Profit plus Community – Triple Bottom Lines

The uncertainties of our times has brought into the popular discourse an insecurity that it has not seen for generations. We look back at decades of unquestioned prosperity and realize that the safety net on which we garnered a sense of safety has become a frail economic one while our social and civil society safety nets have grown loose fallen into disrepair. Far too many people took for granted the arrival a next paycheck, the ability to make improvements on their home simply by borrowing more money against the value of that same home. Not only have we not thought to put resources aside, assuming that new money would always be available, we also failed to invest in the civil society structures that could support us in the event that that next paycheck did not come.

There is even increasing fear in countries around the world that financial instability is fostering potentially violent public dissent. What could happen to the millions of young, formerly employed Chinese laborers? What happened in the suburbs of Paris to the masses of disenfranchised, unemployed?

No wonder there has been increased interest in the cooperative model of doing business, as well as other business models that have been called “for benefit” enterprises, as opposed to simply for profit. Coops and these other businesses recognize the health and improvement of their communities and society as one of a set of bottom lines, along with making a profit. In the case of cooperatives, the customers of the business are also the owners of the business. Anything but the promotion of the well being and sustainability of the communities they serve would run counter to the business’s own interests.

Credit Unions, the cooperative model in the banking sector, is an especially timely example, as America witnesses crumbling faith in so many of its banks. The owners of these credit unions have no incentive to risk the money of the bank’s depositors/ members – indeed, these people are one and same.

A recent article in Strategy + Business magazine, published by the consulting firm Booz and Company, is but one appearance in the press about how more and more businesses are starting to recognize the need, and benefit, to address social concerns along with the pursuit of profit, whether it is environmental sustainability of the education of the community.

If the incentives to do so are obvious, the consequences of not doing so will prove catastrophic.