In March 1946, Fortune magazine polled businessmen about their responsibilities beyond the balance sheet. The questions are more charming and verbose than most posed by contemporary pollsters. They also offer a nice snapshot of how business media tackled what we now call "sustainability":
A few years ago it was frequently said that businessmen ought to acquire a 'social consciousness.' What was usually meant was that businessmen were responsible for the consequences of their actions in a sphere somewhat wider than that covered by their profit-and-loss statements. Do you think that businessmen should recognize such responsibilities and do their best to fulfill them?
- Yes: 95.5 percent
- No: 1.6 percent
- Depends: 4.7 percent
- Don't Know: 0.2 percent
About what proportion of the businessmen you know would you rate as having a 'social consciousness' of this sort?
- None: 0.4 percent
- Less than 10%: 11.8 percent
- About a Quarter: 22.2 percent
- About a Half: 29.2 percent
- About Three-Quarters: 26.7 percent
- All: 3 percent
- Don't Know: 6.7 percent
Source: Bowen, Howard. The Social Responsibilities of the Businessman, p. 44.
Visit www.bloomberg.com/sustainability for the latest from Bloomberg News about energy, natural resources and global business.