The author is author of ‘The Reset: Ideas to Change How We Work and Live’
How do we redefine the role of companies in society, both as workers and consumers? We often debate this in the meetings and plea sessions I attend now. A younger group of consumers, employees, business founders and leaders are challenging the old norms that place profits ahead of people and the planet.
Workers in particular want to know that their employers are making serious efforts to work sustainably. And while price, quality and availability are still the main drivers for consumers, origin and authenticity are the list of factors they mention as important. However, try to distinguish which companies are good for the planet and humans is not always easy. Lack of transparency around corporate social responsibility goals, or labor and supply chains, remains an obstacle for workers and consumers trying to make sustainable choices.
Transparency is critical to driving the change the world needs. One way some businesses do this is by “B Corp” status, where they commit to a balance between purpose and profit. Aiming to have a positive impact on employees, communities and the environment, it indicates to those who are purposefully looking for work that a business meets the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance and public transparency.
For conscious online shoppers, stores like Waitrose, the supermarket, have provided a B Corp filter so that consumers can find brands that match their values. Patagonia, the outdoor clothing brand, Oddbox, the fruit and vegetable delivery service, and Ben & Jerry’s, the ice cream maker, are just a few of the more than 4,000 companies in more than 70 countries with B Corp status. Research by PwC emphasizes that B Corps “probably performed better compared to the wider UK economy”, citing 55 per cent of respondents to a B Lab survey who believed it was a B Corps contribution to improving the resilience of their business.
But the B Corp movement has its critics: it relies on self-reporting and is not legally enforceable, so some companies may be guilty of green wax. However, this is at least an indication that a company wants to do something good. As climate and sustainability become more urgent, will we allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good? As far as consumers are concerned, it is vital that we feel empowered by having access to better information in order to make informed choices. Ethical grading applications such as Cogo, a carbon footprint tracking application, are becoming key tools in the march towards greater transparency – it has recently made a start $ 20 million Series A funding, with a mission “to empower hundreds of millions of consumers”.
Cogo was founded by Ben Gleisner, a New Zealand environmentalist, to help consumers buy from companies that share its values. The option to add your card details is optional, but if you wish, the application can be linked to your bank account to enable it to see the businesses you are buying from. You can enter which issues you prioritize, such as trying to buy from businesses that pay their employees the living wage.
Another application that helps consumers make better choices is Olio, a London-based food app. Olio connects people with other people or businesses who want to unload uneaten food and other household items. With nearly 5 million users, the start-up business has grown rapidly over the past year, and as food waste accounts for as much as 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, it is, according to the UN, a welcome alternative for many.
As consumer spending drives about 60 percent of global gross domestic product, according to the World Economic Forum, the choices we make matter, and the power of consumption drives change.
Consumers and employees are increasingly making decisions about who to work or where to buy based on the positive impact a company makes. Is it too much to imagine a world where all companies compete not only to be the best in the world, but to be the best for the world?
What I do know is that choosing where we put our time, talent and money can have a huge impact on our quality of life; it has an impact on the communities of which we are a part and, critically, on the planet on which we live.