It's a tremendous opportunity for current and aspiring entrepreneurs but will they take on the challenge?
By Danielle Lanyard
In the late 1960s, if you wanted to make a statement that you stood for something, something more than your government at war, or nuclear proliferation, or a culture compounded by capitalism, you couldn’t just pick up your laptop and write a blog summing up your thoughts.
Or write a call to action and then share it across the web through social media.
You wore your hair long, tuned in and dropped out, or organized protest marches in the Peoples Parks calling upon people's collective consciousness to create the #futurewewant.
Today, while smaller protest movements are still alive and kicking, entrepreneurism has emerged as a potentially more effective approach to change. Working within the system is giving rise to many more startups – and many more social enterprises.
Working From Within: The Startup Revolution
That is, the startup revolution is here. But we're running parallel to an equally alive industrial complex doing business as usual and in many ways, polluting the progress of the triple bottom line movement. What the entrepreneurial sector has needed is a whole new dimension of legal structures that enables the entrepreneur's vision of a better world through for-profit enterprise by giving her the necessary sustenance.
Like the Benefit Corporation, which enables companies to declare that the social and environmental missions of their corporate practice matter as much as their corporate fiduciary duty to make profits, in their bylaws. That's actionable, enforceable. And as Dirk Sampselle puts it,
"Because a benefit corporation has the purpose of creating a general public benefit, defined as a material positive impact on society and the environment, it expands the ability of the corporation to pursue a purpose not strictly related to return on investment to shareholders (as is the case with traditional corporations), while expanding the corporation’s accountability to the public benefit purpose."
For the first time, entrepreneurs can start a company and legally be protected to serve a dual mission of responsibility and profits. For current and aspiring entrepreneurs, this is a tremendous opportunity to start companies that can and will change the game.
And that starts by taking ownership for your personal role in the paradigm shift, the relentless commitment to see our planet and its people thrive because of enterprise, not be imperiled by its practice.
Corporate Structure Gets Personal
Admittedly, I have a bizarre obsession with corporate structuring. My own startup Green Breakfast Club just opened a new corporate legal entity in New York State so we can apply to become a Benefit Corporation. For me, Benefit Corporations matter. Decisions like these have always been personal for me, boiling down to two moments in time.
The first moment was when I was a teenager interning at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association. During my internship, I happened to meet the chief scientist hired by NASA to provide the post-environmental disaster assessment statement for the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. The oil company's board cited his research to validate their decision to pay the fine and leave the mess – then the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history.
It was the first time I saw a grown man cry. He wanted to know how he would explain to his seven-year old son – who was born at the beginning of his assignment – that they had moved to Fairbanks and spent his precious childhood years in isolation for nothing.
The next moment was on April 20, 2011 – my birthday, when history repeated itself with the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf Coast. This time, the oil spilled for months while BP distributed the same toxic dispersants used during the Exxon Valdez oil spill knowing how environmentally and biologically damaging materials like Corexit are.
I watched as history repeat itself again as BP hired the same PR firm to craft its damage control as used by Exxon after its big oil mess more than two decades ago.
Collective Power: Beating the Digital Drum
Of course, the Benefit Corporation structure will not clean up this mess. As long as Corporate Fiduciary Duty exists, traditional corporations will not transform into a lever of social and ecological change in enterprise. Only True Cost Economics, respect for Carrying Capacity, an Integral approach to Investing, and the fierce adoption of Natures Principles into the bedrock of our enterprises, can turn the tides.
And our collective power.
My mother recently commented that our generation has no excuse for not ‘changing the world,’ for in the '60s, all they had were pads and pencils, guitars and drums, and a generation, on fire for a better world. Today, we have three generations from the millennials to Generation X and Y, to the Baby Boomers, a bevy of technologies and tools, incredible access, to innovate and share, and the ability to beat a digital drum that can resonate around the world instantly, in real time.
Now. The movement is now. We have no excuse.