In the Masterpiece TV Series Wolf Hall, British actor Mark Rylance, playing King Henry VIII’s henchman Thomas Cromwell, tells another, “The world is not run from where you think it is—from border fortresses, even from Whitehall. The world is run from Antwerp, from Florence, from Lisbon, from wherever the merchant ships set sail off into the West. Not from castle walls: from counting houses, and the pens that scrape out your promissory notes.”
Business and trade really ran the world, not armies, Cromwell understood.
This is now a given in our world. Business rules. Profits alone equal stronger economies. Or do they?
A similar change is underway today. In the shadows of big business, Big Data, and the march to profits lurks a new movement that still checks its sites on making money, but with other values in mind. Replace Antwerp, Florence and Lisbon with company names like Apple, Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s that have heeded to a strong core of inner values—and which in turn have driven their businesses to immense popularity and profits.
Experts call this the “triple bottom line,” taking into account people and planet—as well as profits. Vince Siciliano, CEO of the value-based New Resource Bank in San Francisco, which makes loans to sustainable companies, says he now substitutes “prosperity” for profits. “They’re different words. Prosperity includes the financial reward, but it’s a wider measure,” he says.
Prosperity isn’t just about financial wealth. It includes well-being and health as well.
However, big companies are not moving too much in this direction, says Siciliano. “They do green, and social responsibility, but these tend to be add-ons and are not a part of their DNA,” says Siciliano. “Leaders that incorporate the triple bottom line are going to see more value in their companies.”
New Resource Bank works with a lot of organic food companies, for example, from milk to cheese and chocolates and drinks, coffees and tea. He reasons that the area is growing so hot because of health concerns. “One of the undiscussed realities in America is that cancer is driven by environmental chemicals, and a lot of products come to market without being tested. More people are seeing that eating organic foods is a way to significantly reduce that threat,” he says. Organic and healthy food companies are prospering as a result.
Siciliano’s bank also understands that market better than traditional banks. “If companies come to us with food coops selling to Whole Foods, we understand that client and that business.”
Another area New Resource Bank is focused on? Energy efficiency, especially in commercial buildings, where the benefits of cost savings can be measured, while helping to spur innovation as businesses strive to become more efficient and boosting productivity by using saved resources elsewhere.
Metric for Well Being?
There will be drivers, and health is a big one. “When you look at people, you’re looking at their personal well-being. And the environmental protection.”
“The very senior most leaders of businesses and with the support of their boards need to think why they’re in business,” Siciliano says. “As long as business is seen as maximimizing wealth and excess, that isn’t contributing to the movement. If a purpose of business is well-being for the planet, now you [should] have a metric for well-being
“If you develop other metrics in the purpose of the business, that’s the way they’re going to move. Though some of this can’t be measured. There really should be a way to measure the return in a number of ways.
“My metric is well being for people and the planet,” he adds.
The New Resource Experience
When Siciliano came to the New Resource Bank six years ago, it was losing money on bad loans. Most of problems were in real estate lending. Then the bank made a decision to lend money only to value-based, or sustainable businesses.
“We really had to rethink and relaunch. One, we became much more clear about our mission, a triple bottom line company, and all of lending had to be to mission-minded businesses. “We had to think more deeply of who we were lending to in terms of products and risks,” he says. “We did classic community bank lending. And we said no more of that, and just values-based banking.
“And internally, how does New Resource Bank become a better place to work?”
“It’s deciding who you’re going to be. How are you going to live your life in a way that gives you happiness, fulfillment and joy?”
Sustainable Leaders, Sustainable Visions
So what do sustainable business leaders need to do better? “They need to articulate an alternative version of well-being and health and prosperity,” Siciliano says. “The dominant narrative has been raw capitalism. There needs to be much more discussion of what that healthy vision looks like.”
Even Masterpiece’s Thomas Cromwell’s villainous reputation today has been imbued with more of a values-based family man, who builds worlds on relationships while maneuvering in the cut-throat (quite literally) halls of business and politics.
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