Business as a Force for Change in Our World


Every day when we go to work, we have an opportunity—an opportunity to do better, work better, and raise our voices to build better companies. Most companies want to change how they do business in order to change the world.

When we are the leaders of those businesses, we not only have an opportunity, we have a responsibility. The woes of our world are well documented. We can no longer ignore them. We’re driving quickly toward a brick wall, and at best we’re barely touching the brakes. We must meet our challenges head on with solutions that are sustainable, proactive, and, in some cases, radical.

It was with this inspiration in mind that members of the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) visited Washington, DC in June to meet with Obama administration officials. The ASBC represents more than 150,000 U.S. businesses. It was created to advocate for a sustainable economy and to counterbalance the old-economy positions pushed by corporate lobbies, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Businesses included on this trip were Stonyfield Farms, Eileen Fisher, New Belgium Brewery, and Greyston Bakery.

We came because we know that business and government must form partnerships and alliances to affect change. We also came with a business call for a new economy, one built around “triple-bottom-line” principles, including shared prosperity and environmental stewardship.

We presented to 29 members of the Obama administration, including Lisa Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; Hilda Solis, secretary of the Department of Labor; Nancy Sutley, chair of the Council on Environmental Quality; and Greg Nelson, chief of staff of the National Economic Council.

Our discussion focused on why the externalities of business prevent real progress on sustainability and how full-cost accounting is a concept that’s time has finally come. We called for an expanded view of sustainability, which balances economic, social, and environmental benefits. The idea is to build on what good companies are currently doing. Then, add to that policies that enable responsible corporate behavior to become the norm, while supporting quality jobs and shared prosperity.

Our roadmap is clear:

Market economy. Our current system must be adjusted to account for externalities, such as the human health costs that have been passed on to the general public and our government to address. We also need to expand our system to include a variety of ownership mechanisms, including co-ops, community and social enterprises, B-corporations, and employee-owned businesses.

Broad prosperity. “When too few have too much and too many have too little, society cannot be sustained,” said Roger Smith of ASBC-member-organization American Income Life Insurance Company. We agree. Sustainability is about people and the planet. Extreme inequality is not sustainable. We need changes in our tax code that begin to reverse the radical concentration of wealth that has taken place over the last 30 years.

Sustainability. We need a balance of people, planet, and profit to manage our needs and the needs of future generations. That means stewardship and regeneration of natural resources, and reinvestment in communities for long-term vitality.

Sensible measures and regulations. Good rules and regulations promote fair competition, innovation and change, and help ensure the stability of the financial systems, protecting against the externalization of costs that hurt environment and society.

Democratic control. We need a political system that is fair, transparent, well regulated, and fully accountable to all participants. We need to ensure that our electoral and legislative process isn’t controlled by just the wealthiest.

By properly managing markets, accounting for full costs, creating incentives, providing support, and creating a level playing field, government can help create an enabling environment in which restorative, equitable, and sustainable economic models can thrive. We also create economic opportunities—jobs—for more Americans.

The 125 business executives, investors, and business organization leaders we brought to the White House and, the next day, to the Hill, presented and discussed strategies derived from their own businesses, or those in which they invest. How exciting to have these messages from the very individuals who are today creating quality jobs and taking better care of our environment! We were all impressed at the reception we received. Everyone with whom we met was deeply appreciative that businesses like ours are speaking out in support of a more just and equitable future.

Business can be a force for good in the world, but we must connect with local, regional, and national actors to make our vision for change a reality. The participation of so many administration officials allowed us to have detailed and meaningful conversations that we believe will influence policy and lead to a more sustainable, resilient, and just economy for all Americans.