Just Some Theories On Business and Sustainability
NOTE: I had originally published this post 7/27/2017 in the TCP blog but with some website changes wasn’t able to transfer over all the previous content. Needless to say… I am excited to repost this. IMO… still relevant. ;) Here goes…
Before I dive into all my theories and rants, this post is strictly meant to provoke thought, and is by no means the absolute truth. As always, these are just my thoughts. ;)
Now let me start with a couple questions I'd like you to think about.
Can a business value sustainability as it does its culture and company mission?
At what point does company size affect values and culture within a company?
From a career perspective, do corporations and larger business provide better or less impactful experiences than "small" independently owned businesses?
Are you currently in your dream job or career?
Do you find that with scale comes less personalization and more generalization?
I start with this because these are some of the questions I constantly asked myself as I entered the world of entrepreneurship. In business school (well at least back when I was studying in college) you were taught that success can be measured through your financial statements, customer happiness, sales and company size, you compared to your competitors in your industry... numbers numbers numbers.
No one really tells you social impact, environmental impact, customer lifestyle impact. Cause does that really make money?
America's success and strength has been built on the concept of consumerism. Consumption drives business and sales, therefore as a culture we've been trained to consume, consume, consume. Because when people consume, they spend money. When people spend money, the economy flourishes.
In the midst of all of it, we've forgotten what we truly value, lowered our expectations of quality, ignored the impact of the environment, and have found it difficult to really define what is happiness. Is it money? A car? A family? Lots of money?
It can be overwhelming to think about sustainability especially in a world of technology, convenience and all the consumption thats built this country. We are aware of sustainability, at the same time find it hard to take action and focus on change with all the stimulation we put ourselves through.
In the end, we live in a world where money and consumption seem to hold the power.
I've had my far share of experience working for other companies / corporations. One that was large and one the went from small to large. I can attest that with scale and growth it is very easy to loose focus on the founding values a company originally had. Even more difficult focusing on sustainability in business practice, office management or company decisions.
I mean, most companies are focused on growth and scaling. What makes us think they can actually care for the environment in the midst of it all?
So here we go. Theory #1.
When a business scales or becomes too large, it is almost impossible to be sustainable.
Lets just focus on the Fashion Industry to keep things "simple."
When fast fashion companies push consumers to consume more in order to build sales and make more money, we're confusing people on what they actually need vs. what they want. On top of it all, we're not being transparent on the true cost of the product and what it takes to get it to the end consumer. Child labor? Endless pollution? Shitty quality?
Is it their fault though or is it the enviable fate of being a "large corporation"?
This leads me to theory #2.
If we focused on supporting more local, smaller businesses, these businesses in return could focus on sustainability.
As a new business owner I've realized that there are SO many things to think about when running a business. Even as a company of one person! It is even more difficult to balance the dedication to sustainability all while making a living... if ya know what I mean $$.
Do I just go on Amazon and order all the office supplies needed? It's cheap, prime gets it to me in two days or sometimes even one day and I don't even have to leave the house.
Or should I go to places like Scrap in SF or Creative Reuse Depot in Oakland to find what I need where it'll take time to drive there, find parking and then dig through everything to find what I need?
This may seem like a very simple almost superfluous decision, but this just goes to show how easy it is to brush aside the most sustainable option when running a business. Cause time is money and convenience is everything right?
But when you're a smaller business, you can move at a comfortable speed of growing your business and take the time to make the sustainable decision. Whether it is how you decide to manufacture your product or where you'll get your price tags.
Now onto theory #3.
Less large corporations mean more market share for the smaller local businesses to thrive and additionally allows for more personalization and specialization for the consumer.
Have you ever tried to hand write a personal thank you card for more than 10 people? It is hard! You start saying the same thing and your penmanship gets sloppy. It is just the nature of scaling something "personal."
The same goes for running a business. You try to create special unique experiences to actually create a positive impact, but once you have to scale that to the hundred thousands and millions, it becomes more robotic and almost "sloppy." Especially sloppy in terms of environmental impact.
Internally as an employee, we've heard time and time again that people prefer to work for smaller businesses that are still dedicated to their mission and that actually care for their people, culture and customer beyond just being a dollar sign. We also hear a lot of people working for large companies just for stability, but in no way is this they're actual "dream job."
Smaller local businesses mean more entrepreneurs and people doing what they love. And when more people do what they love, we live in a better world.
And here it comes full circle.
When people are doing what they love, we have more smaller local businesses and entrepreneurs, who then provide quality service and product to the world, which also happens to be achieved through focusing on sustainability, which then allows our planet to give back to us and live our fullest lives.