It is conceivable, in light of growing transparency and awareness in the marketplace, that there may come a time when consumers will not buy into a company simply because of the convenience/awesomeness/tastiness of a product/service, or even partly because of the company’s purported “values”- but by how the company works and the impact their operations have on their surrounding community, their clients, their employees, and the natural environment.
I am encouraged by the “B Corporation” initiative that assesses many of these impacts- its formation reveals the demand from certain pockets of society to rein in corporate cowboys and transform the way we do business into a more sustainable model. It does show an expanding consciousness from the consumer market, as well as business leaders, regarding how the business is run rather than the typical zombie-like obsession with the end product and/or profit gained.
Encouraged, yes. Convinced that a revolution is occurring? Not quite.
Following the Paris climate change talks, Kathy Calvin, CEO of the United Nations Foundation and one of the “B-team” leaders that help drive the B Corp movement, made a statement revealing how cold many business leaders and investors are to the revolutionary spirit demanding integrity in the marketplace. Yet, her statement hardly conveys a sense of indignation or even disappointment- it rather sounds as if she’s patting these cash croppers on the back for taking financial advantage of the sensitivities of the day:
“More and more business leaders and investors recognize not just the obligation to act, but also the economic opportunities in the growing clean energy economy.” [you can see the full context here: unfoundationblog.org]
-Kathy Calvin, CEO of the United Nations Foundation and B-Team leader
Now, I have nothing personal against Mrs. Calvin and don’t care to pick this statement apart. I get what she’s getting at- ‘Look! These fat cats wouldn’t even hear about sustainability before- now they’re not only being forced to by law, but they see that they can make some money too!’ The sentiment expressed doesn’t necessarily convince me that attitudes are changing among executives and investors, which is the hopeful implication behind her statement.
This is hardly a departure from business as usual. No, it is not revolutionary at all for companies and investors to recognize a demand that they can profit off of, be it adding more yellow #5 to make your lemon heads yellower or using turmeric instead. If it’s cheaper by one solitary penny to use yellow #5, then by all means those suckers are dyeing artificially. However, once the public realizes that yellow #5 harbors potential health risks, that turmeric is just as useful for turning things yellow while also having the benefits of being non-toxic and nutritious, AND (here’s the big one)- stops buying the toxic option– then the company will make that switch. There is now profit to be won. It’s strictly business, never personal. It’s the dollar bill- not the ‘right thing’- or even the health and wellness of the public, that is the prime motivator of businesses, institutions, and even individuals held hostage on this train of thought. By the way, Ferrara Candy Co. still uses yellow #5 in their Lemonheads.
Now surely there are many, many people and entities that take accountability seriously as they work to meet financial goals. But we are still on the fringes, despite our growing numbers and louder voice. I wonder – will mainstream, profit-driven businessmen and women eventually be put out of business by those who truly care about more than just ‘business’? Only when the majority of consumers demand it.
This then, would be a revolution.