"We are living in the middle of a remarkable increase in our ability to share, to cooperate with one another, and to take collective action, all outside the framework of traditional institutions and organizations."
When Simon Mainwaring and I met to talk about his upcoming book and company at SxSW this past March, I instantly saw the potential — truly connecting brands and people doesn't just make good business sense; it can change the world.
Why would the public sector get involved with building a better future?
We First: How Brands and Consumers use Social Media to Build a Better World (Amazon affiliate link), is filled with examples, data, and ideas from effective social responsibility executions large and small. Common prosperity is the path to longevity in business and of a thriving society.
These are unquestionably rough times. Problems that are becoming too complex to tackle. A labor market that has many unemployed and in need of retraining. Economic hardship in too many part of the world, still, and a general sense of anxiety for what lies ahead for many.
More and more, taking control over your destiny for many people means choosing to support products and services that in turn support their community. We vote with our wallets as much as we can. Being able to direct one's contribution is a form of personal expression.
Mainwaring advocates a new way of looking at the market — he calls it contributory consumption — in which every transaction generates a contribution toward improving the planet. Companies that give consumers a chance to elect them every day experience higher growth.
Data on earning profits, building prosperity
I've been making conscious choices on where I put my energy, time, and, yes, money, for the better part of the last ten years. Recently, I'm paring down what I own in favor of experiences and sustainable choices. My educated guess is that many of you are as well.
Mainwaring's book supports this as a trend with data:
- Seventh Generation Return on Purpose donates 10 percent of its profits to community, environmental, and health non profits working or change — former CEO Jeffrey Hollender, who stepped down in 2009 to work on the climate crisis and help with social inequity, speaks about a new type of corporate structure, the B Corporation, a for-profit company that forces its Board to consider social and environmental impact along with profit models
- cause-related marketing donations have risen exponentially, from zero in 1983 to $125 million in 1990, quadrupled to $545 million in 1998, and skyrocketed to $1.52 billion in 2008 [source: International Events Group]
- another cause-related marketing program was started in 2002 by Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia together with Craig Mathews, owner of Blue Ribbon Files — 1 percent for the Planet was launched in San Francisco with 22 retailers. By 2005, there were more than 200 members, largely companies whose business depends on a clean, healthy environment. Recently, 1 percent for the Planet included 1,200 member companies in 38 countries, generating more than $50 million in donations to environmental organizations
The point is that it can be done. There are organizations doing it. New generations of buyers will be looking into it more than we did. And it looks like apparently unique decisions follow certain shared subconscious patterns.
Among the cultural assumptions that drive American choice, according to the Center for Cultural Studies & Analysis, are:
- Individuals should determine their own destiny
- Individuals should control their social and physical environment
- Authority or “bigness” should be viewed with suspicion
- Actions should be judged in a moral light (philanthropy, for example)
- We should have as many choices as possible
- Anything can and should be improved
- The future should be better than the present
Here's the thing though, and something my colleague Peter Tunjic pointed out in an exchange we had about B Corporations (emphasis mine).
In isolating social/ecological and differentiating on that basis we perpetuate the good (B Corporations) vs. evil (A Corporations). If we “do” more B stuff we will be morally superior and ergo more successful.
The reality is that it’s a bit of a Hail Mary strategy if you can’t connect the dots to keep your promises and pay the bills. It works for individuals who generally don’t have to keep a lot of promises. It's bad for corporations that literally live and die on their promises.
For me, it’s all about creating the best environment in which to trade your way into strength and resilience (assuming the corporation plans on sticking around). Being mean or indifferent is plain dumb.
But so too is being nice and environmentally conscious just because. To be clear, “just because” is great for humans but to extend that logic to corporations is in my view a bit silly and anthropocentric (just because humans work in them doesn’t mean they’re human).
We need to have more of these conversations about how to be smart in business — strategic, engaged in connecting the dots, and in keeping promises. That's where the right executions, and thinking matter.