I often find myself thinking about the name of the organization I work for. What does it mean to be a better business? Typically, for BBB, this means “do no harm.” Our ratings serve as an incentive for businesses to work with their customers to be responsive and responsible when there are problems.
There’s a next step, though, from “do no harm” to “do good.” Can business be a force for good?
When people think of good businesses, they often think about small businesses, which are the backbone of the economy. They’re also the backbone of every single community across Canada.
The owners of these businesses are our friends and neighbours. They employ people in their communities. They’re in touch with what matters to us. They sponsor our kids’ sports teams, they buy from other local businesses, they donate to local charities. I love small businesses. I support them whenever I can, for all these reasons and more.
There’s another kind of business that’s emerging as a powerful force in our economy and communities across Canada and around the world. Social enterprises are for-profit businesses that create community benefit in the course of doing business.
Some improve environmental sustainability by creating demand for renewable energy. Others create employment opportunities for people who face barriers that make it difficult for them to get or keep a job. There’s a movement afoot to find ways to better integrate these companies into the economy. That’s a good thing; every single time they sell a service or product, they’re making our world a better place.
There’s one kind of business that’s almost always cast in the role of villain: Big Business. Executives who make more money in an hour than their average employees make in a year. Lavish bonuses and stock packages thrown around with abandon. Fraud, deceit, and corruption. Lobbying of government, buying legislation that’ll benefit them even more.
But I’m going to make my closing argument here in defense of the bad guy. Big business can also be good business. And the power to make that happen is often in our hands. When a massive multinational corporation decides to make a change across their whole organization, a single small change can make a big difference. Therein lies the opportunity.
Imagine if an international chain chose to pay every single one of its employees a true living wage. In addition to the direct impact on poverty, this would create a ripple effect of competition in labour markets everywhere, forcing other companies to do the same to attract employees.
But that first company would likely have to charge a bit more for their products or services. Would you be willing to pay?
Imagine if a large grocery chain chose to purchase only from suppliers with environmentally sustainable production, processing, and transportation practices. This would be a good thing, but the prices you’d pay at the checkout would be a bit higher, and you might not always be able to find every brand or product in the store. Would you shop there?
If a national fast-food chain chose to eliminate all single-use plastics from their business, there would be an immediate drop in the amount of plastic being manufactured and disposed of (in landfills, and in our oceans). This would be good, but it would come at a cost of convenience. You’d have to change your lifestyle, carrying reusable bags, cutlery, cups and straws. Would you be willing?
In a world dominated by commerce, small businesses are our local heroes, and social enterprises are a burgeoning force for positive change. But don’t discount the power every one of us has to change the narrative about big business, telling them—or, more importantly, showing them with our purchase decisions—that we want them to be a force for good.