Changing the World, One Business Owner at a Time, Part One

Protection, Photo by Warren Goldswain, ©Warrengoldswain/Dreamstime.comAbout six weeks ago, I listened to a teleclass by Mark Silver at Heart of Business, Inc.  During the question and answer portion of the class, a participant asked how she could change the world through her business.  Another participant inquired whether the Mark would consider teaching a course on how to change the world through one’s business. I was heartened and inspired by these participants’ questions and comments.

Changing the world is a major endeavour that requires commitment, energy, and innovative strategies on so many fronts.  How much can one person—or small business–realistically take on as a social change agent, either through their business or in addition to their business activities? And where should heart-centred entrepreneurs and professionals start when there are so many issues to tackle and only so much time and energy available to us?

The keys to avoiding burn-out or getting stuck in “analysis paralysis” are to start small, be consistent, and find—or start—a community of like-minded individuals for mutual support along the way. In the first part of this post, I’ll talk about implementing a modified, manageable “triple bottom line” approach that will help you meet your goal of changing the world through your business.  In the second part of the post, I’ll talk about importance of finding and maintaining a community of kindred spirits.

Changing the World, One Person and Business at a Time

Mohandas K. Gandhi’s admonition to “be the change you wish to see in the world” is a reminder of a powerful yet simple truth: If we want to bring about positive change in the world, then we must consistently engage in the actions (or non-actions) that will produce the desired outcome.  As I mentioned in my Earth Day post, we influence others more by what we do than what we say we do. Others are more likely to join us in creating social change when we teach or lead by example.

How do you do this at the business level? If you start from the perspective that your business is an extension of you and your values, the question becomes: To what extent is your business functioning as part of the change you wish to see in the world? You can start by taking an inventory of your current business practices and decisions and give some thought to how they enhance or detract from supporting social and environmental sustainability.  What could you change or add that would still support the economic sustainability of your business?

Triple Your Bottom Line

Assessing a company’s effect on social and environmental sustainability in addition to the financial bottom line is known as triple bottom line reporting, or corporate social responsibility. According to a 2008 paper written by the Chief Executive of the Global Reporting Initiative, the concept of corporate social responsibility and sustainability reporting has gained such widespread acceptance over the last 15 years that it has almost become taboo for large corporations to ignore this aspect of the reporting process.

Ideally, the process isn’t just about getting the numbers at the bottom of the page to “look good” because it’s an opportunity for improving a corporation’s public relations image or to be “trendy”. It’s about embracing and practicing principles of fairness and sustainability because it causes the least amount of harm to others and the planet and it is the right thing to do. As much as our individualist culture would like us to believe otherwise, we do not live in “splendid isolation”: We are interdependent on and in relationship with other beings and the planet, and what we do in the course of our lives and our businesses effects other directly or indirectly.

Mark Silver wrote an article about the triple bottom line on his blog at Heart of Business, Inc.  What I like about Mark’s take on following a triple bottom line is that he defines the three strands (economic, social, and environmental) in the context of two-way relationships. He highlights the importance of nourishing and being nourished by those relationships. He also reminds us of the underlying spiritual values that might have inspired and driven the development of a triple bottom line: connection, compassion, fairness, and a desire to be mindful of how we tread on the planet as we go about our daily business.

Getting Started: Translating Qualities into Quantities

You know how to measure the fiscal bottom line of your business from year to year, but how do you measure your business’s impact on the community or the environment? And how in the world do you convert the values underlying the commitment to social and environmental sustainability into something you can actually measure, let alone track?

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) has developed an extensive set of standardized indicators (80 measures across six categories) to help organizations of any size track and report their social, environmental, and fiscal/governance performance.  Global Reporting also offers support in the form of tools (a reporting template), training, and books to help organizations get started with setting up a reporting system.

Setting up and maintaining a reporting system—even with a ready-made template and clearly defined indicators—is often a time intensive activity for the first two or three cycles. Unless you have the time and resources, the process could quickly become overwhelming if you have a microenterprise (businesses with 10 or fewer employees).  For owners of heart-centred microenterprises, a more feasible option might include using the GRI’s reporting measures for Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) as a starting point then picking a few actions you can reasonably follow through on and easily track.

Accounting for Your Actions

As a general guideline, most environmental measures are tied to carbon footprints and usage patterns for water and other natural resources. Sustainable business practices are based on reducing, reusing (or repurposing) and recycling, in that order. (Recycling is a draw on carbon based energy and other resources, hence the reason it is listed as the third “r”. However, recycling is still preferable to dumping plastics and other materials into land-fills.)

To get you started, here are a few measurable actions you can take that will reduce your business’s carbon footprint:

  • Opt for using web based technologies or teleconferences for meetings instead of in–person meetings that require using a car to get to the meeting place.
  • Go paperless.  If you can’t go completely paperless, print double-sided and only buy paper made recycled materials.
  • Switch the lights off when you’re not using them and consider switching to compact fluorescent or some other low energy light bulbs.

For some additional ideas on sustainable actions you can implement in your workspace, check out the David Suzuki Guide at Work toolkit. You can download it for free from the David Suzuki Foundation’s website. (It is a Canadian resource, so all measurements are in metric.) David Gershon’s book Low Carbon Diet: A 30 Day Program to lose 5,000 Pounds (2007) is also a great resource and provides the “math tools” to help you measure the impact of the actions you take. You might also want to gather a group of like-minded folks and organize a “Build Sustainable Organizations” Action Circle, offered through Be the Change Earth Alliance, Vancouver.

Many of the social impact measures included in triple bottom line reporting are tied to increasing or maximizing the positive effect a business has in the community.  These measures might include financial (e.g., investing in the community through using local suppliers and services), ethical (e.g., human rights and fair labour practices), and actively participating or taking a leadership role in community engagement activities that raise awareness of—and help find solutions to various social issues.

Are you wondering what some of these suggestions would look like in practice? Here are a few ideas:

  • Volunteer your time and skills/expertise to a local not-for-profit organization or community event.
  • If your business sells a product that was made elsewhere, find out whether the supplier or manufacturer follow ethical and eco-friendly principles in their businesses.
  • Support business to business services that also uphold social justice principles.  For example, I use a web hosting company (Crosswinds) that donates 25% of its net profits to an anti-poverty organization.
  • Stand up for community based and not-for-profit organizations that are making a difference in the world.  Write letters, sign petitions and hold elected officials accountable for their actions and funding decisions.

Whatever actions you choose to take that will get your business practices aligned with your vision of being the change you wish to see in the world, don’t forget the underlying strategies for being a successful, inspired and inspiring change agent. Start slowly, be patient and compassionate with yourself if you slip up occasionally (and you will because you’re human), and—as you’ll read in part two of this post—don’t try to do it all on your own. Find or create a community of kindred spirits for mutual inspiration, encouragement, and support along the way.

I’m curious.  In what ways does (or could) your business or workplace help to create the changes you would like to see in the world?  If you are an employee within a company or organization, how open is your employer to adopting a green philosophy or encouraging community engagement opportunities among its staff? What are some of your strategies, either as a business owner or as an employee to get support (buy-in) for changing the “standard operating procedures”? Who do you look to for support and encouragement along the way?

© Susan Chambers, 2011

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June 6, 2011 · Susan · 2 Comments
Posted in: Uncategorized

2 Responses

  1. Pam Sourelis - June 8, 2011

    This is a wonderful article, Sue, filled with great suggestions. I am a micro-micro business: just me. I do healing work with animals, primarily from a distance, so my carbon footprint is pretty small.

    I am committed to doing what I can to help return our damaged planet to health, and so I buy only organic food, buy locally whenever possible, unplug my computer at night, flip lights off when I leave the room . . .

    And I talk about my values–living in peace and interconnection with all species–every chance I get: on my Facebook page, in my blog, in my email newsletters. Reading your article and crafting this response has made me realize that I could do more speaking in the community about interspecies connection, using people’s connection with their domestic animals as a starting point. I don’t always have to be talking about the work that I do, the services that I offer; I can talk about what I have learned about the interconnectedness of all beings from my years of doing this work.


  2. Susan - June 8, 2011

    Hi Pam,

    Thanks for your comment and for sharing the actions you take to help heal the world. I’m glad this post inspired you to find new ways to reach out and advocate for Earth and her inhabitants. Helping people shift their mind set about their relationship with the Earth and her other critters from a “dominion over” to a “stewardship of” perspective is a critical piece in healing the world. Reaching out to people and framing the issue in a context that is closer to home–with our domesticated and companion animals is a great way to help people make that shift. By the way, I loved your vision for the future that you outlined in your blog post, Priorities, on May 19th. I hope some of my other readers will take the time to read your post and be inspired by your vision.

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