THE BLOG

Can a Business Really Make Money and Not 'Do Evil'?

07/24/2013 05:14 EDT | Updated 09/23/2013 05:12 EDT

I recently had the opportunity to participate in the Clinton Global Initiative America meeting in Chicago, and also in Michael Porter's Shared Value Initiative Leadership Summit in Boston. These gatherings were immensely inspirational and everyone in the room strongly agreed that cross sector co-creation and shared value is the way of the future.

But many also agreed that the challenge now is figuring out how to take that thinking back to the real world (now that we've all gone back to our companies, cities, nations). How ready are consumers for private sector/public sector partnerships? How ready are consumers for companies to make profit while doing good?

Surprisingly, many leaders at these meetings said that business often resists talking about profit with shared value initiatives because of public skepticism and mistrust. This is crazy -- when business creates shared value for social good and profit, companies can't be uncomfortable talking about it. If government is investing public dollars to impact positive social change, they shouldn't be cautious in celebrating it. Many organizations are making positive societal contributions now and are not allowing themselves to get the credit that they deserve because of an exaggerated fear of public backlash.

How did it come to this? After a series of business and government corruption scandals and the global financial crisis, the public is reportedly at the highest levels of mistrust ever. In June 2012, Forbes Magazine ran an article headlined "Trust in Business Falls off a Cliff." In February of this year PBS reported that public distrust of the U.S. government is at the boiling point -- the highest in decades. Edelman's annual Trust Barometer showed that only 62 per cent of Canadians and 58 per cent of Americans trust our business and government to make the right decisions. This same report summarized the key defining issue of public concern of 2013 as being "Crisis in Leadership", and in 2010 it was the need for "Business to Partner with Government to Regain Trust."

These reports and others are all saying that the public is on high alert. But the right response is not to step back and wait for a more welcoming time to innovate. Instead, business and government need to charge right back at this doubt. By doing so in an authentic, transparent manner, we will drive results and improve trust. Companies need to strongly define and activate their corporate character more than ever to earn trust, says the Arthur W. Page Society, a global association of leading chief communications officers and senior PR experts. They have designed a business model called "Building Belief" to specifically help companies do this.

And the good news is that several companies and government organizations are already doing this exceptionally well. Google's website states "Make a Profit and Don't Do Evil" as one of their key values. They state boldly right up front that they are a business and make no apologies for it. They also commit to operating their business following key guiding principles to maintain integrity and consumer trust.

Another company who excels in shared value and corporate character is Patagonia, which is so committed to the protection of nature that they donate one per cent of sales to environmental groups globally. As well, the AIR MILES Reward Program has created AIR MILES for Social Change to use the incredible power and reach of the AIR MILES Reward Program to inspire and reward Canadians for taking care of their health and the planet. The Public Health Agency of Canada has partnered with AIR MILES for Social Change in an innovative way to fight the obesity epidemic in Canada. The unique partnership encourages fitness habits in Canadian families of all ages by rewarding them for exercising more frequently at the YMCA.

It is time for business and government to boldly lead. By combining profit and purpose with cross-sector co-creation that drives positive social change, we will create new solutions and rebuild public trust. And most importantly, it needs to be done with the utmost transparency and authenticity. This has to happen right away if we are going to achieve the societal solutions and benefits that our country needs today.

Global Corruption Index