Double and triple bottom line companies were all the rage a few years ago. As quickly as they peaked our interest and fed our social sensibilities, they faded into the depths of the great recession.
Many have long assumed that to serve the public good yields some type of opportunity cost. That is to seek any other outcome besides profit robs an organization’s ability to deliver the highest return on investment. Yet some of the world’s hardest charging enterprises such as GE and WalMart consistently lead global movement towards sustainability and similar pursuits. They do so not only because of the obvious public relations benefits but because they view such initiatives as driving some form of competitive advantage.
Thus there is a movement underfoot to understand how our businesses make our communities better, and how our communities (including government) can support economic development. One lesson of our economic malaise is that cities and small towns are drowning as a result of failed businesses; a reflection of an environment in which business and government can be in conflict with one another.
We have a number of clients such as People’s Care, Lincoln Training Centers and the L.A. Fireman’s Relief Association that blur the line between profit and non-profits. These are financially responsible organizations that also provide shared value; i.e. they contribute social benefit to our communities.
I once completed a project for Rio Tinto, one of the world’s largest mining concerns. They were extremely committed to reducing their consumption of water in North America, and invested heavily in seeking out solutions that reduced their impact on the environment, while reducing their cost and risk. My point is that these goals do not have to be in conflict, and can actually be synergistic.
Brands such as Starbucks combine their economic and social interests in a way that enhance their brand and positioning, and promote higher perceived value. Our penchant for spending $3 on a latte instead of a $1 coffee at McDonalds or Dunkin Donuts is due in part to our interest in being part of a social contract (precipitated by Starbucks).
Give some thought to how your enterprise can augment its thirst for profit with the ability to deliver shared value.
Inspired by “Creating Shared Value” by Michael Porter and Mark Kramer HBR January 2011