Last week saw the inaugural TED shed at Login Business Lounge , thanks to Steve Coburn. It was a chance to listen to some stimulating talks and discuss them, and I had the privilege of leading a table and feeding back.
Steve asked us to consider what harms own industry had been responsible for in the pursuit of growth. As somebody working in the Tech industry that list is a long one. At one end, cryptocurrencies consume huge amounts of compute power, which mean burning fossil fuels, at the other, it is increasingly clear Social Media platforms like Meta (Facebook/Instagram et al) have been responsible for social harm from electoral interference to mental health. Of course Tech has also made dramatic positive impacts, and every industry has its own share of impacts.
Every industry has been responsible for using things that are scarce resources as if they were infinite ones. Beyond Carbon footprint measurement, the reality is that almost all things are scarce, from the rare earth minerals needed to create batteries and semi-conductors, to aggregates used in construction. The strange thing is it has taken decades to realise, when almost anyone could have asked our grandparents who well understood that resources were scarce and valuable, and should be preserved or reused.
Steve also asked if this post-pandemic time was a “Plastic moment” – a unique opportunity for change, and if so what we could do to create positive change. For me, the plastic moment has passed. Much of the research on change, including the work of Matthew Taylor when he was chief executive of the RSA, suggests that changes that happen as a result of crisis are the changes that were under way already. The crisis simply accelerates the change. There are changes we see accelerating that were happening before, such as more flexible working, use of video conferencing, reduced commuting and relocation. These are changes that were on the way before the crisis, which certainly does mean things like more use of technology.
When it comes to changing business practices, if you want to fix the problem, you have to understand what caused it. And one of the talks we listen to pointed out, many of today’s business leaders in the UK are products of the Thatcher generation. An extreme view of Individualism as the ultimate driver, and while there as US parallels in Gordon Gekko’s rallying cry of “greed is good”, Thatcherism set a frame in the UK. This combined with the codification in law that businesses exist solely to generate profit, created a style of business thinking where systemic consequences of actions are wilfully ignored. The impact on society, the planet and the environment, were sidelined in the pursuit of individual reward. Prior to the pandemic there was a noticeable shift back towards the importance of community. The idea of common shared purpose and more direct, transparent communication. and collective responsibility.
For businesses, The idea of being aware of and collaborating with the community you operate within, is one of the most powerful ways to build a sustainable business that does good. A business that moves beyond the singular goal of profit, towards a form of triple bottom line. Considering the social good that the business can and does do, and giving that a voice. Through initiatives like the Better Business Act, there is a move to change legislation to recognise and support these new kinds of operating models, which can also be seen in things like the B corp movement, where businesses consider not just the profits that they make, but the interests of a broader range of stakeholders, and take the opportunities to create positive change and act as constructive part of society.
All businesses are communities, both for the direct employees, but also in supporting the families around them, and through their supply chains, other communities. Everyday we can act to create positive change. Many people in business, carrying out small actions, is a big impact. A much bigger impact that a few people talking about big change. We need to be on move beyond performative measures of doing good, like ESG, driven by external appearance or raising investment, towards transformative measures of doing good, based on working collaboratively, and being open to both the challenge and support of our peers and community. Another reason why it is good to gather to discuss business, and while I will be back for next month’s Login event.