‘new’ economics (United Kingdom)
22. Meaning and change: Making a difference (United Kingdom)
23. Research and reading: Landmarks for Sustainability (United Kingdom)
24. Pioneers and paradoxes: In search of sustainable business (United Kingdom)
25. Death and rebirth: From CSR 1.0 to CSR 2.0 (United Kingdom)

Epilogue: Smart, shared and sustainable.The alchemical quest

At the heart of this book are over 100 interviews with some of the biggest names in sustainable business practices. Dr Visser talks to some of the world’s leading thinkers on sustainability and innovation, from the legendary Bill McDonough to chief European Commission CSR coordinators. Here are excerpts from some of his exclusive interviews:

“An established economic model – and everything that goes with it, the politics and the way you think – is coming under profound challenge, and the ‘captains of industry’ have found this really deeply upsetting. I’ve often said that our greatest allies in environmental and sustainability worlds are death and retirement. I mean they just weed out people who can’t change and then a younger generation comes through and they do increasingly think differently”. John Elkington

“Every time I turn around – whether it’s in India, whether it’s in China and Malaysia, Tanzania – there’s no shortage of reasons for optimism. What is the hardest part of all is managing change and having the understanding of how crucial and how fruitful cooperation can be right now. The problem isn’t our lack of tools; the problem is our ability to manage all these wonderfully powerful tools that we have to a human effect”. Jeffrey Sachs

“China has 20 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities in terms of its air quality. 750,000 people die prematurely every year in China because of respiratory diseases related to air pollution. China has only 25% of the world’s average per capita availability of water. China is roughly one-quarter desert, and the desert is advancing somewhere between 1,300 and 1,900 square miles per year. Furthermore, 10% of China’s agricultural land is contaminated with heavy metals and other contaminants.  We’re just on the cusp of understanding all of the ramifications of China’s environmental degradation and pollution for the health of the Chinese people”. Elizabeth Economy

“I’m absolutely convinced that we’re in the midst of the next transformation … from the 19th-century form of industrial capitalism to a sustainable form of capitalism that actually has the potential to solve social and environmental problems; to create wealth for everyone in the world and to take us more quickly to the next generation of potentially clean and sustainable technology”. Stuart Hart

“We need to move businesses into the rule-making business. We’ve spent a decade and a half experimenting … but the thin end of the wedge is the kind of social compact, or political compact, that is going to be needed to address the next round, if capital markets continue to fail and traditional multilateralism doesn’t deliver the goods”. Simon Zadek

“It takes 16,000 litres of water to produce leather products, 2,700 litres to produce a T-shirt and 2,400 litres to make a hamburger.” Marjon van Opijnen

“Three things [that give me hope] stand out. One is the rapid rise of awareness and leadership in the private sector and the corresponding awakening of civil society… Secondly, I’m encouraged by the fact that … there’s nothing in the universe so powerful as six billion minds wrapping around a problem. And third, I’m very encouraged by the quality of the young people I see. They realise there is less time … there’s less frivolity and more focus on doing what’s necessary. So I think the future is in pretty good hands”. Amory Lovins

I told him that sustainability is boring. I said to Alex Krauer, ‘What would you say if I would ask you about your relationship with your wife? How would you characterise it? As sustainable?’ If this is the bigger goal, sustainability, then I feel really sorry because it doesn’t celebrate human creativity and human nature”. Michael Braungart

“The issue lies with the nature of the CSR function itself: probably the most cross-functional, cross-silo business discipline to emerge so far in the history of management. It requires a profound level of cross-business functionality and integration to be effective. This is a real challenge to most companies, which are founded on vertical accountabilities.” Leeora Black

“I’ve always had my doubts about shareholder capitalism because we keep talking about the shareholders as being owners of the business, but most of them haven’t a clue what business they’re in. They deal through agents of one sort or another ... and they are basically punters with no particular interest in the horse that they’re backing, as long as it wins”. Charles Handy

“Given the fact that we live in a finite world – and all of our activities require some depletion and some pollution; some negative effect on the system of which we’re a part – that the larger our economy gets, the heavier the burden on the rest of the system. There comes a point where the benefits (which are real) of expansion of the economy may be outweighed by the costs inflicted on the rest of the system of the expanded economy”. Herman Daly

“The pursuit of profitable environmental policies, technologies and change is
desirable if we are to move towards greater sustainability, but the political and social nature of their impacts must be recognised. ‘Green’ does not automatically mean ‘good’. There will always be winners and losers, but there is a real danger in India at least that the drive towards greater sustainability will have some regressive social outcomes.” Emma Mawdsley

“The other way is that the big energy users basically try to grab whatever they can and hold it for themselves – and that’s what we’re doing … I don’t think humans will disappear off the planet. I think our current industrialised society will profoundly change. I think our political systems will change. I don’t think democracy is going to survive the downturn”. Dennis Meadows

Dr Wayne Visser is Founder and Director of the think-tank CSR International and research company Kaleidoscope Futures. He is the author of 15 books and over 180 publications (chapters, articles, etc.), and has delivered more than 170 professional speeches in over 50 countries in the last 20 years. In addition, Wayne is Senior Associate at the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership, and Adjunct Professor of CSR at Warwick Business School, United Kingdom.

Before gaining his PhD in Corporate Social Responsibility (Nottingham University, United Kingdom), Wayne was Director of Sustainability Services for KPMG, and strategy analyst for Capgemini in South Africa. His other qualifications include an MSc in Human Ecology (Edinburgh University, United Kingdom) and a Bachelor of Business Science with Honours in Marketing (Cape Town University, South Africa).

In 2011, Wayne was listed in the Top 100 Global Sustain Ability Leaders (ranking by ABC Carbon) and the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Europe and the Middle East 2011 (ranking by Centre for Sustainability and Excellence, and Trust Across America). He was also winner of the Outstanding Author Contribution Award at the Emerald Literati Network Awards for Excellence 2011 and recipient of the Outstanding Teacher Award of The Warwick MBA 2010/11.

Wayne’s work has taken him to more than 50 countries in the last 20 years. In the past two years alone, he has travelled to more than 25 countries to share best practices in corporate sustainability and responsibility. Wayne lives in London, United Kingdom, and enjoys art, nature, writing poetry and travelling around the world. A full biography and much of his writing and art is on