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Great Moments in Sustainability History: March 1946

October 11, 2012

American Business in 1946

Pontiac Torpedo cars near completion on the production line at Pontiac, Michigan, circa 1946. Photograph by FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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.

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