When did it all begin?

Download 68.49 Kb.
Size68.49 Kb.


An important question to ask about any newly identified social phenomenon is, “When did it all begin?”. How did people invent the idea of social responsibility, and at what point was it combined with individual lifestyle choices? What other movements helped to facilitate the emergence of SR activism? I also discuss what makes this phenomenon unique from others social scientists are already familiar with, and how we should situate SR activism in relation to its closest relatives. In this chapter I illustrate the connections between SR activism and the environmental movement, socially responsible capitalism, the voluntary simplicity movement, the global justice movement, the Greens, and the Cultural Creatives.

To begin piecing together the history of SR activism, we can triangulate chronological starting points by looking at the patterns emerging from each of the three data sources. While one cannot pinpoint the appearance of a type of activism, certain data do indicate the general period when SR activism began to spread and how it has evolved since then.

The survey questionnaire asked, “In what year did you begin taking socially responsible actions?” Responses indicate that although a small number of Co-op America members were taking socially responsible actions as early as the 1940s, SR activism became increasingly common in the mid- to late-1960s with the rise of the new social movements, notably the environmental, feminist, and peace movements (Figure 4.1). While there was something of a dip in new participation in the 1980s, SR activism has experienced something of a resurgence in the 1990s, perhaps because of the wider dissemination of SR literature and the membership growth of SR organizations. A good indicator of this kind of rapid growth in the 1990’s may be found in the example of Working Assets. Founded in 1985 by a handful of idealists, the organization’s member-customers grew to generate a financial valuation of $2 million in 1991 to $140 million in 2000 (Working Assets 2001).

Jeffrey Hollender, author of How to Make the World a Better Place, sees SR activism as something that wasn’t born, but rather evolved slowly out of the movements of the 1960s (Hollender 2002). Alisa Gravitz, founder and president of Co-op America, further develops our historical picture of SR activism through the 1970s by discussing the shift that was taking place as the heyday of NSMs came to a close:

In the late 70’s, there were two things happening at once, both a positive trend and a negative one. The positive trend was that by the late 70’s there had been a number of people that had been involved in the social change movements of the 60’s (the whole range of things: anti-war, civil rights, women’s issues, environmental issues), and as the heyday of the 60’s and 70’s wound down, retained those interests and values and started to say “Okay, the political climate seems to be changing. How can I continue this?” (Gravitz 2002)
Gravitz continues by characterizing the origins of SR organizations as, in part, a response to the impending election of Ronald Reagan and the detrimental impacts that administration was going to have traditional social movement activities:

There was handwriting on the wall that Reagan was going to get elected and that the political possibilities were going to get even more marginal. So the question became…(if) the political possibilities were going to close down, how could you continue these more progressive ideals and values across the whole spectrum (civil rights, the environment, women’s issues, etc.) in a place where the political energy is probably going to be blocked? (Gravitz 2002)

In Table 4.1 we can see that, the two core SR organizations, Co-op America and Working Assets, and a peripheral organization, Social Investment Forum, were founded in the early to mid-1980s pre-dating most of the formal evidence of SR activism. The founding of Business for Social Responsibility (a peripheral SR organization); on the other hand, coincides with the later date range of SR books and related publications. With the exception of The Better World Handbook, all the core SR books appeared in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The same is true for SR related publications, and the SR initial participation development curve coincides well with the popular rise of the environmental movement in the eyes of the general public (Hollender 2002) and the publication of a number of books, newsletters and magazines on environmental responsibility (Pichardo-Almanzar et al. 1998).


Date(s) Published

Sales Figures

Shopping for a Better World

1988, 1990, 1994, 2000


How to Make the World a Better Place

1989, 1995


What Can I do to Make a Difference?



The Better World Handbook




Date Founded


Co-op America*



Working Assets*



Social Investment Forum



Business for Social Responsibility




Date Published


Business Ethics

1987 - Present


The GreenMoney Journal

1992 - Present


National Green Pages

1992 - Present


*denotes a core organization

**denotes members are businesses
From these data, we can sketch a rough timeline of the development of SR activism (Figure 4.2). With possibly earlier roots, SR activism really takes off in the late 60s with the rise of NSMs. As the heyday of these movements ends in the late 70s and a conservative political administration arrives in the 80s, some activists shift their strategy from traditional to cultural and, as a result, form SR organizations. This new kind of strategic thinking combined with the second rise of the environmental movement inspires a series of SR publications. With these components in place, SR activism sees a new resurgence in mid 90s.

Mid to Early to Late 1980s Mid 1990s

Late 1960s Mid 1980s to Early 1990s to Present

Late 1960s 2002

SR Activism Emerges With New Social Movements

SR Publications Appear

Resurgence of SR Activism

SR Organizations Form

Parent Movements

While SR activism has developed a distinctive form, its roots are to be found in several movements. Although the feminist and animal rights movements, for example, formulated some of the foundational ideas of SR activism, the environmental movement and corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement have arguably had the greatest influence on its development.

The Environmental Movement

In many ways, the evolution of the modern environmental movement parallels that of SR activism although on a much larger scale. Having developed with other new social movements in the 1960s, the environmental movement is widely considered to be the most successful of the new social movements (Dalton 1994, Mertig and Dunlap 1992) and in the vanguard of that family or “generalized movement” (Scott 1990, Turner 1994). While environmentalism grew rapidly throughout the 1980s, a growth spurt of enviro-education and activism occurred right around April 22, 1990 - the 20th anniversary of Earth Day (Hollender 2001). This accelerated activity included the publication of 50 Simple Things You Can Do To Save The Earth, which introduced Americans to the idea that anyone could participate in this movement by altering simple, daily activities – everything from water conservation in the bathroom to waste reduction through composting. By 1998, over two thirds of the U.S. population considered themselves to be either strong or moderate environmentalists (Ridenour 1998), green businesses have created a lucrative market for their eco-friendly products, and cities are increasingly building recycling infrastructures.
Socially Responsible Capitalism

Although their roots reach back earlier, the Corporate Social Responsibility and Socially Responsible Investing movements are generally considered to have begun in 1985 with the introduction of the Sullivan Principles, a code of socially responsible conduct for doing business in South Africa under apartheid (Hollender 2001, Lowry 1997). That code required that foreign companies cease their operations in and remove their investments from South Africa until the practice of racial segregation was lifted by the South African government. By the 1990s, the strategy of the socially responsible economic sector had changed. Instead of just divesting of companies that did not meet socially responsible criteria around a particular issue, such as racial discrimination, SMOs began encouraging and rewarding those companies whose polices were social responsible; this new approach concerned a wide range of issues, including all of the ten core issues of SR activism (see Chapter V). In the world of SRI, this meant the creation of “positive screens” to permit SR mutual funds to identify companies on the cutting edge of social responsibility, the publication of SRI newsletters like The Green Money Journal (est. 1992) and the development of social investment indices, like the Domini 400, that permitted investors to track the financial strength of SR companies.

For CSR, these ideas led to the founding of prominent organizations like Business for Social Responsibility (est. 1992) where businesses exchange ideas about what social responsibility means, collaborate in joint ventures to pursue socially responsible goals, receive awards for successfully integrating social responsibility into their business practices, and get professional advice on how to improve their social responsibility record. While both of these economic movements have been primarily driven by businesses and their investors, a growing base of socially conscious consumers now drive demand for both SRI and CSR. In 1996, Kaagen Research Associates identified a segment of 50 million Americans as "socially responsible" in their purchasing and investing activities (Co-op America, 2000). In 2001, one out of every eight dollars was invested in socially and environmentally screened investments, a total of over $2 trillion. The amount managed in professional, socially responsible funds tripled between 1997-1999 from $430 billion to $1.34 trillion (Social Investment Forum 2001).

What distinguishes SRI and CSR from traditional social movements is their willingness to work within the mainstream economic system, directly with businesses and corporations – which are usually seen as enemies rather than potential agents of purposive social change. These movements also provided new access to social change for consumers and investors without requiring special contacts, movement membership or activist leanings. SRI and CSR thus expanded the audience, the issues, and the “no enemy” approach that SR activism was adopting as foundations for its own approach to pursuing purposive social change.

Other Influential Movements

Feminism brought to the progressive community the idea that “the personal is political” (Hanisch 1970). The message in that phrase was that not only are the most personal aspects of our lives influenced in larger political and social contexts, but those lives could be used to change the structures in those contexts from the bottom up (Albert 1997). This newly articulated perception lifted social change activism from its narrow focus on changing political institutions at the societal level, adding the goal of raising the consciousness and activism of individuals at the level of personal daily life (Beinart 1999). Social change activists were urged to add change into the domains of language, personal relationships, and the workplace.

It can be argued that animal rights activism related personal behavior to political structures as early as 500 B.C., when historical figures like Pythagoras and Socrates argued that a diet that included meat was both unethical and politically ignorant (in that it supported an unsustainable use of resources). Vegetarianism has remained a centerpiece for many animal rights movement members, a personal policy now practiced by an estimated 4.8 million Americans (Zogby 2000). That movement also launched very effective campaigns against the testing of consumer products on animals, publishing guides to companies that do and do not test their products on animals (Giunti 1994) and maintaining certification systems to inform consumers(CICC 1998).

These “parent movements” helped to legitimize the idea that everyday actions can be understood both as a symbol of peoples’ adherence to a particular social movement adherence and as a powerful tool for realizing movement goals that may not be attainable through more traditional activist means.

A Typology of Related Movements
Environmental and economic responsibility movements are perhaps the most influential in laying the foundations upon which SR activism is built. However, it is also important to understand exactly how SR activism is similar to and different from movements. I describe below other movements and subcultures that likely attract participants similar to those involved in SR activism, marking specifically SR related characteristics that are relevant to a better understanding of SR activism and are marked accordingly.

(+) Characteristics shared with SR activism

(-) Characteristics different from SR activism

(?) Characteristics somewhat similar and somewhat different

The Cultural Creatives

The Cultural Creatives (CCs) are one of three major American philosophical subcultures1 (the others being Traditionals and Moderns) conceptualized by Paul Ray (1997, 2000). From his analysis of data from national demographic surveys, it represents the approach to change most closely related to SR activism. CCs tend to be more spiritual and less materialist than the rest of the adult population, as well as supportive of environmentalism, feminism and other NSMs. Ray estimates the number of CCs at approximately 50 million individuals in the U.S. and growing.

(+) History: Ray places the origins of the CCs in the late 60s, corresponding with the rise of NSMs.
(+) Consumer Orientation: Ray describes CCs as avid consumers of alternative goods and services including public radio, fuel-efficient cars, and alternative travel.
(+) Demographics: CCs include a disproportionate number of whites, women, college-educated people, and a have higher median income than Traditionals and Moderns. Their average age is in the mid-40s.
(+) Holistic Issue Focus: CCs are interested in many of the same issues as participants in SR activism, including environmentalism, feminism, civil rights, social justice, peace, global inequality, and philanthropy.
(-) Spirituality, Self-Help Interests: Ray describes CCs having a strong interest in personal spirituality and self-help, an interest not shown in the data collected from SR literature or SR organizations2. Ray, however, does divide CCs into two groups of equal size, Core Cultural Creatives and Green Creatives, the latter with no special interest in these two issues and more pragmatic in their approach to social change.
The Voluntary Simplicity Movement

While the voluntary simplicity movement (VSM) has historical roots in colonial America with the Puritans, Quakers and Anabaptists (Nolan 1994), it has only recently been recognized as a modern phenomenon with a heavy concentration of adherents living in the Pacific Northwest (McNichol 1998). It is estimated that 30 million people practice some version of voluntary simplicity and that the movement’s numbers are growing (Celente, 1997).

(+) History: As did SR activism, the VSM appeared first in the 1960s (Elgin 1993), developing throughout the 1970s and 1980s (Shi 1985, 1986) and showed up in popular media in the 1990s with books like Voluntary Simplicity (Elgin 1993) and television programs like Escape From Affluenza (1997).
(?) Multiple Issue Focus: While the VSM emphasizes the importance of the environment and community, its issues concern more personal development and less larger social problems. Key VSM issues include reducing stress, increasing leisure time, raising one’s quality of life, and building strong relationships with friends and family.
(-) Anti-Materialist: Voluntary simplicity and SR activism differ greatly in their views on material consumption. VSM promotes the reduction of consumption as a core value citing both environmental damage from it and the work-spend cycle that perpetuates the form of “hyper-capitalism” they are fighting to reform. While SR activism has a conservation ethic, it encourages the consumption of SR goods and services as a way to bring about positive social change in the economy. This difference is understandable given the historically close relationship between SR activism and business.
(+) Individual Action: As with SR activism, a central goal of the VSM is providing its members with the means to take everyday actions in their own lives, to collectively create the systemic change the movement envisions. However, unlike SR activism, VS activism often works through small groups, or “circles”, that hold regular meetings to discuss their individual actions, exchange ideas and provide mutual support.
The Greens

The Greens are both an international group of political parties and an international social movement with a current official U.S. membership of 220,000 people. Their growing U.S. presence throughout the 1980s and 1990s remained relatively unnoticed until the 1996 and 2000 presidential elections, when the Greens reached the mainstream media with Ralph Nader as their presidential candidate (Michaels, 2002).

(+) History: While Americans did not begin importing the ideas and tactics until the mid-1980s, the Greens began as a small political party in New Zealand in 1972 (at the same time as SR activism first became visible), and grew to prominence as a European movement emerging with a particularly strong presence in Germany by 1980 (Dann, 2000).
(+) Holistic Change Focus: The Greens have identified what they consider to be their “10 Key Values”: ecological wisdom, grassroots democracy, social justice, personal and global responsibility, nonviolence, feminism, decentralization of power, community-based economics, respect for diversity, future focus. This set of values closely mirrors the core values of SR activism as well as touching upon its foundation of SR needing to be addressed on the personal level.
(-) Collective Action: While Greens may make ethically-motivated personal lifestyle changes, their modus operandi is to work through collective action. Greens organize protests, use direct action, build alternative institutions, educate communities and actively engage in electoral politics (Haffey 1999). This is an approach for which SR activism provides a mirror image with its individual orientation.
(-) Political Orientation: The Greens are a socio-political movement with a small, but very active political party in the U.S. The strategic focus of Greens’ action is the fielding of candidates and getting them elected to (mostly local) political office where they can influence a wide range of issues.
The Global Justice Movement

The global justice movement (GJM), also known as the anti-globalization movement, is a coalition of activist organizations from the labor, human rights, consumer rights, and environmental sectors. The GJM drew media attention in the 90s through their efforts to fight multinational trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), The Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and The Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI).

(+) History: The GJM developed in the 80s and 90s, out of national and transnational networks of social change organizations concerned with the impact of global trade and financial policies in their issue areas of concern (Smith, 2001).
(+) Multiple Issue Focus: The GJM is concerned with several of the core SR issues including human rights, labor rights, and the environment. It also advocates consumer rights, locally-based democracy, and forgiveness of third world debt.
(-) Macro-Economic Orientation: From the perspective of the GJM, the global economic system is rapidly being transformed, to the detriment of the above issues (human rights, labor rights, the environment, consumer rights, democracy, and third world debt forgiveness), to favor the pursuit of corporate profit through free trade agreements, secretive judicial and decisional bodies, and the policies of international financial institutions, all of which work against social justice, democracy, and the natural environment. It is only through a reform of corporate culture and global economic institutions, says the GJM, that these issues will be adequately addressed in the new global economy. SR activism is certainly concerned with global economic issues, but sees them as one piece within a larger global picture.
(-) Traditional Activism: The GJM is best known for its World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in November 1999. Labor, environmental and human rights groups built a lasting coalition to organize demonstrations and teach-ins attended by tens of thousands. In the U.S., GJM protests are often large, well-organized, contentious and filled with activists from around the country. In many ways this represents the conventional social movement approach to activism that SR activism, with its individual, uncoordinated, non-confrontational, and inclusive orientation avoids.
While each of the movements and subcultures discussed share some characteristics and members with SR activism and each other, each differs from SR activism in at least one major way. Table 4.2 clarifies the major distinctions of SR activism with these similar collective behavior phenomena.





Single Issue

Multi Issue

SR Business &

SR Investing

Economically Focused

Social Change Activities

Range of Focal Points

for Social Change

The Cultural Creatives

Integrated Spirituality,


Strictly Secular,

Externally Focused

Voluntary Simplicity


Conscientious Consumption

Global Justice

Global Economy Focused,

Traditional Activist Oriented

Range of Focal Points,

Non-Activist Oriented

The Greens

Collective Action,

Politically Based

Individual Action,

Alternative to Politics


Table 4.3 summarizes the major findings of the chapter. The data collected on the history of SR activism suggest that, contrary to what had been hypothesized, this kind of activism emerged in the late 1960s along with many of the NSMs and has, since the early 1990s, been experiencing a resurgence of activity that correlates well with the rise in public consciousness around environmental issues and the popularity of SR capitalism. The influences from these two movements have helped to develop SR activism’s noncontentious strategy of working from within mainstream society to slowly reform existing economic and cultural institutions.






  • The origin of SR activism should take place around the late 80’s and 90’s when most SR literature begins to appear.

  • SR activism should be currently thriving.



  • SR activism should have strong ties to the environmental and economically focused SR movements.

  • SR activism should overlap with other related NSMs but still maintain a distinct niche not filled by any other.


While each of the five movements and the one subculture described share characteristics with SR activism, SR activism remains unique in the niche that it addresses within U.S. society. Just as the memberships of many of these aforementioned groups overlap significantly with one another, we can safely assume that SR activism draws its membership in part from a common pool of individuals.

1 Although The Cultural Creatives are identified as a subculture, even Ray (2001) has characterized them as having strong movement qualities. Ray characterizes CCs as a subculture because, although strongly influenced by social movements, it is closer to a philosophy or ideology that a significant percentage of the population has adopted. CCs are included because they represent one of the phenomena most strongly affiliated with SR activism.

2 While there is evidence indicating that religion/spirituality motivate some SR activists, the data is not strong enough to make any kind of linkage to what is indicated for CCs.

Share with your friends:

The database is protected by copyright ©essaydocs.org 2020
send message

    Main page