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How the Business Roundtable’s big green shift creates opportunity

What does it mean that America’s largest and most powerful corporations are now endorsing fair labor practices, ethical treatment of suppliers, sustainability and transparency?

The green/social entrepreneurship world just got a huge gift from an unexpected source: The Business Roundtable. This industry group represents 181 CEOs of America’s biggest and most successful companies. Its board of directors includes Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase and Mary Barra of General Motors. The membership includes chief executives of Apple, Alcoa, Amazon, American Airlines and American Electric Power — and that’s just those starting with the letter A.

For decades, this group supported the Milton Friedman idea that shareholder value was the only goal to strive for — that environmental and social responsibility were distractions.

But on Aug. 19, that changed. Dramatically.

The Business Roundtable released a statement on that day committing to:

  • "Compensating [employees] fairly and providing important benefits … Foster[ing] diversity and inclusion, dignity and respect.
  • "Dealing fairly and ethically with our suppliers…
  • "Embracing sustainable practices across our businesses…
  • "Transparency and effective engagement with shareholders."

What does it mean that America’s largest and most powerful corporations are endorsing fair labor practices, ethical treatment of suppliers, sustainability and transparency?

This groundbreaking endorsement of our core values by the old-line business world could shift the tide.

Leverage to change the world

This groundbreaking endorsement of our core values by the old-line business world could shift the tide. It says to everyone, from business school instructors to government regulators to environmental activists, that these values-based criteria need to be counted when we measure success. And it gives us the opportunity to hold old-style corporations accountable — to see that they walk their talk.

No longer can they get by with claiming they can’t engage in social screens, can’t figure out a way not to pollute because it costs too much, have to privatize resource-based profits while externalizing social and environmental costs. The thought leaders in their world have refuted all of that. This document might even provide a legal basis for court actions against signatory companies that continue to despoil the earth and violate human rights (that’s my opinion as a layperson and is not legal advice).

Benefits to green and regenerative businesses

To the green business world, it’s an incredible opportunity. Without saying "Nyah, nyah, told you so!" it opens a path to media coverage, reinforcement of your brand, greater customer loyalty, easier employee recruitment/retention and other benefits. And those can translate to new revenue streams and profit centers.

Let’s look at how some companies that have long shown environmental leadership might put out marketing messages around this. (Note: I am making up all these messages; they’re not based on what these companies are saying, but on what they could say.)

  • Carpet sustainability pioneer Interface: "For 25 years, we’ve been working to make our products and our manufacturing process as environmentally and benign and socially uplifting as we can. We are thrilled that our competitors want to build on this work — and would be happy to discuss licensing our processes to save you 2.5 decades of work." (Wow! This not only reinforces the brand, it creates a significant potential revenue stream.)
  • Recycled household paper pioneer Marcal: "Since we went 100 percent recycled in 1950, we’ve committed as a company to saving millions of trees. Since maintaining and expanding healthy forests is the easiest and one of the best steps in reducing the impact of catastrophic climate change, we are thrilled that the arrival of much bigger paper companies into environmental responsibility will help save far more trees. We invite them to join a tree-replenishment co-op with us that will reforest ‘tree deserts’ and have the quickest carbon-mitigation of any action we can take together." (How to leverage one company’s impact into a powerful global initiative, while making clear their own position as a leader for 69 years.)
  • Coffee roaster Dean’s Beans, with 100 percent organic, fair-trade production since the company’s founding in 1993 — and community-designed and led, company-funded betterment programs from schools to wells to coffee processing infrastructure in all the communities they source from: "With these large players joining our existing commitment, we can free the world of slave-harvested chocolate and coffee. We hope they also will partner with us on the community betterment side. We could help so many more coffee villages build economic abundance, literacy, vibrant economies, and more." (Like Marcal, being the model and leading the partnership too real systemic change.)

Taking the next step

Finding these kinds of opportunities is easy if you know where to look. But that’s only Step One. Step Two — going from sustainable (keeping things from getting worse) to regenerative (making things better) — is a bit harder.

The good news is that almost any business can discover and implement profitable yet regenerative efforts that help turn hunger and poverty into abundance, war and violence into peace, eco-catastrophe into planetary balance, and more.

As a consultant who helps companies find their unique sweet spot — harnessing your existing strengths to leverage positive change — I will offer you 15 minutes to explore some possibilities for your business. Just visit, scroll down to the Social Change Profitability Quiz, and click on the big orange button. Once you’ve submitted your quiz, we’ll schedule some time.

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