If you think that's a bit melodramatic - and it sure sounds like it is - you better be hoping it's true, because now more than ever, we need anyone in charge to be making decisions as a person, not just as a company figurehead.
Companies around the world are developing and publishing their company position on ESG (Environmental Social Governance). C Suites, boardrooms, company executives are doing it for one or many reasons:
The big retailers and manufacturers (and polluters) like Unilever, Coca Cola, Nestle have been working on ESG for years - and in all fairness, in some cases, making some big environmental impact changes. So has the Investment set - think superannuation companies, investment houses, sovereign funds. Some of the best data science work is going on in the investment industries, monitoring, assessing and reporting on funds. And that's important because it's where most Mom & Pop money goes. While some companies are still simply making big statements, increasingly big statements are being matched by big actions.
The guy in the pic at the top of this article is called James Dutton. He's the founder and CEO of a global wound care business called Nutricare. Looking at the pic, he could be the CEO of any big business, having a weekend play in the park with his two young boys. But he's not just any CEO. He's a sustainable business CEO and his global business is only a few years old. People like James are literally shaking up the traditional business world head on, taking on establishment Big Food & Grocery at their front door.
At a single business level, it's interesting and while remarkable, it's not game changing. What is game changing is that there are many many (sustainable business) people like James and they are driving a bigger part of the change agenda than is immediately obvious. They may not all be as big as James, but what they share is a common purpose. Almost every new eco business providing products for babies or children is started by parents looking for solutions that don't poison their kids. And their collective actions are getting the attention of both consumers and big business.
James is from Melbourne, used to work in corporate and one day found himself on the way to hospital with his small boy, who had such a severe allergic reaction to a wound bandage, that he had to be hospitalised.
Who knew that bandage strips were plastic and that they create some kind of allergic reaction in about 30% of people? For years that figure has been acceptable - to the point where it isn't even news. James' son's reaction however was so severe that it wasn't acceptable to him as a father and there had to be better options. He set about finding an alternative.
When James couldn't find any stick-on wound strips that were not plastic in Australia, he started looking around the world. When there was still nothing, he decided to create one himself, even though he had no clue where to start. Fast forward a couple of years and PATCH Strips were born. A wound strip made of bamboo, which is non allergenic, and which actually composts.
Nutricare now has a number of products and they are on shelves across the USA, UK, Australia, Europe and Asia.
James is the humanity point. When he created the first PATCH strip, he was acting in business as a Citizen. To be a good Citizen, you should be honest, just, equal, respectful of others, compassionate, responsible, and morally upright. Sums it up?
THE PROBLEM IS THAT MOST OFTEN IN BUSINESS, WE DON'T MAKE DECISIONS AS HUMAN PEOPLE. WE MAKE DECISIONS AS BUSINESS PEOPLE.
WE TREAT CITIZENS AS CONSUMERS. NOT PEOPLE WITH RIGHTS. WHAT IF CONSUMERS HAD THE RIGHT TO BE TREATED AS CITIZENS? AND WHAT IF CONSUMERS ALWAYS ACTED AS CITIZENS?
By definition, a Consumers job is to consume. While in some cases we use the less than desirable products, like plastic wound strips, because there is no other option, often we don't even know to look.
Marketing and advertising however is the biggest persuader for purchasing pretty much everything. Business markets products to Consumers, using all manner of claims that are factual, possible, plausible and fictious. In the name of marketing, our mental health is toyed with, the way we aspire to live is manipulated and we learn to live by measures of status and branding: based on beauty, age, intellect, job and sex.
WE ALL KNOW MOST MARKETING IS COMPLETE RUBBISH AND YET WE BUY INTO IT ANYWAY.
But what would happen if Consumers were afforded the same rights as Citizens? Could you still sell them a fragrance for their home that is 'based on botanicals', but really contains a cocktail of dubious chemicals - one of which once might have sniffed a rose on it's way to being combined with chemicals found in pesticides?
Nah. Probably not. Selling people shit that is going to poison, maim or make them sick would no longer be ok, no matter how it was dressed up.
And what about all that shit that gets made that we don't use or need? That serves no real purpose, that was a stocking stuffer or a novelty item? On face value, these items seem harmless enough, but in a world of decreasing resources and increasing emissions, what if half the stuff that is made is in this category?
The emissions that go into the production of useless shit is simply the start. What about all the emissions and resources that go into transportation, storage, landfill? The waterways and land that is polluted by it? The impact of one wasted resource invariably does not stand alone. It has many friends. And they are very greedy. Wasting resources is simply stealing opportunity from our own future selves and our children.
If you are still hanging in with me, Stakeholder Capitalism is the big picture and the context within which genuine companies are building their ESG position.
A guy called Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum (WEF), first wrote about ‘stakeholder capitalism’ more than 50 years ago. Schwab says that even then, the concept wasn’t new. The notion was common in the west in the 50s and 60s and essentially spoke to the point that one person or entity could only do well if the whole community and economy functioned together. So companies were part of local communities.
As the world globalised, 'shareholder capitalism' became the norm across the western world. It was popularised by Milton Friedman who mooted that the ‘social responsibility of a company was to make profits’ and so it came to be.
But then came the climate crisis and stakeholder capitalism is now back, but with different tenets. It has global form with people and planet at the core. This is true first and foremost for the planet. The planet’s health is dependent on the sum of decisions made by all actors from around the world.
If we are to safeguard the planet for future generations, every stakeholder needs to take responsibility for its part in it. The planet is the centre of the global economic system, and its health should be optimized in the decisions made by all other stakeholders.
People are the other stakeholder as the well-being of people in one society affects that of those in another, and it is incumbent on all of us as global citizens to optimize the well-being of all of us.
The matter of who is to blame for climate change is academic. There are many to blame, but many more who need to take its reins, just like in any emergency. Many groups have been accused of being at blame for the ongoing lack of action, from fossil fuel and energy companies and wealthy countries, to politicians, rich people and sometimes even all of us.
WHOEVER IS TO BLAME, THE ONLY WAY OUT IS TO WORK TOGETHER - AS CITIZENS, TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR OUR OWN ACTIONS AND HELPING OTHERS. THAT'S UNDENIABLE.
Sometimes we are also Workers, CEOs, Directors, Managers. We can be individual Citizens or Business Citizens, but we are always Citizens. And it is with that consciousness that we should make all decisions. Ensuring that the decisions we make today don't deprive others - present and emerging, of the opportunity to a decent life because of our decisions.
And that means Consumers have the right to be treated as Citizens. Consumers should act as Citizens. And Businesses are run by Citizens.
We need to talk less and act more for the planet. Traditional consumption focused businesses know they need to step up as responsible climate actors. Many are trying to and if you are a Business Citizen wondering where to look for answers, your own mirror and the eyes of your children holds most of your answers. Act.