10.08.12 – Beyond the hairy, scary corporate   Leave a comment

In “The Business Guide to Sustainability”, the authors make the case that sustainability is an extension of other organisational changes in response to a society that increasingly raises its expectations of business over time.

In the early 1900s, codes of ethics and government policies were imposed to limit monopolies, misleading product claims and dodgy business dealings. The organised labour movement followed, demanding greater occupational health and safety on the job and better quality of work life. Originating in Japan, the quality movement arrived in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Now there are increasing expectations that business integrates environmental stewardship and greater social responsibility into their models.

Trends that shape the business landscape matter. Innovative managers and bold business experimenters that react quickly to such forces, or even better, anticipate them, can use them to advantage. 

One of the biggest trends confronting businesses this century is the push toward greater social responsibility and environmental protection in response to population growth, rising income levels and subsequent rising demand for natural resources, constrained supplies, environmental damage, rising costs of waste disposal and changing social attitudes.

This was the topic of discussion at a forum this week called Next Gen Capitalism – profit, people, planet. On the panel were:

  • Melina Morrison, director of Australia’s Secretariat for the UN Year of Cooperatives and a founding director of Social Business Australia.
  • Danny Almagor, founder and CEO of Small Giants and Social Entrepreneur in Residence at RMIT (and previously CEO of Engineers Without Borders).
  • Mark McKenzie-McHarg, founder of the Yackandandah Community Development Community and Mt. Buffalo Community Enterprise.
  • Jonathan Tasini,a US political and economic strategist, with over 30 years experience as a union leader and organizer, a social activist, and a commentator and writer on work, labour and the economy.

The discussion was facilitated by Michael Short, of Fairfax’s “The Zone”.

While private capital has developed great prosperity (for some), in recent times the word corporation has become a dirty word in an economic system that is perceived to maximise profit above everything else (witness the rise of the Occupy movement).  Cracks are appearing in the traditional economic model, resulting in friction against environmental limits  and the “99%”.

Business-as-usual is coming under closer scrutiny and many businesses are certainly addressing their corporate responsibilities and becoming more accountable and transparent in their activities. Alternative models are also popping up, such as social enterprises that have the common good embedded in their DNA. These innovative models are consistent with supporting workers, protecting the environment, and serving the broader social good.

Some great local examples….

Small Giants – supports businesses that are shifting us to a more socially equitable and environmentally sustainable world

Earthworker Cooperative – a micro-financing venture aimed at resourcing manufacturing start-ups and Eureka’s Future Workers Cooperative. Earthworker Cooperative goal is to be a powerful force for the collective good, on behalf of its member organisations: cooperatives, unions, shire councils, faith-based organisations and individuals.

Yackandandah Community Development Community – commercially focussed on both general community-wellbeing, as well as the economic interests of the Yackandandah community and surrounding areas.

Mount Buffalo Community Enterprise – community owned enterprise developing a plan to restore and rejuvenate Mt Buffalo Chalet.

Social Business Australia – helping increase the number of social businesses operating in the Australian economy and educating the wider public about a different, more ethical and sustainable way of doing business.

At the international level, there has also been the emergence of Benefit Corporations, or B-Corps.These companies are designed create a new sector of the economy which uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. They are all for-profit companies that have legal structures mandating that the company is designed to work not only for maximum shareholder gain, but for the good of society and the environment, that is, they are for-profits with a non-profit soul, providing greater accountability and transparency. Currently, there are 574 companies across 60 industries that have become approved B Corps, such as Small Giants (the first in Australia).

While social enterprises are not a panacea for the problems of the world, they are certainly becoming an important playing piece on the chess board.

Shane Gladigau

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Posted August 10, 2012 by equilibrium in Climate Change & Sustainability

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