By Ralf Quellmalz

“Where there is darkness may we bring light… and where there is despair, may we bring hope. For it is in giving that we receive.”

Saint Francis of Assisi

It’s a small world. A small world in which we, whether we like it or not, are all interconnected. Boundaries and distances are slowly disappearing while our neighborhood size is expanding. As a result, today’s businesses hold the massive moral duty to address not only their shareholders, but every single stakeholder with which they engage with.

Therefore, businesses should understand that innovation and progress cannot happen unless they are founded upon an authentic and genuine commitment to uplift humanity. Responsible businesses cannot afford to solely focus on accomplishing their business objectives, but should address the revolving social and humanitarian issues around them as well. Withholding much power and influence within their surrounding communities, modern organizations have the capacity to both be successful and contribute towards the progress of mankind.  

There is no doubt that financial performance is, and should always remain, an organizations’ top priority. It’s their financial stability that will determine the health of their business’ operations and activities. However, companies committed to both financial performance as well as social progress will ultimately be the ones to stand out, outperform, and outlive its competitors.  

If driven by their founding values, then morally and financially responsible companies should achieve greater performance. Businesses shifting towards sustainable business practices will benefit in the following key business objectives: building a positive company culture, increasing employee morale and retention, and intensifying customer acquisition and loyalty.

Never before has the modern and globalized world faced such degrees of competition. Competition for resources, for customers, for performance, from rival companies, and for talented employees. Never before individuals had such a broad array of options as to where to contribute through their time and energy. Such factor has made people’s expectations of their employers higher than ever. No longer do people invest their time and energy solely for financial returns, but rather seek to work to advance a greater cause.

As a result, companies whose values, vision, and actions are in constant dispute will inevitably fail to attract and retain their top employees, harming their business performance due to the dangers of a high employee turnover rate. Top performers seek both financial returns as well as finding purpose and meaning in their work. Purpose and meaning at work arise from an employer’s capacity to provide its employees the ability to advance a noble cause and establish a positive work environment. At the same time, companies who fail to lead with integrity will inevitably lose consumers’ trust and support. It’s no discovery that customers today hold great power within them due to the variety of choices the market presents – they can very easily change to a competitor’s product or service.   

A venn diagram displaying business' triple-bottom-line: environment, society, economics
Businesses operating at the intersection of profits, society, and environment will be the ones outperforming and outliving its rivals

Organizations today will fail to thrive unless their work culture promotes the well-being of its employees. In other words, the work environment should empower employees to feel safe to bring their most authentic selves to work. An organization’s culture should enable employees to perform at their natural best through trusting teams, active collaboration, empathy, and integrity. Viewing how an organization achieves great financial and social results – achieved in teams – is what will inevitably allow employees to find meaning and purpose in their work, increasing employee commitment and loyalty towards their organization.  

Employers should also encourage its employees to give back to their community. Yet, they must acknowledge that there isn’t a more powerful way to give back than in the forms of time and energy. It’s not the same to donate money than to donate your time and energy – as the latter are things that you are never getting back. Without a doubt, giving back empower employees to focus not only on their job responsibilities, but also on forging themselves as active citizens within their communities. Moreover, studies have shown that productivity and creativity levels within an organization increases when employees are encouraged to actively participate in activities and projects outside the workplace. The ability to give back will, as a consequence, not only attract top talent to organizations, but also help retain them.

Donating in the form of time and energy goes a long way. Rather than donating money, giving back in the form of time and energy empower individuals to abandon their spectator seat and get onto the arena. It enables individuals to actively contribute towards their communities’ progress. Unfortunately, many companies have neglected their environmental and social impact for way too long now. Such companies have failed to realize that if their activities and operations aren’t nurturing the planet and the people in it, then they are failing to enrich both its shareholders and stakeholders.

Embracing sustainability also powerfully impacts consumers. In Deloitte’s 2019 Millennial Survey, they’ve found that millennials value more those businesses where success is measured by metrics greater than profits, market share, and stock valuation. Factors such as innovation, career progression, social and environmental impact, and making people’s lives easier, on the other hand, where factors with greater weight for millennials. At the same time, a survey conducted by Nielsen in 2018 revealed that shoppers in more than 60 countries affirmed that they are willing to pay an extra price towards those companies whose products and services drive positive impact. Sustainability, as a consequence, does not just become beneficial for companies to empower social, environmental, and humanitarian progress, but also a wise choice for organizations to heighten financial performance. In other words, companies simultaneously pursuing objectives other than profits are ultimately practicing enlightening self-interest.      

Both customers and talent find organizations devoted to sustainable business practices as more compelling and alluring. As a result, sustainability drives better profits for organizations. Companies that fail to view their vital role in society’s ecosystem will also fail to integrate in it. Only by fully and authentically integrating into their communities’ and understanding the bigger picture will companies thrive and prosper.

Organizations today can no longer afford the luxury to put profits on top of the greater good. We have seen plenty of evidence of big corporations that have reached tremendous success by pursuing causes greater than just profits. Salesforce, Patagonia, Unilever, and Ben & Jerry’s – just to name a few – are companies that, by placing the greater good above of their self-interest, have not only seen their stock valuation increase, but have also become platforms for positive change within their communities. Such companies have proven that both employees and customers prefer to spend their time, energy, and resources interacting with companies whose values, vision, and operations are aligned.

We are living in times of great progress. Never before has our world been so interconnected. And never before has the role of an individual been so powerful. We all share the responsibility of driving and guiding change in our society. We all share the duty of making a positive and lasting difference. Yet, it’s when we unite our strength and tackle humanitarian, social, and environmental issues together, that we become unstoppable. It’s only then when we will be able to bridge the gap between our common objectives and our collective accomplishments. Let’s all become agents of change. Let’s make a lasting difference.

Let’s start today.   

Sources of Inspiration:

BENIOFF, MARC. TRAILBLAZER: The Power of Business as the Greatest Platform for Change. SIMON & SCHUSTER LTD, 2020.

Sinek, Simon. Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t. Penguin Business, 2019.

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