Socially conscious, social entrepreneurship, and corporate sustainability. We hear these words together a lot, and with good reason. Social entrepreneurship requires businesses to be socially conscious--and, if deemed so appropriately, these business will likely have corporate sustainability, or long-term value through a "green" strategy supporting the natural environment and considering every dimension of how a business operates in the social, cultural, and economic environment.
Socially conscious business models have garnered a lot of attention lately. This is evident just by walking through the doors of the Center for Social Entrepreneurship in New York City, an entire co-working space, community, and launch pad built specifically for entrepreneurs starting socially conscious businesses. However, this shift toward social entrepreneurship isn't limited to startups and small brands. Even large, well-established companies like Patagonia--which was founded on a three-pronged mission "to build the best products, do no unnecessary harm and to use business to inspire solutions to the environmental crisis"--have made socially conscious business practices the platform of their organizations.
Even companies that have long been considered "traditional," (translation: stuck in their ways) have been taking broad strokes to become more socially conscious. Daily Finance cites Walmart, Waste Management, and Unilever as three of five surprising companies that have gone green--the final focused entirely on "altering its business model with a focus on sustainability." The takeaway? Socially conscious business practices are no longer just a "perk" or selling point for PR purposes. In my mind, both from a business and profitability standpoint, and from a moral standpoint, being socially conscious should be a requirement.
And while progress is being made on this front, it seems like we've been talking about this for a long time, with very little progress toward consistent change. This is evident in what I see day-to-day--the small oversight of people failing to recycle during their lunch hours--so I can't imagine the kinds of socially conscious infractions I'd see if I took a peek behind closed-doors of large companies. Perhaps the scare tactics aren't being used effectively enough. I can think of one in particular that's worked well on me: We are at a tipping point today, because by 2050 we will be beyond our resources as a plant. This is scary. I could live to see this day if I don't start making changes right now; if we don't all start making changes right now.
According to World Wildlife Federation's Jason Clay in his TED Talk How Big Brands Can Help Save Biodiversity, it's even simpler than that: Inspiring 100 key companies to go sustainable will be enough to convince global markets to shift and make significant changes to protect the planet that our consumption has already outgrown. Clay's roundtables are already getting big brands to agree on green practices before their products even hit store shelves. The point is, as business owners we all need to make a commitment to making socially conscious practices a part of our business, in the same way we make accounting, marketing, or human resources a part of our businesses. Whether its using solar and wind power to run manufacturing; sourcing our products from vendors who respect the earth, people and animals; or providing our employees with the benefits they need to live well at and away from work, we need to commit to making these changes and be completely transparent in doing so.
For those business owners who aren't easily scared, or don't think they have the infrastructure to support such a shift, perhaps it's more impactful to talk about the benefits of social responsibility to the business itself. In addition to just being the right thing to do, socially conscious practices are also profitable. Earlier I mentioned the correlation between social entrepreneurship and corporate sustainability. Sustainability--closely linked to profitability--is one of the tenants of social entrepreneurship. Our minds are focused on "not running out" because that is exactly what we are so close to doing. It's just plain, good business sense to use methods that will conserve our resources (be they people or products) and save us money in the long run. And there are plenty of companies that started out small and have accomplished just that. Look where they are now, in most cases beating out those who are slow to change: Patagonia, mention above, has seen double digit growth annually over the past five years; and Al Gore and David Blood's Investment Firm, Generation demonstrates the success of a deliberative investment model committed to reducing environmental and social damage, by showing greater returns and less volatility than the standard investment house approach by a significant percentage.
The real kicker for me, though, is the recently discovered, and rarely discussed link between the environmental destruction of our planet and human trafficking, which is outlined in abolitionist Kevin Bale's book: Blood and Earth: Modern Slavery, Ecocide, and the Secret to Saving the World. Many of us are unknowingly supporting the perpetuation of modern day slavery through our daily consumer habits, just by purchasing from companies who haven't fully vetted the practices of their supply chains. So much so, that the interactive website Made in a Free World was founded to allow anyone to compile information about their consumer habits and estimate the correlation of those habits to the promotion of slavery. This organization is currently building a revolutionary tool for companies to directly address slavery in their supply chains, along with a movement to partner with companies who are actively building "a free world," by practicing socially conscious business.
As far as appearances are concerned, from corporate to cultural measures and everything in between, we live in a world that cares about social entrepreneurship and corporate sustainability. It's time we start consistently acting on that feeling.