The ABCs of responsible business: Advocacy, shared Benefit and Coalition building.
By Julia Howell, Partner, Corktown Seed Co.
You’d be hard pressed to find any mid- to large-sized company today that is not paying some mind to its role as a good corporate citizen. We all know it’s the right thing to do and, in this age of transparency, you’re at risk if you ignore it.
The Responsible Business Continuum
But there’s a huge divide between those that pay lip service and those that can measure results. We call this the Responsible Business Continuum.
On this continuum, the smart ones have figured out how to leverage citizenship for business advantage:
But no matter where you may fall on the Responsible Business Continuum, what matters is having a strong foundation.
There’s a reason why governments are afraid of this word. It’s because nonprofits are good at it and it is the opposite of maintaining the status quo.
When business leaders become advocates for a cause the potential for real change is profound. Yes, money does talk and others do listen. But it requires taking a stand and committing for the long term.
Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard has gone beyond the symptoms of environmental devastation to address the root cause through his Responsible Economy campaign. Bill Gates has taken on everything from vaccinations at home and abroad to computer science in schools. And without Muhammad Yunus’s genuine commitment to poverty reduction there would be no such thing as microfinance.
Each of these leaders has engaged the power of business to realize measurable social or environmental change. In doing so they have reframed what it means to be a business leader and what business success can look like. Mostly, this comes down to a new understanding of whom and what business benefits.
No longer is the shareholder the supreme beneficiary.
Collective benefit is the new measure of business value. The companies that embrace this and plot strategies to track and engage stakeholders in their results will thrive.
Social anthropologist Margaret Mead said it best:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
It’s taken a few decades, but progressive businesses now share her views. Coming together with like minds and hearts, in thought and action, is a lot more powerful than going it alone.
Following the Rana Plaza factory collapse, Loblaw, H&M and 89 other global clothing retailers signed the legally binding Bangladesh Safety Accord, signaling an authentic joint commitment to ethical sourcing of textiles. Richard Branson has recruited numerous friends and colleagues to redefine what it means to be a capitalist through his B Team efforts. And the B Corp movement will soon surpass more than 1,000 companies worldwide that aim to be best for the world, instead of in the world.
The concept of competition will never go away. Nor should it.
But leadership in the new era of truly responsible business is about looking outside the narrow scope of self-interest and being a catalyst for the collective good.