In September, 165 university and college student leaders from across Canada came together for three days with national business and sustainability leaders to explore real sustainability solutions. The Co-Operators Group convened this amazing IMPACT! conference at the University of Guelph, Ontario. I was on an opening night panel with three other cross-sector panelists.
Spurred on by insightful student questions, at one point, I thought it was appropriate to acknowledge that we all have different comfort levels with various options available to us as corporate sustainability change agents. I outlined three things that we can do to make businesses sustainable (the link is to a short video of my spontaneous response). This blog builds on the options that I outlined which are open to us when we wake up and decide to take action to change the current unsustainable business model.
1. Take to the streets
As a North American, I am accustomed to seeing riots and demonstrations somewhere else. In August, rioters in the UK and Israel showed their dissatisfaction with the status quo. It takes a lot to get Canadians and Americans into public demonstrations and general dissatisfaction with the “economic system” is not usually one of them. Until this fall. The upsurge of the Occupy Wall Street / We Are the 99% movement from mid-September to hundreds of cities in North America and 1,700 cities worldwide, shows that the public demonstration option is very much in play as that movement evolves.
2. Create a parallel economy with new business models
Abandon the status quo business models and build better ones from scratch that are variously called hybrid organizations, social enterprises, B Corporations, and fourth sector companies. The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) and the Transition Network are working with local communities to build resilient, more self-sufficient, more robust, local economies all over the world. They are using exciting new forms of ownership and capitalization to form more sustainable enterprises, very analogous to the cooperative movement, to develop a local parallel economy.
3. Morph unsustainable companies into sustainable enterprises
Help companies be more profitable as they build on their sustainability initiatives during their sustainability journey, playing the business game using today’s metrics and rules. As they gain confidence that they really can be more responsible without any financial sacrifice, they legitimize metrics that give them credit for their social and environmental efforts as well as their economic contributions. That is, they will build sufficient courage to become re-purposed sustainable enterprises.
Some people choose “none of the above,” and wallow in despair with an occasional therapeutic rant. I have chosen door #3, and provide resources to sustainability champions who have selected the same option. I applaud those choosing door #1, although it may be difficult for them to change hats and work with companies as trusted advisors if they are known as “radical” activists. Or maybe not. We’ll see. Those choosing door #3 are providing a rich diversity of sustainable business models from which the rest of us can choose.
Hopefully, we’ll all meet at the same place, even if we use different doors and paths to get there. The destination is sustainable enterprises thriving in sustainable communities in a more democratic and equitable sustainable society. I expect some IMPACT! participants will get there before the rest of us. I hope they leave the light on. We’ll be there soon.
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