04/27/2012 07:27 EDT | Updated 06/27/2012 05:12 EDT

Yes, Even Big Business Can Inspire Change

Once upon a time, not all that long ago, only charities could celebrate positive impact on society. We're living in a changing business world. If you accept the basic premise that some of our most talked-about social problems today (obesity, lack of physical activity, climate change and environmental degradation) represent severe threats to our future well-being as a species, then the scale of the challenge becomes apparent.

A challenge so extensive that we'd need much bigger solutions than the conventional methods of the past if we hope to make a dent in it. Charities and governments on their own often don't have the consumer relevance and draw that would be needed get enough millions of us to exercise more, eat better, or pollute less. To shift behaviours on such a mass scale, we need to tap into the superb reach and power of the leading consumer brands in our everyday lives -- and that is precisely our calling, as corporate business leaders.

We have three choices: We can ignore the challenge and go on doing business the way we always have, hoping that all this "social change" stuff is just another passing fad. We can grumble and muddle our way through it by simply treating it all as another necessary burden on our bottom lines. Or, we can spot the opportunities within, and discover how we can be even more successful by using our consumer relevance and our brand reach in our quest to make the world a better, healthier, safer and cleaner place.

Is it really that difficult to spot that magic spot where social and financial profit intersect? Based on first-hand experience I would say it's not -- in fact, there are plenty of other obvious examples all around us. Look at Nissan with its new electric LEAF; Philips with its shift to CFL light bulbs just in time for the big boom; and Bullfrog Power with its clean-electricity offering. The common thread between all our businesses? By building real, authentic social value, we enhance our financial returns, strengthen our brands, expand our innovative capacity, ignite the passion of our employees and clearly inspire our customers.

The fundamental mission of our for-profit businesses is being redefined before our eyes. It's a fascinating process and the outcomes, certainly according to our own very inspired employees, can be terrifically rewarding. I hope our social innovation success at AIR MILES inspires others to look for their own magic spots where financial and social benefits intersect.