What’s a For-Profit Business with a Social Mission?
Massive pollution, inhumane working conditions, forced child labor- these are some of the extreme costs of corporate profit. Yes, companies are in business to make money, but does that have to mean humanity and the ecosystem must suffer? While there are quite a few examples of large reckless corporations putting millions at risk, most businesses are small and don’t have such a negative impact on the world. Yet, they don’t have an extremely positive effect on the world either.
This leads to the following questions; can businesses do good for the community and still make money? Do businesses have to win at the cost of someone losing? Is the old way of doing business, where the bottom line is king, becoming out dated?
Most businesses focus on day to day operations and steadily increasing their sales, thereby focusing on profit only. However, a paradigm shift has occurred as businesses become more socially conscious and are able to prosper with a triple bottom line – focusing energy and performance on people, planet and profit. As a result, businesses are focusing on making the communities in which they operate better places. Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, agrees with the new way business is being done, “some people say social responsibility isn’t our job—that our only job is to try to make a profit...I reject that. I can tell you with much proof that it is accretive to shareholder value.” It’s important to note that Starbucks doesn’t run commercial advertisement. Rather the company has grown through treating their employees and customers well, thus growing through word of mouth.
Whole Foods Market co-founder, John Mackey, has taken it a step further and co-wrote a book, Conscious Capitalism, with Conscious Capitalism, Inc. co-founder Raj Sisodia. In their conscious capitalists’ credo, they elaborate, “We believe that business is good because it creates value, it is ethical because it is based on voluntary exchange, it is noble because it can elevate our existence and it is heroic because it lifts people out of poverty and creates prosperity. Free enterprise capitalism is the most powerful system for social cooperation and human progress ever conceived. It is one of the most compelling ideas we humans have ever had. But we can aspire to even more.”
University of Virginia Darden School of Business professor and Conscious Capitalism, Inc. trustee R. Edward Freeman, goes on to explain it in very easy to understand terms. “We need red blood cells to live (the same way a business needs profits to live), but the purpose of life is more than to make red blood cells (the same way the purpose of business is more than simply to generate profits).”
Can you imagine a world where all the corporate giants put the world first instead of profits? All that money used on lawsuits and advertisement put to good causes, in the name of helping humanity. While that day may be far off, some small local businesses are already living in that world. A Charlotte based business, Pop Up Produce, sells Fresh Start Kits that are made of locally sourced supplies to start growing your own food. For every Kit purchase, Pop Up Produce donates a Kit to a family in a food desert.
Founder Amanda Zullo describes her business as “the intersection of commerce and community. Pop Up Produce is deeply rooted in social entrepreneurialism, believing good business should be linked to helping our consumer, helping our environment, and helping our community.”
In today’s fast paced world, a change to conscious capitalism will still take some time. We can’t wait for the Wal-Mart’s of the world to come around; this change must start locally. It begins with individual business owners choosing to place the needs of their community and others in line with their profits. After all, wouldn’t you rather buy from a socially conscious business that’s genuinely aiming for a higher purpose and focusing on a triple bottom line, than one who’s purely focused on profits?