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Jun 9, 201404:28 PMSmart Sustainable Biz

with Jessie Lerner

How to make a profit while making a difference

(page 1 of 2)

How do you solve society’s most vexing environmental and social issues while becoming more profitable at the same time? Collaboration. Sound too hard? Shift your frame of reference in order to view communities as partners, not just resources. Shift your frame of reference and treat employees and customers as multifaceted humans, not just as worker bees and consumers.

Sound familiar? In April, American Family Insurance gave a presentation on its collaboration economy experience at our Sustainable Business Network meeting. At the July 23 meeting, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi will give us another perspective on the same theme. Nexus Global Advisors CEO Eric Lowitt’s recent book The Collaboration Economy shows how this partnership between the public, private, and civil sectors — the Golden Triangle — can effect the type of change that you want and help you become more profitable at the same time.

Sustain Dane contributing writer Andrea Slinde had the opportunity to interview Lowitt in advance of his upcoming presentation at the Leadership for Global Change Summit in Madison on June 17. While it’s difficult to choose, here are my top four takeaways from their discussion:

1. Companies can solve environmental and social issues as a means to accelerate growth and make a profit.

Lowitt works to inspire transformational change. He says, “We help companies find their purpose — their reason for existing — and then help these companies change who they are, how they operate, and how they partner with stakeholders. So, for example, a well-known company recently realized that, ‘If we can’t get access to water, we won’t have products, we won’t have revenue, and ultimately we won’t have a company unless we change.’ So the only way we can get access to water in perpetuity is by realizing that communities own water. So we have to change how we view communities — from looking at communities as a source of materials to looking at communities as partners. We also have to change how we look at rivals — from rivals against whom we compete for water, or energy, or food, or raw materials, and instead look at rivals as, ‘You have the same problems that we do, so if we were to work together, perhaps we could solve a big issue like water scarcity, so that we both have plenty of water with which to work.’ That’s transformational change.”

2. Even though The Collaboration Economy focuses on private sector case studies, the public and civil sectors are integral to the solution too. Public sector — seek authenticity. Civil sector — you have more power than you give yourself credit for, so act on it.

“The message for government officials is seek to collaborate, seek authenticity. Don’t just try to get a [business CEO] on stage with you for some campaign rally. Earn that person’s presence by working with them behind the scenes and invite them into your regulatory conversation. Get the lobbyists outside, go directly to the CEOs of companies in your constituency, and say, ‘What are the biggest challenges that you see and how can we work together?’ That’s the public sector message.

“The civil sector message is even simpler. Two-thirds of our economy is based on consumer spending as individuals. We have more ability now than ever before to use our wallet for impact. Because we also use our fingers for impact. We can type messages on Twitter and Instagram and 16 other places and say, ‘You know, I’m never doing business with company X again’ or ‘I’m going to continue to buy from Zappos because their customer service is amazing! For you and me, my message for the book is, you can have an impact. You have more power than you give yourself credit for; have confidence to believe in your faith and have confidence to act on it.”


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