Corporate Sustainability and Social Responsibility Are about Resilient Companies

Abstract. Sustainability has become a widely used term in business. The term has been linked to the concept of the environment, with many corporate activists seeking to make businesses, rather than government or individuals in NGOs, responsible for setting standards and delivering universal minimums across industries. As a result, corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become a widely deployed buzzword. Yet, the purpose of corporate social responsibility lies in the development of resilient companies. Moreover, the underlying activities undertaken in promoting sustainability within academic research would seem to be at odds with the reality of global sustainability. Crucially, it is well documented that the growth of economic wealth leads to improvements in both social welfare and concern for the environment. Hence, socialist-facing ideas that have been promoted within industries undermine outcomes such as the protection of the environment. This paper demonstrates that many researchers that seem to be aligned with sustainability misapply terms and utilize fully defined definitions in creating research outcomes aligned with biased research designed to deliver a predefined result.

Corporate Sustainability and Social Responsibility Are about Resilient Companies

The use of terminology is critical when making an argument (Walton, 1990). A research paper correctly determining a valid and unbiased result necessitates defining the expressions and vocabulary used within the paper. Unfortunately, the production of academic papers concerning sustainability in business has been largely skewed through the misleading use of the terms sustainability and environment. By interviewing business leaders and asking about the environment without defining the terminology used, the results may be collected in a manner that is at odds with the purpose of the study.

This research demonstrates that asking business leaders about the environment often elicits results concerning the internal environment of the firm, which are then misrepresented as comments on global climate or the sustainability of global ecosystems. In addition, by demonstrating the misapplication of terminology and poor statistics (Huff, 1993), it becomes possible to show how researchers utilize conflicting terms or integrate work based on unsound measurements, such as opinions on profitability or feelings about the company rather than standard accounting values.

This paper, therefore, presents an argument that many research papers within the realm of sustainability are creating biased and misrepresented results based upon a misapplication of terminology and a misuse of values that are replacing standard accounting measurements. Furthermore, in developing misaligned research, sustainability researchers have presented arguments contradictory to the views held by many in industry. Finally, while demonstrating that innovation is a critical component of sustainability, it is also noted that Friedman (2007) was correct in his assertion that the primary focus of business is the delivery of profits aligned with the mission and value statements of the firm.

What Is Sustainability? – An Exploration of Conflicting Terms

The term sustainability has been applied in business scenarios to represent the continuing health of the company and hence its ongoing survival within an industry (Friedman, 2007) and simultaneously to represent the delivery of green services and environmental controls (Boylan, 2022). While some scholars attempt to argue that business researchers have formed “a consensus nowadays that economic, social and environmental concerns can no longer be treated as separate and independent” (Eizaguirre et al., 2019, p. 1), it can also be noted that “the concept of sustainability is so complex that it is virtually impossible to ensure a standardized definition or for one organization to understand all its facets in detail” (Bateh et al., 2014, p. 1).

Moreover, Bateh et al. (2014, p. 1) further demonstrate that “a basic definition of organization sustainability must include longevity and retaining of core principles or purposes,  regardless of internal and external changes over time”. Consequently, it is important to remember that different organizations will be impacted differently by external requirements and hence hold different needs associated with sustainability. As such, the definition of sustainability used in this paper will represent the social and environmental performance of an organization only as it applies to the profitability and ongoing economic performance of the firm.

Yuthas and Epstein (2012) contended that most organizations lack effective instruments and corporate knowledge to measure the financial outcomes associated with sustainability programs. As a challenge to this, it should be contended that measuring economic performance is not difficult. For example, a firm experimenting on new product offerings or marketing can compare the return on value using standard accounting metrics such as EBITA, return on assets (RoA) and return on equity (RoE). Additionally, more complex terms (Chen & Dodd, 1997), such as economic value added (EVA), can be coupled with cash flow or sales measures.

Further, companies have utilized marketing productivity metrics to demonstrate how expenditures improve shareholder value (Rust et al., 2004) for decades. As such, claims noting that business needs to address social values and morality is attributable to university researchers (Carroll, 1991) and that the ability to measure the results of a program is difficult must be rejected. Rather, it is proposed in this paper that the measurement of programs associated with corporate social responsibility, sustainability and leadership are directly measurable based on corporate returns. Further, corporations can implement internal experiments to test the efficiency of sustainability programs just as easily as corporations can test marketing results.

 As such, the term sustainability as it applies to the supply chain industry will be defined as a combination of long-term profitability, longevity, the maintenance of core principles and purposes associated with the business and the ability to act within the legislative frameworks that apply to the firm. In such an analysis, it is necessary to reject the claim that “the growing popularity of sustainability theories and perspectives indicates an increasing recognition that competitive pricing as part of currently favored economic principles may not be the best way to distribute scarce resources fairly” (Bateh et al., 2014, pp. 1–2).

Rather, as with Friedman (2007) and Hayek (2014), the positions taken in this paper are that socialism leads to lower overall profits and that in a globally competitive world, a firm reducing its profitability will become more likely to fail and hence fail the sustainability requirement of longevity. The development of corporate social responsibility measures that cannot be demonstrated to add to the profitability or longevity of the firm must thus be rejected. Sustainability, in this definition, must link to the economic profits developed by the firm both in the short and long term.

Firms that fail to implement processes that sacrifice longevity for short-term profitability will also fail the test of sustainability. Corporate failures did not include only environmental failures but also the mishandling of product recalls or other practices that lead to the loss of sales or a need to increase marketing budgets to respond to negative customer sentiment. Vos (2007, p. 334) presents an argument that “growth in economic output itself might not be able to continue indefinitely”, fundamentally challenging “the basis of much of economics and concepts of political economy”. However, the stale argument is truly the Malthusian claim that has been constantly regurgitated by socialist writers, including Marx (Sowell, 1995) and Lenin (Lenin, 1939).

As such, any claims of “triple bottom lines” (Bergmann et al., 2021) and sustainability measurements outside standard accounting profit figures are rejected. Firstly, the measurement of results in calculations that are effectively “three body problems” (Marchal, 2012) are noted to be mathematically insoluble. Consequently, the position is that these performance measures are intentionally designed to be misleading, knowing these cannot be challenged. This inability to develop a simple and comparable metric leads to the inability to measure the only real result available to the business, profitability. It is asserted in this paper that this is intentional and that this type of terminology is introduced to intentionally hide the cost of implementing sustainability programs.

Social Responsibility Starts with Profitability

Friedman (2007, p. 2) ushered in an approach often lambasted in popular literature today (Chuma & Qutieshat, 2023; Jones, 2023; Kornbluh, 2007; Supiot, 2020). Stating that businesses have a “social responsibility” which, when acted upon, will “reduce returns to stockholders, he is spending {investor] money”. While this approach sounds to some heartless, it is critical to understand the purpose of why businesses exist and to note that profitability is a signal to the industry of the misallocation of investment and the necessity to move funds from less profitable to more profitable industries.

Following the introduction of modern economics (Skousen, 2015), adherents of Adam Smith (1776) contended with those who saw immorality in business or an impending end to growth (Zweig, 1979), which in the eighteenth century was only starting to develop (Skousen, 2015). While John Stuart Mill believed that collapse could be avoided if a stationary state could be created (Kerschner, 2010), most classical economists argued along the terms of Malthus that finite resources would lead to an eventual collapse (Wrigley, 1988). This rehashed argument has led to the introduction of non-economic influences on scarcity, pollution and the global environment (Barbier, 2013), which are presented as alternatives to economic growth, stating that growth must end. While no evidence is provided to demonstrate the end of human innovation and ingenuity, the fixed supply of goods and services is argued by pundits such as Paul Erlich (Daily & Ehrlich, 1996) to be an unarguable given.

Friedman (2007, p. 2)  importantly noted, “[t]he stockholders or the customers or the employees could separately spend their own money on the particular action if they wished to do so”. This point is important because it is rarely the money of the investor or the shareholder being decided, as agency issues (Florackis, 2008) allow executives to gain and curry favor by spending other people’s money. For example, in developing social strategies that create more jobs than are necessary for the firm or that pander to political activists, the executive may build a popular image by misallocating funds attributed to the firm to achieve other goals.

The arguments presented by those seeking to introduce economically unsustainable measures quantified only through irreconcilable and biased systems, such as the triple accountability model, seemingly based their ideas on the economics of envy (Mui, 1995). Despite the failure of social commentary calling for the end of society (Ehrlich, 2017) and the continuation of growth despite constant calls for the limits to growth (Gustafson et al., 2020) that have been exceeded for centuries (Bonar, 1885), the development of “natural theology” (Oslington, 2017) has captured the minds of many people who are sceptical of the abilities of some people to innovate solutions and enable continued growth.

Economic Responsibility or the Promotion of Economic Fraud

Implementing systems to ensure that a firm responds to the needs of external stakeholders is important (Bateh et al., 2014). However, the measurement of consumer sentiment is only truly viably captured through accounting figures. By measuring the changes in sales and the overall profitability of the firm, companies can start to attribute the outcomes of implementing different programs, looking at both the cost of implementation against the overall profit retained by the firm. While short-term gains may not be immediately available, changes in sales and the projection of figures against long-term trajectories can lead to estimates of the effects of strategy choices (Gupta & Rosenhead, 1968).

In presenting arguments for increased social responsibility, authors such as Uyar et al. (2020) introduce the concept of human rights and environmental concerns, including global warming and reference these as (what should be) the primary concern in sustainability businesses in the logistics industry. By contending that a “proven link between CSR performance-reporting sends very important signals to shareholders” (Uyar et al., 2020, p. 1), these authors seek to promote an agenda based on the misrepresentation of standard accounting figures and a spurious argument that businesses cannot accurately measure profitability.

Despite public companies releasing profit reports, the level of profitability reported in papers such as this one does not follow standard accounting practice. Rather, profitability is reported using computations completed by the author that are not documented in the paper. This form of textual manipulation has become common practice within research associated with business sustainability. Authors such as Preuss and Fearne (2021) use the treacherous terminologies developed within the research to create scenarios where the researchers and the subjects seem to be talking at cross purposes. For example, environmental performance in the reference above relates to the environment of the firm, whereas the research team applies the environment to the global environment and climate. Hence, it can be seen that the research team and the subjects have not suitably aligned the definition of the topics, and the use of different terms undermines the resulting research.

Further, Gul et al. (2020) integrate agency and stakeholder theories in an examination of corporate social responsibility by logistics firms Gul et al. (2020, p. 55) employ “three indirect measures of empire building…: (i) asset growth; (ii) capital expenditure growth; and (iii) property, plant and equipment growth” to provide a model of alignment with negative agency practices in logistics corporations. The analysis provided by the authors is stated to support their hypothesis that “CSR engagement is negatively associated with the propensity to engage in empire building” (Gul et al., 2020, p. 59). However, these terms again misrepresent the findings. For example, when firms engage in merger and acquisition strategies, the authors deem this behavior as empire-building even when it is in the long-term interest of the corporation.

The reported measurements (Gul et al., 2020), including board size, ROA and market capitalization, are difficult to correlate with claims of empire building when represented negatively and equitably to agency problems in firms. Equally, demonstrating that there is a negative relationship between M&A activity which is maintained as directly related to empire building, by the authors and how this does not apply to CSR but is negatively correlated would indicate a tendency towards lower growth rates.

In some ways, this type of action, while promoted as socially responsible, represents embezzlement. Attanasi et al. (2019) analyze the costs of moral failures in executives using psychological game theory. In simultaneously promoting the social benefits of the corporation through the actions of the executives to the market, the executives would be acting against the desires of the shareholders if they have not been explicitly tasked with using funds for this purpose. Fraud and embezzlement are white-collar crimes created through trust violations (G. S. Green, 1993). By reallocating funds that should be used in the development of the firm without the express consent of the majority of the shareholders, executives engaged in activities outside of their mandate are violating the trust of the shareholders.

As Friedman (2007) amply demonstrates, the redirection of funds away from the vision and purpose of a firm makes the survival of the firm more tenuous. Over time, this can leave the corporation without the funds necessary to ensure its continuing survival leaving the investors out of pocket, the employees without a job and the various stakeholders without suppliers and customers leaving the economy in a poorer state overall. In the supply chain management industry, the collapse of one link in the long chain of logistic supply can lead to the collapse of many organizations (Burgess, 1998; Peck, 2005).

Continued Innovation Is Vital to Sustainability

Paulraj et al. (2017, p. 239) begin with an assertion that “[m]any researchers believe the tremendous industrial development over the past two centuries is unsustainable because it has led to unintended ecological deterioration”. However, the research doesn’t mention that these are individuals researching the business and commercial concerns associated with logistics and supply chain management. To this end, the authors seek to argue that the work by Friedman (2007) is wrong using a strawman argument based on the query of “whether CSR has to be purely altruistic or if it can be self-serving”  (Paulraj et al., 2017, p. 240). While the authors note that the various behaviors associated with corporate social responsibility can refer to different outcomes when taken by different people, the authors still fail to define each of the terms used within the research.

The one-sided argument presents unsupported arguments that firms only aligned CSR with the instrumental interests of enhancing shareholder value so that managers may raise their compensation packages. However, the purpose of investment in a firm is to gain returns. In noting that “moral motives are concerned with what Aristotle labelled goods of first intent, chosen for their own sake, as opposed to goods of second intent, such as profit, reputation or power, which have instrumental (egoism) or relational (utilitarianism) positions” (Paulraj et al., 2017, p. 245), the authors demonstrate a Marxist concept of business practice which is not designed to deliver possibility and which does not consider market forces.

While arguing the necessity to implement environmental controls, many sustainability researchers have sought to introduce non-economic and nonaccounting-based metrics designed to skew the results of measuring profit when investigating programs designed to increase firm sustainability. Researchers such as Maurer (2017, p. 42) observe, “private bodies can offer important advantages compared to traditional regulation”. However, for this to be successful, regulators must understand that these organizations can develop control strategies to ensure accurate information presented in audits and reports. Furthermore, the development of non-profit-based metrics destroys the ability of auditors to correctly measure businesses and the overall commercial effect of new strategies, including those associated with sustainability.

Innovation and Decline

Christiansen (2003; Christensen et al., 2006) have documented how crucial the role of innovation is to the sustainable position of a company. Analyzing companies in this manner makes it possible to argue Friedman’s (2007) perspective on why allocating funds for seemingly socially beneficial outcomes provides long-term negative counter effects. In some ways, this may be represented as the seen and the unseen (Lehe, 2010). Overall, spending money in a manner that is contrary to the given purpose of the investors is to take money belonging to others and to reallocate it against their decision and will. In this, we may see the argument presented by Friedman is not only one of poorer allocation but misappropriation. It, therefore, becomes difficult to justify many forms of corporate social responsibility that do not directly lead to increased profitability without seeking to justify fraud.

Equally, researchers such as Gul et al. (2020) promote research outcomes that intentionally conflate empire-building with growth in mergers and acquisitions. Despite being statistically insignificant and with a statistical power that demonstrates the result should not be reported, the authors conflate the growth of the business with empire-building by management. Further, the model has been created with multiple values that belie parsimony and yet equally misses the various standard definitions used within business in promoting a climate agenda. Uyar et al. (2020) address this by referencing CSR performance in businesses to signal all greenwash. Moreover, as with other authors, social rights issues, including human rights and global warming, are reported as a primary goal of business rather than profit.

By misrepresenting growth as corporate empire-building and creating ineffective measurements that overlook profitability, a wide range of authors associated with the environmental movement seek to present arguments that business growth must necessarily lead to economic decay. However, these results are premised on the Malthusian classical concept of limits to growth. The fundamental disconnect in this research is attributable to a deep underlying distrust of human ingenuity and the benefits of innovation.

To this end, Riemann (1986, p. 51) promoted the concept of “[t]he pursuit of excellence – be it in product quality, competitive position, or innovation,” noting that it “will not be undertaken for its own sake, but with the best interests of the corporation shareholders explicitly in mind”. The development of increasingly complex logistic systems has opened up the transport of goods and services globally. This process has decreased costs and enabled people in the poorest parts of the world to access more food and better healthcare than at any other time in history. The development of profitable business is the source of social benefits. By attacking and undermining profitability, supposedly business researchers best described as watermelons (Block, 2009) seek to introduce socialist concepts by often presenting falsified or sensationalized research.

Equally, research such as that from Paulraj (2017) provides similar findings by failing to define terminology adequately and allowing those being interviewed to confound results. For instance, in areas where managers may be talking about profitability in sustainability discussions, the researchers move the topic reported to one of climate and social responsibility, which would be aligned with the response given by those being interviewed. Of course, this outcome is not as detrimental as Mc Loughlin et al. (2023), who provide demonstrably false results. In arguing that climate change reduces crop yield, the authors add spurious references that avoid discussing the measured cocoa crop yield. The production of cocoa can be demonstrated to have increased yearly since 1980. In demonstrating that the prices are falling, the authors fail to note that increased supply leads to lower prices when demand is constant.

This consistent increase in yield is achieved by innovation. Overall, researchers seeking to promote a romanticized concept of smallholder farming argue the consequence of innovation, noting how disruptive technologies display some individuals (Hagedoorn, 1996; Reinert & Reinert, 2006). However, the small gains made by millions are overlooked against the disruptive changes affecting the few. In part, each of the small gains may add up to far more than any loss, but together these are taken in isolation allowing the proponents of Malthusian concepts of limits to growth to argue against innovation (Hirsch, 2005) and to promote stagnation.

Alternatively, some authors (Dresner, 2008, p. 105) have recommended putting in controls that “would not stop economic growth” but that are argued to create “impressive improvements in resource efficiency” and acceptable growth at between 2.5 and 3% while ignoring the necessary waste created through such an approach. These authors embrace the work of ecological naysayers such as Georgescu-Roegen (1975, 1977; Herrmann-Pillath, 2011) to create illegitimate and unscientific claims of thermodynamic stability to promote a steady-state economy. However, these claims are spurious at best without global government. Hence, many of the calls for environmental controls may be recognized as a socialist power grab posing as a means to protect humanity and the environment.

Preuss and Fearne (2021) demonstrate that academic research often fails to define the topic being discussed adequately. It would appear that the definitions of environment assumed by the researchers are at odds with those taken by many managers. In describing the environment, the researchers focus on the global environment and climate, whereas the managers within the supply chain industry discuss issues of corporate environments. The environment in the corporation references employee health and safety and issues of workplace concern. In many ways, this forms the underlying foundation of capitalism bashing (Burnete, 2016) embraced by business researchers whose primary purpose is not to aid in the development and expansion of business but rather the promotion of a steady-state or decaying model (Arrow et al., 2004).

Social Responsibility in the Global Supply Chain

Corporations need to ensure that they are aware of the social responsibilities that apply as a consequence of supply chain operations related to their business. For instance, human rights issues such as child labour and Occupational Health & Safety oppose significant levels of risk from economic loss and introduce the possibility of consumer reactions if unethical and immoral business practices are engaged, even where these are legal. In addition, environmental practice and the concept of accountability can create large positive lasting impacts on the overall business structure and outcomes (Weinstein, n.d.).

As it applies to emerging economies (Avittathur & Jayaram, 2016), the supply chain management question needs practices that integrate cultural and infrastructural issues so that firms in these regions can act without undue risk. Jean et al. (2016) compared the practices across mainland China and Taiwanese manufacturing operations. In Taiwanese factories, CSR initiatives are driven by competitive advantage. This outcome is interesting, as Maryniak (2017) confirmed that customer responses drive the integration of environmental concerns to measure business success.

Orji et al. (2020, p. 6) use the concepts of transparency and the pressure from stakeholders and customers who expect “freight logistics firms will operate in a reliable, transparent and truthful manner”. The ability for customers to audit the performance of their providers and stakeholders to the information concerning the operations and activities of the supplier allows all stakeholders to work together to create solutions rather than hiding negative outcomes, which increases negative risks. Utilizing technology to share information while maintaining privacy between customer and supplier exchanges will build trust between all parties. The promoted concepts of integrating nonaccounting boast measurements such as triple bottom lines and non-profit social responsibility measures degrade the ability to report form performance and increase the opportunity for fraud.

As Lamming et al. (2001) demonstrated, many existing practices are wasteful and inefficient, but transparency and openness enable both the customer and supplier at each stage of the SCM process to examine and audit the results, minimizing loss. However, the proposals to limit growth or to change accounting measurements to those incorporating a balanced scorecard (Meyer, 2003) or other green alternatives increase the expectation associated with the introduction of increased fraud (W. Green & Li, 2012). In addition, innovation opens up opportunities to expand product traceability and market inspection (Yao & Zhu, 2020). Therefore, creating solutions that minimize supply chain fraud will lead to growth. Hence, the call to change accounting practices or introduce measures to reduce consumption will also lead to waste and need to be rejected.

Future Directions

Transparency and traceability are major supply chain issues still unsolved despite integrating new technology such as Blockchain. Montecchi et al. (2021) demonstrate how transparency allows corporations to become more efficient and affordable and deliver greener results while lowering costs and collecting data to provide a competitive advantage. In addition, these authors note that transparency is linked to traceability, resilience, sustainability, governments and knowledge development across industry sectors.

Further, the concept of transparency and how this relates to mitigating corruption and open decision-making in non-profit corporations and government (Ball, 2009). Additionally, it is noted that transparency encourages openness but also leads to concerns about secrecy and privacy. This is critical because supply chains are a series of two-way exchanges of information and knowledge. As Lamming et al. (2001) demonstrated, many existing practices are wasteful and inefficient, but transparency and openness enable both the customer and supplier at each stage of the SCM process to examine and audit the results, minimizing loss.

Orji et al. (2020, p. 6) use the concepts of transparency and the pressure from stakeholders and customers who expect “freight logistics firms will operate in a reliable, transparent and truthful manner”. The ability for customers to audit the performance of their providers and stakeholders to the information concerning the operations and activities of the supplier allows all stakeholders to work together to create solutions rather than hiding the is and allowing risk to increase. In addition, utilizing technology to share information while maintaining privacy between customer and supplier exchanges will build trust between all parties.

Next, Lui et al. (2021) demonstrate that Blockchain and IoT-based smart tracking can also work for high-risk industries such as the drug supply chain. The use of ‘smart contract’ solutions coupled with monitoring services can also produce quality regulations and ensure the end-to-end product life tracking and tracing of restricted goods. Each solution demonstrates how targeting fraud can benefit society and the supplier by implementing solutions that improve traceability. Overall, the focus on sustainability needs to improve efficiency and deliver outcomes that minimize opportunities for fraud and loss. While the promotion of green technologies aims at reducing growth and creating stagnation, new technologies can improve supply chain systems while equally making these less wasteful and hence more likely to lead to improvements in ecological systems and the environment despite the claims of business naysayers (Friedman, 2007).


With several other researchers and papers noted in this work, the failure to define terms allows the researchers to misrepresent results. For instance, in a question such as “We collaborate with our customers to provide products and/or services that support our sustainability goals” (Paulraj et al., 2017, p. 249), the research presented in the paper models sustainability against issues unrelated to business including climate and social agenda. Yet, the question of sustainability to many business leaders, which may be implied through the responses associated with profitability, would demonstrate a contrary position taken by those in industry.

Taghizadeh (2021) published a thesis demonstrating how the effectiveness of supply-chain networks can include just-in-time practices and management systems through the improved information sharing and transparency practices that can be delivered through blockchain systems. Overall, reducing fraud and loss and improving traceability and supply chain practices promise to improve benefits across society. Yet, such benefits require implementing innovative practices designed to grow the corporation.

Rannane et al. (2022) document a clear need to improve transparency and share information, leading to more resilient systems. Disruption in the supply chain is not merely an economic topic of interest. The losses lead to lost jobs and even corporate failures. Improving resilience will significantly mitigate such issues. The focus on social responsibility is on providing innovative responses that mitigate existing problems. While Milton Friedman (2007) said it best, the path to freedom and even an improved environment requires that businesses focus on profit and hence discount the literature calling for reductions in growth, alternative ways to measure profit, or increased expenditure on social benefits outside of that called for by the market.


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