Vision for 2030 - More sustainable businesses


It’s an exciting time to be an entrepreneur.

When I say “entrepreneur” I could just as easily mean a for profit business owner as a nonprofit leader, as the point here is entrepreneurial spirit vs. governance structure.

I believe we’re just at the start of the sustainable business revolution, but I think there is more that we can — and must — do to accelerate that movement. Here’s why.

Capitalism is a system that, in itself, has the potential for positive or negative impact. I believe in the basic principle that business can create value when driven by entrepreneurs and creative problem solvers. I believe that if a business creates more value than people with competing products or services, that business should benefit from that through a return of proceeds or profits. The return of proceeds acts as a reward, sure, but more importantly, it serves as a stimulus for further innovation and creation of value in our society.

The problem is that this system has been corrupted, starting with placing the reward ahead of creating value in our society. Companies can generate profits by exploiting other people, systems or resources to to do so (in a cycle that continues to create a greater divide between those who are rewarded and those who are exploited). In these cases, companies are not adding value to society; in fact, they are moving it or displacing it. For example, a company that profits from selling cheap T-shirts online but has the T-shirts made in a sweatshop is exploiting the labour (likely in a developing country, possibly immigrants in a more prosperous country). The T-shirt company is not creating new, innovative ideas; they are simply transferring value from the developing country into their own company.

I don’t believe that most businesses start here. I believe that most entrepreneurs (in the nonprofit or for profit world alike) start their venture because they see a need that they’re uniquely equipped to solve, whether that’s by doing something that needs to be done better than anyone else, or bringing forth a new idea that will advance humanity in some way. We crash into this life-of-business not understanding the complexity of the system we’re wading into: taxes, regulatory guidelines, compliance, problems with stakeholders (customers, vendors, employees), and keeping our personal lives in balance with the constant demands of the thing we created.

As business owners, we are also sometimes exploited. As we sell our products and services, we are constantly jostling with customers that do not protect their vendor stakeholders and will exploit us for their own gains. Similarly, vendors who do not care about their customer stakeholders will also seek to exploit us. Governments see business as one group they can regulate in order to accomplish their means more easily than going after individual citizens (if you don’t believe me consider why your employer deducts and remits your personal taxes for you).

As the business expands, we can become disconnected from doing the thing that we love and we fell in love with doing. We lose sight of our craft, our passion, and our vision as we fall in to protect the organization we created. At the same time, we’re bombarded with messages like “grow or die” and “if you’re not growing you’re dying”, seeing our peers who have grown businesses get accolades and awards. We double down on our efforts to grow and expand because that’s what we believe we have to do to be successful in business.

I have lived this journey and am saddened by how easily we can fall into these traps, even though I consider myself a relatively self-aware and intelligent individual.

As I’ve explored the cycle of growth in my own business, I have seen another possibility emerge. The sustainable business movement looks to address the exploitation of stakeholders and consider growth through a different lens. Within the world of sustainable business, Conscious Capitalism and B Corporations stand out. The B Corporation movement offers a certification process to allow you to evaluate evaluate and refine your impact on the various stakeholders around your business. It acknowledges that being a sustainable business with a positive impact involves a series of choices, and particularly for businesses that have already been operating for years before becoming a B Corp, there is a balance. It  will be a challenge for any company to be a rockstar in all areas of protecting stakeholder interests, but by measuring and constantly striving to improve we can reduce our negative impact and grow our profits by creating — not displacing — value.

A large part of my belief in the importance of sustainable business practices — led by corporations adopting Conscious Capitalism or B Corporation status — is to help entrepreneurs live out their passion and values to make the world a better place without falling into traps that have taken too many good corporations to the dark side. By measuring what matters, we can ensure that we’re building business that create new value vs. transferring value through exploitation.

At a recent personal vision day I created the following goal for my personal and corporate actions going forward: By 2030 90% of Canadian Corporations are socially sustainable businesses. To make that happen, I believe businesses have to work together, and we potentially play a part, so I am looking for your input on one question. What do you want to know about starting a sustainable, purposeful business or shifting your existing business to a more sustainable, purposeful track?

I’m prepared to share anything we have learned about running a company over the last 16 years, and intend to open source most — if not all — of the aspects of the agency model that rTraction pursues. We want to see more sustainable businesses in our community, in our country, and worldwide, and we know we have a responsibility to help entrepreneurs along the way.

We will not share any employee or client information, as their collective privacy is critical to us. What we will commit to sharing is anything along the lines of what we do, how we do it, how we’ve structured our company as a sustainable firm, or any aggregate data, if it will help you become a sustainable business faster. If it’s valuable (and we can share it while respecting our stakeholders), the information is yours. What would be the most valuable information for us to share with you?

Please fill out this survey to help us prioritize our internal projects:

Once we have our ducks in a row, we’ll also ask for other sustainable businesses to provide data into the ecosystem. Our hope is that it will allow sustainable businesses come up faster and stronger, and to learn from the collective mistakes that we have made to find our path to sustainability.

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David Billson