People, planet and profits (at least some). That’s what the triple bottom line means for green businesses and a truly sustainable society.
The triple bottom line is not greenwash, a PR campaign or the “principles” part of a Sustainability Report. It’s the DNA of how a green business operates. It’s measured by such things as trees planted, living wages paid and problems solved (not created).
This is the first of a series of blogs that explore various facets of the triple bottom line commitment to operating sustainably and responsibly, starting with people.
People play a fundamental role in the ecopreneur’s business philosophy, realizing four different groups of people have their own sets of needs and priorities: customers, employees, vendors/suppliers, and investors. Many ecopreneurs we’ve interviewed for ECOpreneuring talk about stakeholders, not stockholders. They generate profits by caring for their stakeholders, not trying to crush competing businesses. They’re more concerned with nurturing their community, customers and employees and investors, if they have them. The following are the first two of the four groups of stakeholders (the other two addressed next week).
Cultivating conserving customers drives ecopreneurial business success. Ecopreneurs view their customers much more as kindred spirits, sharing Earth-based values and priorities. Customer service, product quality and guaranteed services or products are crucial to their business success. Valuing customer communication translates to showcasing honesty, integrity and transparency. A respectful challenge banters between customers and sustainable businesses, much deeper and more personal than in typical customer interactions. Ecopreneurs expect to be scrutinized by their customers, and
likewise, our customers expect candid, honest replies. Customers challenge ecopreneurs with questions like: Do you carry envelopes made with post-consumer waste? Can I get this in hemp? How do you offset your greenhouse gas emissions? Where are your ingredients sourced from? These questions keep our business constantly moving forward toward higher goals and expectations. On the flip side, at our Bed & Breakfast, Inn Serendipity, we must be honest that our guest rooms don’t feature air conditioning or TVs.
If your small business hires staff, it should pay a fair “living wage,” a minimum hourly wage that would afford a reasonable standard of living, often far above the legally mandated minimum wage. A triple-bottom-line approach to staff takes into account benefits such as healthcare, profit sharing, ongoing training and openly addressing employee needs as they arise, such as eldercare and childcare. Employee health goes beyond insurance co-payments and looks at issues such as the quality of the physical work environment. For example, many green businesses pride themselves on their green and natural building practices, using no-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint on the office walls, which translates into no harmful out-gassing, incorporating daylighting into the buildings or providing complimentary meals.
Challenge the stereotype that “big” equals “better;” you don’t need to grow large to be exceptional. Stand prepared, however, since this concept goes against what the media, chamber of commerce, community development corporation or perhaps your hometown business leaders might see as “more-based” quantitative standards of excellence: creating more jobs, selling more stuff, building more warehouse space. Other businesses will potentially receive local accolades or the regional “entrepreneur of the year” plaque, while your business may earn a reputation of “interesting,” a polite term for “weird.” Delight in your oddity. Dance to the tune of a different drummer, inspired by a rhythm of doing good, not just contributing to the quantitative obsession. When it comes down to it, qualitative measures mean more. For proof, just think about the top ten most meaningful and important things in your life. They probably can’t be quantified in dollars and cents.
Keeping business small inspires personal attention to detail when it comes to caring for your staff and subcontractors. For example, there is such a thing as a free lunch at Wildrose Farm Organics in Breezy Point, Minnesota. Owners Chuck and Karen Knierim provide a free, healthy lunch for the dozen seamstresses of their organic clothing line using organic vegetables from their garden and eggs from free-range chickens (wildrosefarm.com).
Graphic Source: Angry Trout Cafe, Minnesota