Your "Triple Bottom Line"
At this time of the year many business owners will undertake long term planning for their business. This provides a much-needed opportunity to think more clearly about where you would like the business to be in the future – and what changes you would like to achieve.
Prosperity without growth
While many of these planning (or dreaming) sessions might focus on the growth opportunities of the business and where it could end up if financially if everything goes well – it is not always necessary for a vision or a plan for your business to include growth.
There is a growing international movement towards “Prosperity without Growth” which is a phrase coined by economist Tim Jackson in 2009 in the book of the same name. This movement aims to create healthier communities by improving their quality of life, sustainability and resilience – and is a reaction to the growing problems of finite resources and inequality which have arisen from neo-liberalism.
Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Thomas Friedman wrote in the New York Times in 2009:
“We have created a system for growth that depended on our building more and more stores to sell more and more stuff made in more and more factories in China, powered by more and more coal that would cause more and more climate change but earn China more and more dollars to buy more and more U.S. T-bills so America would have more and more money to build more and more stores and sell more and more stuff that would employ more and more Chinese. We can’t do this anymore.”
Triple bottom line
By prioritising quality-of-life alongside financial gains, businesses can work towards a “triple bottom line” - whereby social, environmental and financial goals can be achieved. Many businesses already perform activities which support their wider community, even when those activities are not financially profitable.
Healthy communities don’t just need the absence of disease, or even the effective treatment of illnesses. The World Health Organisation has developed a more holistic definition of healthy community life which encompasses all of the following: peace, shelter, education, food, income, a stable eco-system, sustainable resources, social justice and equity.
The key to a healthy community depends on more than just government agencies and business and relies on collaboration between organisations, community groups and individuals to work towards a common purpose – with shared risks, rewards and responsibilities.
So how does this affect the future plan for your business?
Start with “Why?”
A key step towards a long term strategic plan for your business involves you envisioning where you would like the business to be in 10 years’ time. This forces you to think about what is truly meaningful to you – and once you get this right – you can tap into “why” you are in business.
To do well is, in part, about the ability to give and receive love, to enjoy the respect of our peers, to contribute usefully to society, to have a sense of belonging and trust in the community, to help create the social world and find a credible place in it.
If you haven’t seen the Simon Sinek TED talk where he explains that great leadership “Starts with Why?” then google it and be inspired by his powerful message. He explains that the secret to great leadership starts with a vision (the “Why”), then moves to implementation (the “How”), and then conquers the product or service (the “What”).
Hope for the future
Tim Jackson points out that the word “prosperity” has origins in Latin that include “to have hope”. While your business’s financial success is important - we should all ensure that our businesses also play their role by providing “hope” in our communities for a healthy and prosperous future.
“At the end of the day prosperity goes beyond material pleasures. It transcends material concerns. It resides in the quality of our lives and in the health and happiness of our families. It is present in the strength of our relationships and our trust in our community. It is evidenced by our satisfaction at work and our sense of shared meaning and purpose. It hangs on our potential to contribute fully in the life of society.
Prosperity consists of our ability to flourish as human beings – within the ecological limits of a finite planet. The challenge for our society is to create the conditions under which this is possible.”
Prosperity without Growth – Economics for a Finite Planet - Prof Tim