Since the start of his campaign for president, Donald Trump has made his point of view clear: run the country more like a business, and success will follow. The qualifications of many of his top advisors and cabinet members reflect this idea that a “business mindset” is the solution to our country’s ills. But many leaders in the conscious, sustainable business community strongly disagree with the view of business that has taken hold in Washington. The Trump administration and its allies in Congress seem to see business as extractive and focused on short-term profit at all costs. This version of “running government like a business” actually threatens, rather than strengthens, much of what responsible businesspeople hold dear — and is a step backwards on the journey to a triple-bottom-line economy.
YOUR BUSINESS VOICE IS POWERFUL — USE IT
For conscious business leaders who want to advance a sustainable economy, the course of action is clear. It’s time to stand up and let your voice be heard — together with others in the business community. It’s our responsibility as business leaders to turn the country towards an economy based on the promise and practice of business as a force for good.
When business leaders speak up for what they believe, they get more attention than average citizens. CEOs get quoted in the media and business perspectives hold a lot of sway in Washington and in statehouses. This credibility — and power — gives socially-minded, mission-driven business leaders an important role in protecting the progress we’ve made in areas like high-road employment practices and protecting the environment. This special clout also enables conscious business leaders to push for the systemic changes needed to put the economy on a path towards a sustainable future.
Convinced? Use the following advice to start or enhance your engagement as a business leader in advocating for positions you believe in.
THREE TACTICS FOR ENGAGING WITH POLICY AS A BUSINESS LEADER
1 // BUILD YOUR POWER BY JOINING WITH OTHERS
You don’t have to act alone. You may know other business owners and executives who share your views and are interested in stepping up. Connect with them and build an informal (or formal) support network, starting with those in your own community, state, or region.
Also look for business allies in the groups you are already part of, such as chambers of commerce and industry associations. Push them to endorse principles and values you support as they engage in policy discussions.
In addition, join local, state, and national organizations that you know align with your values and business goals and are willing to speak out and advance a conscious agenda. Our organization, the American Sustainable Business Council, is an easy place to start.
Finally, Conscious Company is pulling together a Conscious Business Coalition made of industry groups and business leaders committed to finding new ways to act on their principles. Get involved by joining the inaugural Conscious Company Leaders Forum this June. The focus will be how to improve our own capacity as leaders to create amazing places to work and advocate for causes and issues important to the world at large.
2 // LEVERAGE THE MEDIA’S INTEREST IN BUSINESS LEADERS
As a business leader, you probably already do everything you can to promote your business, products, and services via the media. By adding your policy perspectives to all your communications, you can build support for healthier policies in the same way. In fact, it can be more appealing for journalists to engage with you to talk about your point of view and your business case with a view to a larger societal issue.
When policy issues arise that matter to you — and are relevant to your business — you can let the media know where you stand. Offer yourself as an interview subject, or volunteer to appear on talk shows to share your perspective from the business point of view. Just make sure to prepare as you would for a sales meeting with your most important prospect!
If you work with a public relations professional, make sure they know and understand the nuances of the issues you’re interested in advocating for, in addition to the operations and goals of your business, so they can help you spot and secure relevant opportunities as they come up.
Easier to control, but equally important, is taking the time to write op-eds and letters to the editor. If you’re new to this kind of writing, start with your local paper to get some experience before turning to bigger platforms.
Finally, consider joining a public insight network of some kind so journalists know you’re available for comment and can send out requests around specific topics. American Public Media runs one at publicinsightnetwork.org; Conscious Company Media is also creating a roundtable of business leaders and CEOs.
3 // ENGAGE WITH POLICYMAKERS TO MAXIMIZE YOUR IMPACT
When you identify yourself as a business owner or executive, elected officials will want to hear from you. Get familiar with your US representative, senators, and state elected officials. Research where they stand on the issues important to you and your business. Contact their district offices and ask to schedule a meeting the next time they are in. Tell them that you want to share your experience as a businessperson in the community they serve, and why this specific issue matters to you and your business.
In your meeting, ask them what they hear from other business leaders. Explain how your direct experiences as a businessperson have led you to the conclusions you have and the policy solutions you support. This is a great opportunity to focus on the business case for your policy position. Counter any arguments that support the short-term-profit-at-all-costs business agenda and mindset. Ask elected leaders what it would take for them to be persuaded to your point of view. Let them know that you will support them if they support the proposals you care about. Invite them to tour your facility so they can see firsthand your principles and values in action. Plan to follow up to keep the dialogue going. Find more ideas on how to proceed at asbcouncil.org/resources-advocacy.
Don’t forget you have the power not just to influence current elected officials, but to get involved in determining who will represent you in the future. Support people running for office who stand for your values, or consider running for office yourself.
MAKE THE BUSINESS CASE
No matter which of the above routes you follow, remember to enhance your clout by telling your business story and making the business case for your point of view.
As a business leader, you are in a unique position to point out, for example, how immigrants are among your valued employees and customers and how they bring financial benefits to your business and to the entire economy. Or why providing living wages and good benefits for your employees advances a stronger economy. Or why a healthy ecosystem matters. In the face of deregulation or the de-funding of the enforcement of policies you agree with, you can point out needed protections for your community, employees, environment, and your business.
One of the strongest messages a responsible business leader can deliver is that business can be a force for good and that businesses, and the society in which they operate, do well (financially) by doing good. As the current administration and its allies in Congress prioritize the short-term-profit-at-all-costs agenda, responsible business leaders have unique power to prove that there is a better way. Use it.
Founded in 2009, ASBC and its organizational members now represent more than 200,000 businesses and more than 325,000 business leaders across the United States. These diverse business organizations include trade associations, local and state chambers of commerce, microenterprises, social enterprises, cooperatives, green and sustainable business groups, local main street businesses, women business leaders, economic development organizations, and investor and business incubators. ASBC has been joined by a wide range of companies including Patagonia, Eileen Fisher, Ben & Jerry’s, Seventh Generation, Clif Bar, Etsy, New Belgium Brewing, Green Depot, New Resource Bank, and Trillium Asset Management. ASBC informs and engages business leaders while educating policy makers and the media about the need and opportunities for a sustainable economy. www.asbcouncil.org