This is the beginning. But we have to look even closer, at the canvas behind the neighborhood.
The land that's supporting businesses and homes is the backdrop to all we do within it. When creating a business model, we are wise to consider the land what it can realistically support. We must consider the people who depend on that land whether they realize it or not. This is not some fall-by-the-wayside topic; it's everything. How can my business support the local land base? How can my company help to clean up the local ecosystem or establish conservation efforts? How can my office produce zero waste? How can I use renewable resources to power, heat and cool the buildings I use? How does my presence in this location enhance the natural landscape that makes it possible for me to live and work here?
Companies should not continue to produce things that hurt either the environment or community. Enough technology and information is accessible now for us not to need things like genetically selective weed killers or toxic toilet bowl cleaners. There is no longer any excuse to use polystyrene foam containers, paper towels or paper napkins. The boom in small farms and the technology we have to communicate with each other leave little excuse for our restaurants not to incorporate local ingredients. Our office kitchenettes don't need throwaway cups or plastic stir straws. There's no reason to buy these products, offer them up for employee use, and there's no reason to sell them. It's unconscionable to not compost food scraps when we know how beneficial they can be. We can start companies that don't create products that harm the land base. We can appeal to the companies we work for to green their practices.
As consumers, we have power. We increase or decrease demand by buying or not buying. This is the only language many companies know. If we all stopped buying paper towels or factory-farmed meat, what business owner in her right mind would continue to try to sell them?
People utilized social media in 2010 to create a massive campaign against Nestlé for its use of Indonesian palm oil in its products. Initially launched by Greenpeace, the Facebook-driven campaign provided information on how demand for palm oil in Indonesia spurred growers there to illegally cut down endangered rainforests in order to make more growing space for palm. A petition was passed around, but consumers got in on the game directly by writing their own letters to Nestlé and posting on the company’s own social media sites about the issue. Consumer action went viral throughout the Internet, and Nestlé responded with a pledge to source 100% of its palm oil from certified-sustainable sources by 2015. It met that pledge a full two years early, in 2013.
Visitors to Sea World locations in the US dropped by 13% in the first quarter of 2015, following the release of the controversial documentary "Blackfish." The film, which outlines a number of violent outbursts of whales against their trainers, explores the complex intelligence of killer whales and suggests the mammals are unfit for captivity. Public outcry against the theme park resulted in free-falls for Sea World’s numbers. Stocks fell 50% in six months during 2013, and the park’s CEO resigned in early 2015. The dramatic drop in ticket sales has meant a scramble for Sea World execs to rebrand the company and to put an onus on rehabilitation and education over tricks and captivity.
A 2005 McKinsey & Company study found that up to 8% of consumers had stopped shopping at Walmart because of negative press about the company’s environmental practices, labor policies and methods for beating out competition. In response, that same year Walmart’s CEO announced a sustainability strategy that would allow the company to in the near future “be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy; to create zero waste; and to sell products that sustain our resources and the environment.”
We are alive during some of the most exciting times. A huge majority of the people creating start-ups want to make a positive contribution to the world. And luckily for them, a business model that incorporates philanthropy is infinitely more attractive to investors. Courageous leaders who insist on higher standards are rewarded tenfold by consumers.
Actor Paul Newman launched Newman's Own in 1982 by passing out wine bottles filled with homemade salad dressing to his friends. In the three decades since, the company has earned more than $400 million - all of which has been donated. Every after-tax dollar earned by the company goes directly to Newman's Own Foundation, which distributes the cash throughout the world to various charities.
Newman's has inspired countless other corporations to follow suit. Mike Hannigan, one such company's founder, had his moment of reckoning while reading over his own jar of Newman's pasta sauce. Hannigan got in touch with his business partner and the two men figured out a way to instill philanthropy into the core of their venture, Give Something Back Office Supplies.
Though it's a mega-chain, Chipotle is another great example of business practices being intertwined with community outreach and sensible principles. The corporation buys as much as possible from local farms within striking range of each franchise. Chipotle selects farms that are informed by their local land bases and utilize compassionate care for livestock.
Life is good, Inc. makes a ton of money selling merchandise depicting its now-famous stick figure emblem. The company has built charitable giving directly into its business plan, donating 10% of net profits to children in need. Life is good also sponsors festivals that give merchandise and profits to child-related charities and causes.
Since 1985 outdoor gear biz Patagonia has donated one percent of annual sales to environmental causes and preservation. But they've done more than that: in 2013, the company unveiled a new campaign called “The Responsible Economy.” This effort is to produce fewer items than in previous years and limit growth in order to put less stress on the environment. Patagonia's high-quality outdoor products are designed to ensure consumers can wear the same gear year after year. The company is single-handedly challenging the compulsive clothing shopping experience other businesses depend on.
The more a community understands an organization's positioning, the better the relationship will be. So aligning a business with one or two specific causes will benefit business owners and employees more than token contributions. This work doesn't have to be money-based, either. Any community will show more respect for business owners who get their hands dirty helping out with neighborhood cleanups or fish fries than some mogul who throws money at community issues.
Virgin Group founder Richard Branson is a billionaire who devotes most of his time to philanthropy. His chief effort is Virgin Unite, a nonprofit foundation with projects related to leadership and entrepreneurship. Branson has said in many interviews that healthy profits are inextricably linked to community support of a business’ services and management practices - and that employees want to work for businesses they believe in.
Steve Brockman, locally celebrated business owner of Expert Plumbing in Naperville, Illinois, regularly rolls his sleeves up to help his community. He works closely with Naperville Western DuPage Special Recreation Association, and has in the past built a parade float and organized a fundraiser for the group. And senior staff at Solihull Hospital in the UK annually show their appreciation to the rest of the staff by contributing during the hospital’s National Volunteers’ Week. Pitching in unpaid in the pharmacy department, meeting and greeting or helping with fundraising efforts are the higher-ups’ way of saying thank you to the people who put in the elbow grease every day to make the hospital run smoothly.
Notre Dame High School in Clarksburg, West Virginia launched a new initiative in 2015 called “Business Gives Back.” For that program, area business owners visit the school to talk with students about the making a difference in the community and the benefits of local businesses offering volunteer outreach.
There is growing evidence that our happiness is actually tied to local economy and policy. The Gross National Happiness (GNH) movement, started in Bhutan, factors happiness into new policies. A commission in that country reviews policy decisions, distribution of resources and studies the effect of these factors on the level of happiness within the country. Similar to environmental impact measures, governments that use GNH indexing adjust their policies according to the levels of happiness those policies will bring to communities.
Factors include the environment, culture, art, physical and mental health and basics like economics. So now, it's possible to chart how a government (in its own right an extension of a company profile) affects the well-being of the communities it is supposed to serve. It's a model worth considering in our own households, civic centers, states and counties.
When we seek business ventures that solely satisfy our greediest, most egocentric concerns, we limit ourselves. We feed an addiction to material gains and a hectic life that leaves us exhausted and unfulfilled. Living in this way only expands our sense of being alone. But opting for community-driven business practices enhances neighborhoods, increases happiness levels and is good for business’ bottom lines.