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Where does the U.S. Stand on Sustainability?

Government Accountability Office Seal

Piggy-backing on my recent post regarding Pittsburgh’s # 6 spot in a sustainability ranking of most sustainable metros conducted by Site Selection magazine,  I wanted to point out that the United States is not to be found on the “top ten list”  of its sustainable nations.   This news is not surprising.  A similar ranking regarding global responsible competitiveness showed the United States placing behind most other industrialized countries.  AccountAbility, a leading global non-profit organization working to promote sustainable development, released The State of Responsible Competitiveness 2007 in which it ranked the responsible business practices of 108 countries.  In it, the United States ranked 18th.  Why is the United States so far behind in sustainability?

Some point to its lack of clarity on Corporate Social Responsibility public policies as a contributing factor to its lagging global position.  In fact, “Policy Drivers,” that is the strength of public policies and ‘soft power’ that encourage responsible business practices, accounts for one third of the over all measure of “responsible competitiveness” as defined by AccountAbility in its 2007 report.  If Sustainability is a function of CSR public policies, the United States won’t find itself on a top 10 list any time soon.  A recent post from my colleague Lane Jost regarding the government’s decision on the carbon bill reminded me of an eye opening study from the United States Government Accountability Office regarding Federal Activities Related to Global Corporate Responsibility.  The study showed that current United States’ CSR public policies are ineffective due to lack of clarity from the federal government regarding the role of CSR public policies resulting in diluted effort in promoting CSR policies.  Moreover there is lack of enforcement measures to implement established CSR policies.  Lastly there are inefficiencies due to multiple departments and programs overlapping CSR efforts resulting in a waste of resources.  In fact the study found that there are at least 12 U.S. Agencies with over 50 programs, policies and activities generally related corporate social responsibility with no coordination in between them.  There has been no documented progress organizing these programs since the GAO report was released in 2005.

Until the United States gets serious about addressing our CSR and Sustainability policies, it cannot hope to lead sustainability charts on any competitive basis.

Image Credit:  GAO seal via Wikimedia Commons under public domain.

Written by Emily DeMasi

Emily McKinin DeMasi is a 2011 MBA/ MA Public Policy candidate and Peace Corps Fellow at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. Her thesis work concerns Corporate Social Responsibility in the United States. She also works as a Research Fellow at Bridgeway Capital, a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) in downtown Pittsburgh. Emily has worked as an Associate in a Private Equity Placement Firm in NY and as a Water and Sanitation Volunteer in Ivory Coast, West Africa. She hopes to combine her business background with her passion for development and inspire others in the fields of Sustainability and CSR.

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    • Great question Ed! Look for my upcoming post this week entitled “FUEL for thought”. It will address where CSR and energy policy can intersect.

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