A sustainable society is on the horizon. If we just believe and act, we can draw it closer to reality! Businesses are inventing ways to support social causes; non-profits are inventing ways to generate steady income through business enterprise: two signs of a changing economic consciousness. The triple bottom line - people, planet, and profits – is gaining adherents among corporations, small business owners, and entrepreneurs. The B Corporation – legally required to pursue the triple bottom line – is growing in numbers.
We are seeing the confluence of necessity, humane values, and instinct as a new economic order. Necessity, generated by a brutal economy and the concentration of wealth at the top of society, is creating dis-ease in the declining middle class. As comforts diminish, rebellious edges and creative responses are sharpened. Humane values, enabled by a level of economic comfort and global consciousness never before known in societies, help us to stand more knowledgeably in each others’ shoes. Instinct, the biological truth that “no man (or woman) is an island,” drives us to assist others as a means of protecting ourselves.
We may last long enough as a species to solidify this shift – or we may not – but it’s underway and each of us can do our small part to reinforce it, to live with hope. I’ve written often about this topic, evident in so many ways, not least in the Occupy Wall Street movement. Here are a few small, random examples.
1. Inc. Magazine’s May 2011 issue has a special report on the innovative business models social entrepreneurs are inventing It features 22 companies in the vanguard of our changing economy, including Cascade Engineering. Fred Keller, the CEO of the $250 million Grand Rapids business, has helped uplift an entire community by steadfastly asking the question: What good can we do? It is a B Corporation.
2. “The National Center for Charitable Statistics estimates that nearly 70 percent of the $1.4 trillion generated by nonprofits in 2008 came from the sale of goods and services,” reports Inc. Magazine. An example: The 3.3 million members of the Girl Scouts earn $700 million+ in annual revenues from selling cookies.
3. Milkshake is a daily email that highlights businesses that do good. Its website says, “Read about a chic watch made of recycled wood, then click to buy and support a tree-planting initiative (or) learn about an organization that is selling gum and mints to fund the education of children in Africa.” A recent Milkshake find is the IOU Project which allows you to buy (without the middleman) sustainable, artisan-made clothing, watch videos of the Indian and Egyptian artisans at work, and upload videos of you wearing their products.
4. Tyler Merrick, the founder of Project 7, sells consumer products and donates about 50% of his profits to help end hunger, promote conservation, and assist the homeless, among other philanthropic efforts. His first successful sale was made to a Whole Foods buyer who bought Merrick’s philanthropic idea, more than he bought Project 7’s initial product of chewing gum. Now Merrick’s business is in 4,000 stores nationwide.
Make no mistake: We’re all required now to look truthfully at where we are as a society and at our global context, and to act constructively in response. As a biological anthropologist friend once told me when I was fighting an undeniable biological fact, “The truth shall set you free, Jima.” That holds for all of us. Invite your social consciousness to choose what you buy, what your business sells, how your business uses its profits, and how your non-profit can make a steady income. Not an easy shift, of course. But, as we try harder, as we focus on the precepts and practices of this emerging economic model, as we BELIEVE, we will improve the health and sustainability of our world.