Why do we need business activists and not just business leaders to bolster the triple bottom line in 2013?
Editor's Note: It's that time of the year again and we've wrapped up 2012. Like last year, we've assembled an impressive lineup of thought leaders and experts who will examine the year that was, guide us on what might be ahead and offer their advice on how our business, social and environmental consciousness continues to converge. They will spotlight achievements, highlight trends and activate the change makers among us in our end of the year CSR & Sustainability 2012 series. Consider this series a call to action.
Today's editorial is by Jeffrey Hollender, cofounder of Seventh Generation and founder of Jeffrey Hollender Partners.
In the past few years, we’ve seen a major division that’s created two distinct factions within the businesses community: those that strive for fair and responsible social and economic progress and those that are holding us back.
We need more of the first type. A lot more.
Business leaders are opportunely positioned right now to work with the government and become agents of catalytic change. The public has already awakened to the destructive corporate behaviors that are wreaking havoc on our planet and wellbeing. The real bottom line is this: we won’t have an economy if we continue to treat our planet like an unlimited resource.
In 2013, business leaders must become business activists working with the government and consumers to solve the most important issues of our time. This collaboration can restructure the current system to give a fair chance to small businesses and green businesses—those that will spur a new economy and create living wage jobs.
The New York Times reported in October 2010 that half of the U.S. Chamber's $140 million in contributions came from just 45 mostly multi-national corporations while most small- and medium-sized businesses sat on the sidelines of public policy debates that determine the viability of their companies.
Emerging business activists must encourage the Obama administration to hold nothing back during his second term: we need properly managed markets to ensure a level playing field for small and large businesses alike. It is time to account for the full cost of doing business and not continue to externalize pollution and other environmental costs onto the public.
A tax on carbon is critical if we are to slow the effects of global climate change. We need to create incentives for innovation that will usher in this new 21st century economy – more economic opportunities for social entrepreneurs to get their ideas off the ground, and better education systems that foster the creativity in all of us and at the same time develop a culture of deep respect for the planet.
We need corporate tax reform so our largest companies aren’t able to avoid paying any taxes at all, while local Main Street businesses pay over 30 percent. The Small Business Administration needs to be able to fund young companies at interest rates that aren’t two to four times what our largest companies pay.
A New Era of Business Leadership
We need a new era of business leaders who welcome input from consumer activists and NGO campaigns. We need business activists who understand that social networking has already changed the way the world communicates, and that it’s time to listen to the people who are speaking out for what they want.
In this past year, we have seen encouraging consumer activism: from urging Zara, Nike and Adidas to “detox,” their clothing, to those who flooded the Cheerios Facebook site to demand the labeling of GMO ingredients, and concerned citizens and activists creating mock ad campaigns that draw light on Shell’s arctic oil exploration.
These examples of public engagement show that consumer priorities are shifting and the powerful tool of social media allows everyday citizens to change the way business is conducted. Business owners must take heed and not only listen to their consumers, but also provide the leadership that will ensure loyalty.
No, the business activist won’t be doing this to greenwash what they have yet to get right in order to increase their profits. They will realize that doing good is actually good for their bottom line and the planet. In the year 2013, business leaders must see that environmental stewardship and economic prosperity are directly linked as Patagonia proclaimed when they cautioned their consumers to buy less stuff and recycle what they no longer need.
The American Sustainable Business Council
This new era of business leaders will take a cue from 150,000 other businesses and join the American Sustainable Business Council, the nation’s emerging voice for ensuring the growth of smart, sustainable and small businesses. The ASBC urges the government to create a level playing field so that businesses that do good for our environment and planet continue to thrive, and those that don’t work for the public’s best interest will fall to the wayside.
I’m cautiously optimistic about our future, but only if we seize the moment. We are the people we’ve been waiting for and it’s time we showed up to fulfill our responsibilities as citizens and business activists.