This is an exciting time to be a sustainable and responsible business. The quiet revolution of growth in business sustainability and responsibility has the potential to change our economic landscape for the better.
And yet, we risk remaining a marginal part of the entire economy unless there are significant policy changes in Washington and state capitals across the country.
Over the last few decades, innovative businesses have realigned their principles and developed new practices based on an expanded notion of success. Today, in the U.S. alone, hundreds of thousands of businesses are proving that they can succeed and even thrive with a triple-bottom-line approach.
The impact is significant. Just in the green industry, private investment has totaled $3.6 trillion globally since 2007, according to Ethical Markets Media. Similar growth is occurring in social ventures and alternative business structures.
But the older, profit only-obsessed model persists, but more importantly as the money and power behind policy decisions that put responsible and sustainable businesses at a competitive disadvantage. Worse than that, policies that support the old model are destructive to our planet and our people – and are and will continue to exact a high price on our economy.
So, a growing polarization has arisen in Washington about business policy. Old-economy businesses as represented by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce argue against climate change legislation, and support continued subsidies to oil companies. While sustainable businesses raise their voices for solutions like putting a price on carbon, production tax credits, and using tools like Clean Energy Victory Bonds.
Older businesses represented by the American Chemistry Council are fighting hard against the reform of the 26-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act, which does a poor job of regulating chemicals. At the same time, innovative businesses advocate for the Safe Chemicals Act moving towards safer chemicals, materials, products and processes.
Everywhere you look, from campaign finance rules to tax policies that can fund infrastructure and research for the next generation of industrial growth, the policy fights are deeply unfair. Advocates for old-line businesses are well-established, well-funded, and well-organized, while the advocates for new economy business policies have not been.
That is why the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) was created: to be a new business voice, presence and power for a new economy. The council informs and engages business leaders, while educating policy makers and the media about the need and opportunities for a sustainable economy.
Since its founding in 2009, ASBC and its organizational members have grown to represent more than 150,000 businesses and more than 300,000 individual entrepreneurs, owners, executives, investors and business professionals, all committed to creating a framework and advancing policies to support a vibrant, just and sustainable economy.
ASBC includes diverse business organizations that cover the gamut of local and state chambers of commerce, microenterprise, social enterprise, green and sustainable business groups, local and community-rooted business, women business leaders, economic development organizations and investor and business incubators.
Next page: Restructuring the economy for the good of business
In myriad ways, the businesses represented by our network are proving that the model of sustainable and responsible capitalism works. We believe that this model, in its various iterations, can be the framework for a new and dynamic 21st century economy. But if we wait for the model to take hold without both market and governmental strategies, the transition is likely to be too slow for our mounting economic, social and environmental challenges.
In the past, government has empowered the engines of our economy — business — to be agents of recovery and revitalization. By government and business working together, we created the rules and regulations to guide the economy through the industrial age. We need to do it again, now.
The economy must be restructured for the good of businesses, for all Americans and for the rest of this planet. Only through responsible comprehensive change can we continue to enjoy the benefits of market capitalism while bringing its destructive tendencies to heel. We can — and must — properly manage markets, account for full costs, create a level playing field, and create the incentives for innovation that will help usher in the 21st century economy.
We have an opportunity to build on the phenomenal progress business has made to become more socially responsible and sustainable. We need to recognize the responsibility that we have as business leaders to stand up and be heard in the debates at the local, state and national level, in the White House, Congress, State and local legislative bodies. We need to change the conversation and we need to change the outcome of these debates.
To take this need for systemic change seriously, we must take seriously the possibility that we will fail. But if we fail, let it not be because we chose to do nothing. Instead, let us choose to act. Let us step up and be the business leaders that this country has been waiting for and establish the economy for a sustainable future.
Policy Matters, by the American Sustainable Business Council, identifies public policies where a business voice, grounded in principles of innovation, fairness and environmental stewardship, can make an essential difference in the advocacy process.
Image by Sergey Nivens via Shutterstock