The Role of Business(es) in Doing ‘Good’

I will admit I have my doubts whether business(es) can be a force of good or not.

The power and resources of businesses must not be forgotten, neither should it be forgotten as an incentive to drive a sustainable future. Simultaneously I ask myself whether action is taking place for the right reasons.

It seems to provide solutions to maintain high(er) levels of production and consumption. It offers opportunities for economic growth in new ways, exploring market opportunities in sustainability, including the social and environmental aspects rather than merely the financial aspect. Though including the social and environmental aspect, our traditional sense or meaning of affluence remains largely unchanged. On the other hand, is there really a problem with mass production and mass consumption  if production is done sustainably, and for example all waste is appropriately taken care of and recycled?

Some may argue for a deeper, more radical change of our value and belief system (ie. deep ecology); a re-evaluation of our concept and relationship to (economic) growth where environmental degration is seen as a natural side effect. As for business, I think it is important to remember that their objectives and aims of financial gain is a portion of the system they take part in and the way of survival, whether it is a big corporate company or a non-profit social enterprise. A business will need revenue to be economically sustainable.

Businesses will not provide solutions that will end in their own death or make them suffer financially. However, that does not mean they cannot have higher goals and aims concerning social and environmental sustainability. I believe they can come up with alternative solutions that still can drive change, and driven by profit, then arguably at a higher speed than what would be the case without the involvement of businesses.

Although business, in the past and present, has gained a reputation for being perceived merely as exploitive, profit-driven machines, it is not that straight-forward. First of all, I think they still have a lot to do in convincing the public of their efforts to do good. Secondly, the public needs to acknowledge and realise the potential in business. Take The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) as an example. Awareness is created, discussion and policy-writing is taking place, and organisations are collaborating across industries and sectors.

It too easily becomes a game of placing guilt. When an individual joins an organisation, it does not lose its responsabilities for human nature and the planet, just as the individual outside the organisation needs to be held responsible for the same. It too easily becomes a situation of ”them and us”, whereas we as individuals, workers or consumers are not in a position where we can take no responsebility ourselves and blame ”others” – ”others” which is no one but ourselves playing out a different role in society.

To conclude my own thought and reflection,  I believe businesses can be a force of good, and today needs to be appreciated as something more than merely exploitive profit-driven machines.

Written by Thea Nygaard


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