April 2019 issue of Fast Company there was a fascinating article on the clothing company “Everlane”. I laud their commitment to eliminate virgin plastic in the production of their clothes, an unprecedented move that will literally reduce tons of plastic that would otherwise be introduced into the environment. They, at the same time, feel obligated to constantly increase sales of clothes. As the article notes “the fashion industry encourages consumers to treat clothes like disposable objects, rather than durable goods.” This concept may be good for sales, but certainly does nothing good for the environment. The organizations CEO acknowledges the contradiction at the heart of Everlane’s efforts “It’s what you call cognitive dissonance”. The article made me go to my closet and look. Fortunately, I was not endowed with the fashion gene and most of my clothes are years old and I generally wear them until they wear out (or don’t fit – ugh!). It makes me think about business in general with the current scale of humanity and how sustainable the ongoing industrialization of all economies is. I feel like too much of a hypocrite to not wish the modern conveniences I enjoy for the rest of the planet – but how do we sustain that? At the heart of the “cognitive dissonance” is the current business mantra around profit maximization or similar terms which reflect our nearly one-sided view of the purpose of business. Contributing to this thought process there was a fascinating series of lectures by George Soros from a few years ago discussing among other things the “citizen” model of business versus pure capitalism. In one lecture he basically said business is here to make money no matter the other consequences, and that is OK. Recognizing the unsustainability of the model – other than to create wealth for a few people – he went on to postulate that we should provide balance by investing the wealth we have made through capitalism to counter those negative consequences. He has lived this mantra with integrity, making many billions of dollars in business, and creating his own foundation seeded with several billions of those dollars to help make the world a “better place”. I appreciate the thought he has put into this and agree with many of his points – to a point. I cannot, however, subscribe to the philosophy of operating a single-minded business to the detriment of many things around it. While more simple and easy to manage this “break and someone else must fix it” philosophy is so counterintuitive and small-minded as to be ridiculous. It sadly appears that the citizenship model has largely become the purview of the public relations department at most modern organizations. A couple years ago when my organization was seeking new options to manage our investments and retirement funds, we came across a unique firm in the Portland area that was a “B-Corporation”, something I had not really been aware of. We ended up choosing this firm, in part because of this Certification. From the Certified B-Corporation web site (https://bcorporation.net/) I found this: “Certified B Corporations are a new kind of business that balances purpose and profit. They are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. This is a community of leaders, driving a global movement of people using business as a force for good.” I love the balance of wealth creation with creating a thriving community, environment, and humanity. This is the type of balance I have sought working at small not-for-profit organizations. I have no illusion that this makes organizations perfect, they are still operated by human beings with biases, illusions, and flaws. What I think it does is make the intent specific to have a bottom line that is balanced with being good for humanity and the environment. In my own little business, I am adopting the B-Corporation Agreement and Certification as a public commitment to those balanced principles. Everlane and other well-meaning organizations might also consider this as a further public commitment to operating their business as corporate citizens as well as being a great and sustainable investment. There is no single answer to these long-term challenges, but in my book the B-Corporation gets an A+.
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