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People, Planet + Profits: can they coexist in corporations?

24th May, 2022

B Corp

The other day I was talking to a friend and noticed she seemed a little down.

“Is everything okay?” I asked.

“Remember how I told you I was volunteering as a mentor for that local running club?” she said.

I nodded. She lived in a very active, but relatively small, town where there was just one local running store that had been organizing 5k, 10k, half marathon, and marathon training groups every spring and fall for years.

It was how she had made friends and built a community within just weeks of moving to town, and she often spoke of how much those experiences meant to her. So much so that she now volunteered her time to mentor the 5k group.

“The new owners are talking about canceling all of the groups because they don’t think they’re profitable enough,” my friend explained. “It’s like they don’t understand how community-building events contribute to everything, including their bottom line!”

I suddenly remembered the article I had just read about Avanade, Newsweek’s first-ever “Most Loved Workplace.” I was initially struck by the use of “love” and “workplace” in the same sentence, and further moved by their female CEO’s words in Avanade’s press release about their “Most Loved” status:

“Our mission at Avanade is to create a genuine human impact for our clients, our people, and the communities we serve”

Pam Maynard

“We strongly believe that an exceptional employee experience leads to an exceptional client experience and our goal every day is to make sure our people feel inspired, confident, and cared for.”

Pam Maynard

In fact, in every article I read about Maynard and Avanade, I heard the same statement: put people first and your business will reap the benefits.

Case study after case study proved that a human-centered approach could drive better financial results. Tracing all the way back to the Great Depression era, Marriott provided a staff doctor to make sure their employees had access to health care.

Not only do healthy, happy employees remain loyal to their companies, they also produce more innovative ideas

They knew that the only way to sustain their business was to have a cared-for staff.

Throughout the years, Marriott 'walked the talk' in their people-first mission, dismantling hierarchies (the CEO and executive leaders buy lunch and eat in the cafeteria just like everyone else), suspending the healthcare eligibility rules during the 2008 recession (so even when they cut back hours, employees still had access to health benefits), and creating the industry’s first holistic well-being program.

Not only do healthy, happy employees remain loyal to their companies (reducing overhead costs from constant turnover), but they also produce more innovative ideas, better serve customers, and ultimately increase a company’s ROI. A study by Gallup showed that prioritizing employee engagement can increase sales by 20%.

But what about the even bigger picture? Something that impacts not only every company but every living being. Where does sustainability fit into the conversation?

Johnson & Johnson, whose dedication to aligning their products with sustainable innovation has had far-reaching effects, recently committed $800 million through 2030 to create more sustainable products. Katie Decker, their Consumer Health (Essential Health) Global President, echoes Pamela Maynard’s words when she says:

“Our company is focused on health and healthy people - everything we work on is designed to make people’s lives healthier.”

She then takes that one extra step further by adding,

“How can we continue to do that if we’re not serious about the health of the planet, too?”

In their company Credo, originally written in 1943 by Robert Wood Johnson right before J&J became a publicly-traded company, they clearly state that their first responsibility is to:

“the patients, doctors, and nurses, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services.”

The Credo lists communities, the environment, and natural resources - not mentioning shareholders until the final paragraph.

J&J started with large-scale environmental issues like CO2 emissions, water quality, plastic pollution, deforestation, and landfill dumping.

They then took a step back to think about the whole person, the person in us all, and felt empowered to make a difference for the future. Take, for instance, the environmental impact that pollution has on your skin in large urban cities. From there it becomes easy for them to insert product solutions (i.e., generate sales) through things like body cream or baby lotion. They were clever and found a way to be better stewards of the community while positioning their products to solve those needs.

What can your business do to make an impact like Avanade, Marriott, and Johnson & Johnson? Consider becoming a B-Corp company.

The B Corp Certification is [source]

“a designation that a business is meeting high standards of verified performance, accountability, and transparency on factors from employee benefits and charitable giving to supply chain practices and input materials.”

In other words, a B-Corp-certified company is prioritizing its employees, the community at large, and our shared environment. While it’s issued by B Lab, a global nonprofit organization, the B-Corp certification is a private certification for qualifying for-profit companies. As of the date of this article, they’ve certified over 5,000 companies across 78 countries.

The B-Corp certification puts the focus on:

  • Interconnectedness: acknowledging that people and planet are intrinsically linked and one cannot thrive at the expense of the other
  • People over profit: recognizing that businesses serve more than just shareholders
  • The big picture: people want to work where they believe and know that their contributions matter

“That is heartbreaking,” I told my friend after she shared her local running store concerns. “If some of the largest companies in the world can get this right, they can, too.”

The real bottom line: Companies are made of people, not profits. When one of us wins, we all do.

Learn from Oxford about how to become a B-Corp here

Read our 2022 B Corp Impact Report here

If you have any questions or queries then please do get in touch

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