About the Author
Julie Maloney, M.A. is a corporate sociologist and 16-year veteran of systems change projects in Fortune 100, government and community organizations. She researches, writes and speaks on the evolution of eco consumers and the future of sustainable business. Julie is principle in the Ann Arbor-based company JMI.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Most leaders hold idealistic memories of a time when things were simpler and more controlled (and seemingly more controllable). Yet, nowadays our lives and our business activities are actually more connected and, thus, more complicated. Were influenced by ideas, customs, brands and hardships that span the globe. Like an old sweater that stretches out of its original shape, we can never return to the way we were in times past. Were literally evolving into a different world whether we like it or not.
In this different world, time and space have taken on new meaning. Unlike the business transactions of even a few decades ago, our business exchanges today are virtually borderless. Popular entertainment like MTV, mass marketing of global brands like McDonalds, and international travel by air and sea are a few of the forces that bind our lives, our ideologies and our nations together, escalating both innovation and conflict. With one in 12 people worldwide going online every day,8 many of our closest relationships are people from other cultures we meet through email instead of the neighbors next door. Not to mention the massive land-based and mobile phone systems linking us to any one of two billion people internationally in a matter of moments.9 Through our borderless connections, we make things happen around the globe in seconds where decades ago it might have taken us months or years.
Both the highest of highs and the lowest of lows confirm how local events ripple in an international chain reaction. Take, for instance, the 2001 U.S. terrorist attacks and stock market crashes that triggered a far-reaching economic slump worldwide.11 Similarly, the 2003 war in Iraq provoked, among other things, 30 million citizens from 600 cities across every continent to march for peace, a unified outpouring unmatched in history.12 We are so intertwined that the world around us often responds to our actions in unprecedented ways, yet most of the time we dont realize this until after the fact. Our circle of influence has widened.
In business, weve learned to profit from the sheer scale of our interconnectedness by selling goods and services on every inch of the planet, from talking on a Nokia cell phone in Botswana to drinking a Coke in the heart of Papau, New Guinea. Global trade totaled $5.96 trillion in goods (such as oil, cars and food) and $1.47 trillion for services (such as freight and travel) in 2001,13 growing by more than $300 billion from the previous year.14 Even with the rise of corporate scandals and military action in 2002, we continued to enjoy a fairly steady global economy.15
Nevertheless, wed be careless and myopic leaders if we took advantage of our global interdependencies without being mindful of the consequences of our business practices. In this different world that were in, mindfulness can make or break business success. Consider that the worlds diminishing fresh water supply is no longer just an environmental challenge; it limits the growth of every food and beverage manufacturer, like PepsiCo, where water is the main ingredient. The AIDS-related death toll of so many African people isnt only something for humankind to mourn; it shrinks the entire workforce supporting African business activities, like those of DaimlerChrysler, Intel and Nestle, thereby reducing the economic growth and social health of that region. The rampant obesity of many nations worldwide isnt just a health scare; it incites legal action against companies, like Burger King, demonizes the image of corporations and their products, and demands business to account for its role in the problem. Today, every company, large and small, has to deal with some natural or human challenge that theyve never had to manage before in order to do business.
Whereas in the past weve played the game of business for immediate financial gains, progressive business leaders today must be proactive, conscious and accountable to balance economic, ecological and social returns. Whereas in the past we may have concentrated solely on payback to our company, todays leaders must make holistic company decisions that consider the broader effects of their actions.
With the best of intentions, we often produce more problems than we resolve. Our world is undergoing the pangs of birthing into something different yet our approaches for making decisions and leading our organizations havent quite evolved the same way. The canaries in the coalmine have sung long enough to warn of the penalties for how we use our corporate power. The destructive effects of our inadequacies are headlined daily in poor international relations, strained social systems and workplaces filled with burned-out people. Our modern values dont seem to be getting us out of the complex, interconnected boxes we live in.
Weve learned that commercial success, societal prosperity, ethical management and the use of natural resources are inextricably tied. Their interrelatedness is prodding us to reevaluate and broaden our definitions of business success, and to use the power of our enterprises more wisely as simply an act of doing good business. However, that requires that we lead from a new set of values altogether.