It is over 10 years since John Elkington wrote Cannibals with Forks: the Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business. In it he talks about the responsibility of business to deliver not only improved profits, but also improvements to their people and the planet.  But getting alignment on all three measures is easier said than done.

Here at Market2win we have setup one of our simulations to look at the planet vs profit issue.  In the simuation we have five businesses all competing on different “green” credentials.  The interesting point is that although the players in the simulation (who adopt the role of the marketing team of each business) start by emphasizing their greenness, once the profits are put under pressure, they rapidly forget their green principles and go for a more profitable strategy (e.g emphasizing low price over low carbon footprint).   This is also true in many businesses  where “greenwash marketing” (putting a green spin on some very ungreen activities) is a common policy.

The lesson here is that to make companies green, they must see a clear connection between the green initiative and greater profits. For example, many hotels now ask you to only place dirty towels on the floor.  This reduces their laundry costs and is also good for the environment.  Good for the planet and good for profits.

Too often, people try to fight the profit motive by appealing to more noble causes.  This, unfortunately, is a battle they will lose as the profit motive will always dominate.  It is better to align your cause with the cause of business and sell it like a business person.  This was reinforced to me this week when I bought the latest Big Issue magazine and read an article by its founder, A. John Bird (for those of you that don’t know, The Big Issue is sold by homeless people in the UK and they keep half the revenue themselves).   In the article, he says how he attended another award ceremony recently and although he didn’t win, he realized that “this one was different. This was for Business Leadership! Yes, for helping to create a business that was about dismantling poverty in the lives of people!  And this was the first, the very first time that The Big Issue was being patted on the back as business leaders!” 

He also goes on to say (and I would agree with this) that The Big Issue can help businesses respond to social crises.  Wrap a good cause in smart business thinking and sell it like a professional. Then there is change.