So, if you've been reading these pages regularly, you will know that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is more than just a euphemism for giving money to charity, ethical trading or doing one's bit for the environment.
You will probably have heard all about staff development benefits and how company CSR policy influences graduates in their choice of employer. You may even have heard how having the right policy influences customers and buyers of commercial services or saves a pile of cash in travel expenses and photocopier paper. Almost certainly you will have heard companies' pronouncements about how important it is to be part of the community.
For me, the best policies are indeed built around people; recruits and employees, customers and suppliers and, of course, community stakeholders.
There are numerous examples of major corporations linking people-based programmes to commercial success. Transco's 'Safety Charity Challenge' invited employees to put forward safety at work suggestions in exchange for donations to charity. Result: Fewer accidents at work, less time off for injury and direct impact on bottom line.
London Underground's work stress reduction efforts focussed on the same ground; less stress equals less absenteeism equals better productivity.
Environmental responsibility has also enabled proponents to enhance their reputation and commercial standing. One of the best examples is that of BHP Billiton, the world's largest mining concern. This sector does not generally have a particularly savoury reputation; however, Billiton executives have clearly read the Brundtland Report (1987) and acted accordingly.
Today, Billiton operates a sustainable development approach taking full heed of environmental and social issues in all its major projects. The company has, for example, publicly stated a policy of never disposing of new mine tailings into rivers or deep sea locations and is recognised as a world leader in environmental rehabilitation.
This is perhaps best demonstrated at its Selbaie zinc mine in northern Quebec where, working with the Canadian government, groundwater metal traces and pH in worked out areas have been completely restored to predevelopment levels. For a business dependent on government concessions, this is not just a responsible way to behave, it is the only way to do business at all.
So, CSR is not just about social conscience or doing what's right; it's just good business. Or, for those of us in the marketing profession, the ultimate market positioning tool.
My only fear is that CSR becomes just a fashion that will come and go like matrix management, just-in-time and various types of financial instrument.
It is certainly true that a decade ago few, if any, FTSE100 companies published a CSR, sustainability or Triple Bottom Line report.
Today, few, if any, do not take the opportunity to tell us what good citizens they are and many gain appropriate recognition through awards schemes such as Business in the Community's (BitC) Big Tick and Corporate Responsibility Index.
All this is excellent, but there's a nagging worry in the back of my mind. Is CSR a cynical manoeuvre by business to take advantage of current public opinion for commercial gain or have the captains of UK industry truly taken the road to Damascus? Is it all about enhancing shareholder value or have we really recognised the moral imperative?
In one sense, it really doesn't matter. I suspect that most of us believe that the current trend is good for both business and communities. So why should it matter what people's motives may be? I would certainly not deny being one of the first to climb down off my moral high horse when the cheque book comes out.
Well, to be sustainable, I believe that we require a cadre of responsible leaders who recognise that business can only thrive where society thrives and who give due consideration to the ethical, environmental and social dimensions of business in all policy areas. These people are people who actually care and true members of the human race. They recognise that CSR is part of their licence to operate; those that don't, particularly in consumer markets, will face a bleak future.
We could, at this point, enter an interminable Gibranian debate about man's psyche and the battle of good versus evil.
However, I think that it is sufficient to recognise that good is winning. Although the Millennium Development Goals are unlikely to be met, fewer Africans starve as a result of Live8 and, whilst not every nation has ratified the treaty, Kyoto clearly has put environmental issues on the corporate agenda. Global stuff maybe, but the evidence is also encouraging.
In a recent survey by BitC, 82 per cent of companies now claim to integrate CSR in their business practices; that's up from 62 per cent on three years ago with retailers and the media/entertainment industry in the vanguard. And, particularly encouraging, is the fact that 69 per cent are consulting staff and building their CSR activities bottom up; they are involving people.
The only slight concern that I would have is that this data is largely self-certificated with only 40% of companies subjecting their statements to external assurance.
If you're still sceptical, all I can do is suggest that you continue to take a look at this Thrive page each week; there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that Birmingham business is engaged.