The Occupy Wall Street movement is now in its third month, and whether you agree or disagree with it, it clearly cannot be ignored. My own feelings towards it have been somewhat ambivalent. As a member of the 99%, I share the frustrations of many who are tired of seeing our government controlled by large corporations and am deeply troubled by the effects that a growing gap between the rich and the poor has on our democracy and the opportunities that this country has always offered. However, I feel that some of the anger has been misdirected at business in general. During the General Strike in Oakland on November 2, a large banner reading “Death to Capitalism” was prominently hung up during the march. How can I, as a business professional, support a movement in which some members view business as the problem?
Not All Businesses Are Created Equal
The truth is that not all businesses are created equal. Consider the following characteristics of Big Corporations:
- Legally required to focus first and foremost on maximizing profit
- Can operate largely without regard to how their business affects society and the environment
- Drive local, independent businesses out of business
- Take money out of the local economy and send it to shareholders and executives outside of the community
By contrast, consider the following characteristics of B Corporations:
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- Legally required to make decisions that are good for society, not just shareholders
- Use the power of business to address social and environmental problems
- Often local, independent businesses that operate within and give back to their local community
- Help keep money in the local economy where it continues to circulate within the community
The problem is not business in general, or even Big Corporations alone, but instead it is the way in which large corporations have prioritized profit above all else. B Corporations are part of the solution. B Lab co-founder Andrew Kassoy captured this quite well in a recent piece in Forbes: “The Occupy Wall Street movement signals a collective dissatisfaction with the status quo. B Corporations and their supporters are offering an alternative.”
Harnessing the Power of Business – for Good
One of the reasons that I went into business is because I believe deeply that we need to address the social and environmental problems that we face. Yet, when I looked at the options for effecting change, I had to acknowledge that the government can’t solve our problems (especially in its current state of impasse) and the non-profits, where I worked for years, simply don’t have the resources to solve all the problems that they’re tackling. The private sector is in the best position to effect positive social change by harnessing the power of business and diverting it away from just making money and towards making a profit while acting responsibly – and this is exactly what B Corps do.
If you are a business owner, I encourage you to consider becoming a B Corporation. The process begins with completing the online B Corp Impact Assessment. If you are not a business owner, consider shifting your purchasing dollars to B Corporations and local independent businesses that provide jobs, produce positive social impacts, and protect the environment.