March 17, 2014; The Guardian

Writing for the Guardian, Margaret Heffernan asks for a richer discussion about the relationship between business and society. She says she thinks that “every business should be a social enterprise.”

“Every company should aim to create jobs, to develop its people, to make a significant and positive contribution to the society and environment that it springs from and serves. There is no business in the world that doesn’t depend on society, its people and environment to succeed. And the sooner we’re clear about that interdependence, the greater the force for good business can become.

I fully acknowledge that there are antisocial businesses: companies which take far more from the world than they give back. But the vibrant riposte to this must be vigorous, sustainable (therefore profitable) businesses which prove that you can trade without sweatshops, farm without wrecking lives and landscape, manufacture without ravaging the planet and make a positive contribution that includes paying taxes.”

This piece reminds us of the article we printed more than two years ago by Buzz Schmidt, who feels that every enterprise—profit and nonprofit—should be measured for its contributions to or erosions of society. He concludes that article with the following observation:

“The enterprises of society inhabit a wide continuum from low to high net contributors, with enterprises of various types and tax statuses mixed together across the array. Anyone who believes in the importance of private enterprise in fostering social progress must endeavour to understand the net contributions that these enterprises, regardless of tax status, make to the cumulative wherewithal of society and invest, consume, and donate accordingly.”

Heffernan says, “I long for the day when the social ambitions and goals of business are every bit as important as the bottom line and when a company is judged not by the size of its balance sheet but the scale of its positive impact; the day when every business is a social enterprise—and those that aren’t simply don’t stand a chance.”—Ruth McCambridge