Andrew Savitz, founder of Sustainable Business Strategies and author of books including Talent, Transformation and the Triple Bottom Line, recalls how one freezing January night, he saw an old woman in rags, sleeping in the gutter of one of the most fashionable shopping districts in Paris. The image prompted him to dedicate his life "to finding ways to unleash or harness the power of the free market, so that no one has to live like that."
Zak Zaidman, co-founder and CEO of Kopali Organics, a fair trade and organic chocolate company, had a similarly moving experience as a child in Mexico City: While his family was stopped at a red light, a barefoot woman carrying a baby walked up to the car and begged for help. "I didn't know much," Zaidman remembers, "but I knew she was tired, hungry, sad, and scared, and had nowhere to go and no money for shoes... My heart broke. I couldn't understand how it wasn't an emergency that this mother had no shoes and no means to feed, clothe, or keep her children safe. I still don't understand it."
I too have been heartbroken by the lack of equity in our society, or more specifically, the misuse and abuse of money and power. In my lifetime, big business has operated at the expense of humanity -- pitting money against personal and planetary evolution, instead of utilizing money as a tool for growth, transformation, and the manifestation of our highest individual and collective potential. Money in and of itself is neutral. When we are selfish with it, money can bring out the worst in ourselves and others. To the contrary, when we are generous with it, when we put our hearts behind it, money can bring out the best.
People like Savitz and Zaidman are among the growing legion of corporate owners and consultants who are changing the way the world does business, merging spirituality and finance and promoting a heart-centered approach to corporate management. Whereas nearly every business owner used to focus exclusively on The Bottom Line (financial profit of a singular company), scores of business owners, including corporate giants, now focus on The Triple Bottom Line (equal parts company profit, environmental sustainability, and fair working conditions).
Working to make a difference for others makes a difference for our own lives, by giving us a sense of purpose and meaning. It is therefore no surprise that those on the forefront of the sustainability movement feel deeply satisfied by their work. "My life and work aren't mutually exclusive," says Paul Klein, Forbes blogger and founder of Impakt, a consulting company promoting the Triple Bottom Line. "I feel a deep sense of purpose in my work... I think that's why, overall, my life feels so rewarding."
For Savitz, the work "comes from the heart and then through the head." In addition, it is rooted in the practice of Tikkun Olam -- the Jewish teaching that each individual must do her or his part to repair the world.
While pioneers of the Triple Bottom Line movement may be motivated by noble values of social justice and environmental responsibility, their tireless efforts have led to a surge of consumer awareness and demand for Triple Bottom Line products -- making it simply a wise business move to incorporate "green" and "fair trade" practices into a company's brand today. "For most corporations," says Klein, "the motivation to become more 'responsible' is financial. They recognize the business value of having a social purpose."
"I see sustainability as the highest calling of capitalism," agrees Savitz.
Consumers are more aware of sustainability issues than ever before, explains Mary Jo Cook, Chief Impact Officer of Fair Trade USA, the leading third party that certifies Fair Trade products in the United States. Cook derives personal satisfaction watching shoppers put Fair Trade products in their grocery carts, because with each purchase, she witnesses a consumer choosing to improve lives, protect the environment, and put their hard-earned money behind a paradigm shift in business. "Businesses are realizing that in order to maintain their viability, it is imperative for them to shift to a Triple Bottom Line model," she says.
Beyond vying for consumer dollars, experts agree, businesses are realizing that it is impossible to continue functioning without taking into consideration their workers and the environment. By way of example, Cook refers to cocoa farming in Africa: It is "no longer a viable profession," she says, "because farmers don't earn enough money to feed their families, let alone invest in sustainable farming practices. Cocoa farming in West Africa is such an unattractive occupation [now] that only about 20 percent of cocoa farmers' children want to follow in their parents' footsteps. Who is going to grow the world's cocoa if this continues?"
For businesses that source from developing countries with high poverty levels and limited resources, Cook concludes, the supply chain "is in jeopardy."
"If the rules of business as usual are pitted against the environment -- that is, the ecosystems that we are all a part of and that support life -- and if the rules of business of usual are pitted against the well-being of society at large, then we are all doomed," says Zaidman. To create a sustainable, compassionate, and just world, he emphasizes, "one of our most important tasks is to change the rules of the game of business. Promoting and working for the environmental and social sustainability of business is a first step."
GE, Starbucks, PepsiCo, Tesco, and Walmart are reportedly some of the corporate giants making strides in this direction. While experts agree that such corporations typically approach sustainability from a pragmatic business standpoint, it appears that their leaders are nonetheless throwing their hearts into the changes. "A surprisingly large number of board members and executive officers have told me that they were personally motivated by something their children said or did," reveals Savitz. Their family members are happier with them now, "which may be the most important for their hearts and souls," he adds.
Cook further indicates that the act of doing the work ultimately impacts the motivation for doing it. Over time, she says, businesses motives evolve to encompass a more holistic and values-based approach.
Highly-motivated companies, says Savitz, may begin to change their business practices in the name of efficiency, but the companies then move on to the goals of innovation and inspiration. He cites Cascade Engineering as an example: Years ago, the Grand Rapids, Mich., company decided it wanted to hire people right off public welfare, so that welfare recipients could make at least double the money if they were successful. After one decade and two false starts, 10 percent of Cascade's workforce is now comprised of former welfare recipients. In addition, Savitz says, "the entire work force is on a mission. Motivation begets motivation."
In the past, our minds created a model in which customers, labor, management, investors, and the planet often had competing interests. To actualize the power of business as a force of social and environmental wellness, we have needed to free our thinking, so as to express our hearts' wisdom that we are all closely interconnected. The mind cannot escape its own point of view. The heart, however, is already a part of every other heart, so its self-interest is convergent with the best interests of the whole. Love for each other and nature guides us in creating a fair and harmonious new paradigm of economics.
As for what the future holds, Zaidman sums it up this way: "I do hope to see the day when... buying food that was grown using chemicals that are known to cause cancer, [and that was harvested] by farmers who don't make enough money to feed their families, becomes a heartbreaking part of our history."