The Case for Leadership Commitment

Leaders throughout the course of history have been aware of the importance of protecting our world for future generations. Stewardship of our land has been a topic of consideration by society's leaders for thousands of years. The early Western philosophers discussed and debated the concepts of intergenerational philosophy (Constitutional Law Foundation, 2004) from early Greek and Biblical times, emerging in the tenets of the Constitution of the United States. John Locke's theories of interge-nerational obligation and stewardship collectively constitute "an early, but remarkably clear articulation of what, today, would be termed a 'sustainability ethic'" (Elliot, 1986, p. 217).

Sustainable development had been espoused in the United States as early as 1789 by President Thomas Jefferson: "Then I say the Earth belongs to each ... generation during its course, fully and in its own right, no generation can contract debts greater than may be paid during the course of its own existence" (Jefferson, 1789, para. 2). As one of the founding fathers of the United States, Mr. Jefferson was one of the first leaders in the United States to recognize the importance of leadership providing a focus on sustainability by taking a public position on the issue. He did so by including the concept of intergenerational stewardship into the Constitution of the United States.

The challenge to contemporary corporate leadership is to internalize the legacy of intergenerational stewardship and discover the role of the corporation in achieving societal sustainability. Leaders of contemporary society and corporations in today's world must carry on that tradition of the great leaders of the past. Corporate executives and directors can no longer ignore the emerging trends and societal pressures to protect our world for future generations. "Our task as responsible and ethical global leaders is to point the path to sustainability" according to William K. Reilly, former Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and a DuPont director (Reilly, 1999, p. 26). John Elkington succinctly elucidated the importance of corporate attention to sustainability: "To refuse the challenge implied by the triple bottom line is to risk extinction" (Elkington, 1998, p. 2). Chad Holliday, CEO and Board Chair of DuPont, challenged the leaders of industry to recognize that that sustainability is a "business imperative for success in the 21st Century" (Process Engineering, 2003, para. 1).

As chemical companies commit to expand their role in assuring a sustainable future for themselves and society, it will be increasingly important to understand what roles leadership and corporate governance play in shaping this commitment. Taschler (2004) analyzed publicly available information on the eight companies in the chemical industry sector of the 2004 Dow Jones Sustainability World Index to understand any contributory patterns between board member characteristics and corporate sustainability performance for the eight companies in the index. This study provides some insight into how the leaders in sustainable development are putting concepts into practice.

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