Business as a Catalyst for Positive Change -- B Corps showing Corporate America how to redefine profit
With all the discouraging, confusing and sad news these days, I understand when people tell me that it’s hard to feel optimistic about where the world is headed. It is hard, but I am highly optimistic about our future.
Let me qualify that response. My optimism is not naïveté and I certainly know that many things are on the wrong track and have us headed for a global crisis of unparalleled dimensions. We are beset by inequalities, injustices, and increasing climate change impacts, nationalism, pollution and fractured communities. But, I have faith in the positive potential of markets and companies to solve these challenges, provided they are properly constructed and directed. Business has been the greatest driver of progress and prosperity in modern history. And, while the free enterprise system, as executed today, is far from perfect, the private sector has been the most significant catalyst of positive change – from technological advancement to social mobility – the world has ever seen. More than government. More than academia. More than religion. Business has created more positive change, faster and at scale, than any other sector.
Based on this premise, more than a decade ago, three Stanford grads founded B Lab and the B Corporation concept was born. The goal was to create a new business model that overtly and inextricably linked profit with purpose and used market-based systems to place all stakeholder interests on par with shareholder interests. And, in the years since its founding, this concept has proved compelling and successful for thousands of companies that have achieved certification and tens of thousands more who utilize the B Corp standard to more deeply understand and improve their economic, environmental and social performance.
Council Fire, the company I founded with the help of many diverse sustainability experts, is a global consultancy helping purpose-driven organizations thrive by creating lasting economic, social and environmental value. We achieved B Corp certification in 2010 and are proud to be one of the companies leading positive change. And we are especially thrilled to have been honored 14 times as a "Best for the World" Corporation in recognition of the fact that our impact assessment score places us in the top 10% of this elite group of businesses.
But, while several smaller and mid-size companies are among the committed B-Corps ranks, including household names like Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, Eileen Fisher and Athleta, it wasn't until last month when 181 Business Roundtable members (including many of the largest companies in the world) declared that we must redefine the purpose of a corporation as ‘promoting an economy that serves all Americans’, that we possessed the scale to drive national and eventually global impact.
The Business Roundtable didn't choose to endorse this change because of some perceived moral obligation. While their actions will speak louder than words, this announcement is a significant indication that corporate America - and the corporate world globally - is awakening to the reality that it pays to have healthy, engaged employees, supportive communities, responsible suppliers and a safe and clean environment.
So, while it is hard to feel optimistic in the face of our many challenges, I encourage us all to celebrate that which is good about the world today - including the growing recognition that business both can and must now step up and lead on making the world a better place for us all - and demand more from the private sector. We must be willing to embrace the undeniable fact that saving the planet, eradicating poverty and advancing economic growth are one in the same fight and that self-interest and sustainability are not different motives, but indeed the same motive, operating over slightly different time horizons. It’s this premise that inspired me to launch Council Fire a dozen years ago and that motivates me and my team to serve our game-changing clients who are committed to creating lasting positive economic, environmental and social impact.
CEO, Council Fire LLC