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There's no shortage of books on how to run small businesses, but few of them cover the special value — and special challenges — of socially responsible business practices for small- or medium-size companies. "Values-Driven Business addresses that gap. The first entry in Ben Cohen's new "Social Venture Network series, this guide uses real-world examples to show how "triple bottom line" practices — profits, people, and planet — have helped companies throughout North America thrive. The book contains first steps ...
There's no shortage of books on how to run small businesses, but few of them cover the special value — and special challenges — of socially responsible business practices for small- or medium-size companies. "Values-Driven Business addresses that gap. The first entry in Ben Cohen's new "Social Venture Network series, this guide uses real-world examples to show how "triple bottom line" practices — profits, people, and planet — have helped companies throughout North America thrive. The book contains first steps that owners or managers can use to start narrowing the gap between personal values and business practices. It also illustrates the many dimensions of value-driven business, addressing the varied roles of customers, employees, the community, the environment, shareholders, and owners. Included is a self-assessment tool that lets readers determine how successful their company will be in implementing values-driven practices.
Perhaps you run a business of your own. For years, you've been working impossible hours, neglecting family, friends, and the activities you really enjoy.
Maybe you're convinced that a business shouldn't have to treat customers and employees as expendable, ignore the needs of the community where it's located, or pollute the air and water.
Or maybe you've been working for a company that's making use of few if any of your talents. You're a cog in someone else's machine, and you don't get the respect you deserve. Yet you've plugged away, year after year.
Questions about the purpose of life and the meaning of work are certainly not unique to people in business. But they take special shape in the business world. The circumstances that so often lead people in business to wonder about life's meaning are themselves special.
For one thing, business is commonly regarded in our time as a way to pursue the accumulation of money, pure and simple. Loud voices in the business establishment, in academia, and in government insist that's so. Sometimes they go much further, asserting that making profits is the only legitimate purpose of business.
This view gained prominence in the twentieth century. In a typical business, it's now often felt that life is life and businessis business. Whether you're an employee, a manager, or an owner, you're expected to draw a sharp line between the two. And if you exercise authority over others-as a supervisor, manager, executive, or owner-the prevailing logic of business implies that you must reinforce this schizophrenic mindset by requiring it of those who work for you.
Living a life of purpose and fulfillment
Why does business have to be exclusively about making money? Who says so, anyway?
Why can't work be pleasant and rewarding? Why can't it be fun? Indeed, why can't we be passionate about our work, not just every once in a rare while, but most of the time?
Why can't business seek to make positive contributions to society-even if a particular decision isn't based on the least-cost solution?
Why can't employees be treated with genuine fairness and respect?
Why can't companies contribute to the health of the communities where they do business? In fact, why can't business help narrow the inequities in our economy rather than increase them?
Why can't business recognize that the resources of our planet are limited and that unending growth will lead only to catastrophe for the entire human race?
In fact, hundreds of businesses are based on the belief that a company can answer some or all of these questions in the affirmative.
Most Americans believe their lives as individuals have a spiritual dimension. When a group of people get together as a business, does that spiritual dimension simply disappear? We think not. The spiritual law of "as you give, you shall receive ... as you sow, so shall you reap" can work just as well in business as in a person's life. Take ShoreBank, for example.
ShoreBank The Little Bank That Could
Founded in 1973, ShoreBank is the nation's first and leading community development and environmental bank. With headquarters in Chicago, it has banking operations in Detroit, Michigan; Cleveland, Ohio; Ilawaco, Washington; and Portland, Oregon. ShoreBank invests in people and communities to create economic equity and a healthy environment. The firm considers itself a triple-bottom-line company that equally values profitability, community development, and conservation.
"Our job is to free the energies and resources of our customers," says Jean Pogge, senior vice president of mission-based deposits. Most of those customers are low-wealth members of African-American communities. The bank's home base is twenty minutes south of Chicago in a community that experienced neglect and the migration of residents and jobs in the late 1960s and early 1970s. "The area was redlined. There weren't any loans being made here at all," says Pogge. ShoreBank purchased a failing local bank in 1973 and turned it around in eighteen months.
"We've proven that when you understand particular areas and needs, you become the bank of choice," says Joel Freehling, manager of triple-bottom-line innovations at ShoreBank. "By focusing on lending to individuals, small businesses, and mission-based organizations in distressed neighborhoods, we're in a position to forge new development opportunities that catalyze positive social change and build strong, vibrant communities. They support us as we support them."
ShoreBank provides loans to those who wish to revitalize neglected houses or multifamily buildings or to build on abandoned lots. It also lends to nonprofits with capital needs, including churches, civic-oriented organizations, and neighborhood groups. "Due to the destructive nature of the racial change process in the late 1960s, the South Shore community of Chicago would probably have ended up as just another blighted neighborhood with abandoned lots if ShoreBank had not shown confidence in the future of the community by making loans to those who in the past had been denied access to credit," says Pogge. "Now it's a vibrant, mixed-income community of choice-a place where people are choosing to live and work."
Promoting conservation and environmental improvement is an integral part of ShoreBank's work, accomplished both through its intrinsic efforts to support local people in restoring neighborhoods and through the incentives it provides residents to incorporate energy-saving elements into their renovations. ShoreBank provides free energy-efficiency evaluations to help loan recipients understand how to reduce utility expenses and improve the comfort of their homes and offers an Energy Star-qualified refrigerator from Sears to those who invest in more than $2,000 worth of energy-efficiency work. "We're hoping to create converts to the energy conservation movement," says Pogge.
"For us, community development, profitability, and conservation are compatible," she adds. "We believe that trying to do all three makes us better at all of them. As we increase community development or conservation output, we make more money."
ShoreBank's Chicago branch, for example, which accounts for 95 percent of the company's assets, is a $1.8 billion institution. Since its inception, ShoreBank has infused more than $2 billion into communities across the Midwest that have helped finance the purchase and renovation of more than 49,000 affordable housing residences and create more than 10,000 new jobs for local residents. Despite being mission-driven, ShoreBank's performance continues to exceed that of its peers among commercial banks with assets between $1 billion and $5 billion. In 2004, the bank awarded $311 million in new community development loans and $150 million in new conservation loans. That same year, the bank's losses were one-half of 1 percent. Those are exceptional figures.
The company also requires every employee to understand and implement the triple-bottom-line concept. Each person has performance goals relating to financial performance, community development, conservation, customer satisfaction, and employee satisfaction.
For example, folks who run the bank's statement processing division met their conservation goals by sending an e-mail to colleagues soliciting used cell phones and donating them to women's shelters. A customer service representative started a printer-cartridge recycling program for the entire bank. This year, with the squeeze on margins in the banking industry, employees were asked to come up with cost-saving ideas. Employees responded with an idea to cut back on paper usage.
"Anybody interested in combining the financial and social bottom lines has a long-term perspective and understands the necessity of staying the course," says Freehling. "That requires patience and diligence, and it takes more work. People have to be committed. It's harder to do business like this because markets are not set up to make it easy. For example, we were trying to decide what kind of deicer to put out in front of our building. We knew we could go to the local hardware store and buy one off the shelf, but if you are really concerned about the environment and the community, then you have to take more steps and do more research on what the most appropriate product is.
"It's important to create networks," he continues, "because a lot of these types of solutions come from trying different products. There are not a lot of places where you can go and ask, 'What did you find that worked well, was cost-effective, and was socially and environmentally friendly?'"
Pogge adds, "To be a triple-bottom-line company, you really have to make all three bottom lines equal. It's not an add-on. Corporate giving is not business. The social values have to be core to your operations. We do community development and conservation loans, and we make money doing it."
For ShoreBank, then, values came first. They still do. Wild Planet Toys exhibits the same emphasis on values in a completely different industry.
Wild Planet Toys "The Line You Won't Cross"
Wild Planet makes innovative toys that appeal to both parents and kids. The company's products are designed to spark children's imaginations and provide positive play experiences. Wild Planet's most popular brand, Spy Gear, offers all sorts of accoutrements necessary for the budding young espionage professional, including Night Vision Goggles that feature small flashlights on the sides of an edge-lit lens (perfect for investigating the backyard after dark) and a Laser Tripwire that sounds an alarm in one's room when its invisible beams are broken by intruding younger siblings or the pesky family dog.
"What makes Wild Planet a social enterprise is how we started and the values to which we adhere," says Jennifer Chapman, chief operating officer. "Most toy companies get started when someone has an idea for a product and needs a means to bring it to market. Wild Planet did not start with a product; we instead began as a group of people with similar values, a shared vision, and the desire to develop a unique corporate culture."
The company was founded in 1993 on the principles of integrity, imagination, openness, and respect. "We had a set of ideas about how we wanted to help kids experience the world," says Chapman. "We wanted to give them toys that fostered play and imagination, respected their intelligence and creativity, and met them where they were." The company was also committed to treating workers with dignity, encouraging open and effective communication, and being involved in the community, particularly through partnerships with children.
Wild Planet reaches out to kids not only from the toy aisle but also more directly through efforts such as the company's Kid Inventor Challenge and Inventor Invasion programs. Kid Inventor Challenge is Wild Planet's way of championing children and showing that kids' opinions are important. The annual contest invites children from across the country to submit their ideas for new toys. From the thousands of entries received each year, Wild Planet chooses one hundred kids to serve as toy experts for twelve months and makes one of the top ideas into a real toy, which is then sold in stores worldwide.
The company has selected several of the resulting toys for full-scale production, such as a whimsical talking alarm clock and a playful hand strap that makes colored light beams emanate from the fingertips. "The kids receive royalties for every unit of their product sold," notes Chapman.
The Inventor Invasion project is a smaller-scale program, designed specifically for low-income and at-risk kids in Wild Planet's local community in San Francisco. Wild Planet employees host weekly invention sessions through a partnership with a local after-school center for the period of a semester. The initiative has proven successful in encouraging creativity, exercising critical thinking skills, and boosting the self-esteem of its young participants. "Our contribution of time and teaching has a lasting positive impact on the children," says Chapman.
For employees, the company encourages above all a fun workplace in which people have the opportunity to get to know one another through group activities. Workers enjoy flexible hours, generous vacations, early quitting time on Fridays, and four paid hours each month to volunteer at a local charity of their choice. "Because of the positive way we treat people, we're a sought-after employer in the toy industry," comments Chapman.
And that reputation goes around the globe. With thirty of his ninety employees in Hong Kong, company founder Danny Grossman is particularly committed to helping promote, both in-house and in the industry more broadly, the International Council of Toy Industries' code of conduct, which rallies for fair labor treatment and healthy work conditions in manufacturing facilities. "Given that all of our toys are produced in China, this is an issue about which the company is particularly passionate," says Chapman.
Wild Planet sells its toys in mass and specialty markets in more than fifty countries, which, in the United States, means its toys can be found in places such as Target and Wal-Mart. "We made a decision that we wanted our toys to be available to a broad group of kids. We didn't want to make products just for the elite," Chapman says. "My advice to any social venture is that you clarify your priorities early on and determine where the line is that you won't cross. You don't have to be perfect. Just be bold-embrace change and take chances."
Both ShoreBank and Wild Planet started small, of course. By the standards of most people in business, neither one is small any longer. So you might well be wondering whether your company could adopt similar policies and practices and still make money.
Can you make money in a values-driven business?
If you run your business in accord with your personal values, will you make money? Or will you simply drive yourself into bankruptcy in a self-indulgent attempt to do right by everyone in sight?
After all, everyone you turn to-your lawyer, your accountant, your uncle who owns a dry-cleaning shop-is probably telling you that the secrets to running a successful small business are to keep costs as low as possible and never take your eyes off the cash. They're right, of course-up to a point. And that's the point at which the principles of values-driven business depart from conventional wisdom.
Excerpted from Values-Driven Business by Ben Cohen Mal Warwick Copyright © 2006 by Ben Cohen and Mal Warwick. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted January 26, 2007
Using examples from their personal experiences and from a wide variety of U.S. companies, Ben Cohen and Mal Warwick show how companies have incorporated socially progressive and environmental values into their daily business practices. The authors insist that companies can help their communities and make money at the same time, adding a new dimension to traditional business models, which focus only on profits. Although the authors¿ enthusiasms sometimes carry them away - for example, they insist that customers who don¿t share your values will respect you so much for them that they¿ll stay loyal anyway - the 'values-driven business' is an idea whose time has come. We recommend this book to business owners large and small who want the benefits of their work to extend beyond just themselves and their stakeholders.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 28, 2006
I think it's very clear that business--as we do it now--is not good for America. Enron and friends have shown that in quite a spectacular way but many of us have seen it in businesses of every shape and size. Pollution, genetically modified food and the lack of accessible health care in this country are just a few of the things we can thank business for. That's why this book is such a breath of fresh air and a real sign of hope for the future. Mal Warwick and Ben Cohen are the ideal people to begin leading us on path toward more sustainable economies and I am delighted with this book. The classical economist Adam Smith talked about individual interest producing a collective good for society however, capitalism as we know it in the 21st century has steered off that path. Kudos to Mal and Ben for having the wisdom and the clarity to help us get back in line.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.