What about the third P, Profit? In the world of sustainable business the Profit aspect represents the economic impact of your business on your environment.
When first considering the notion, my Whiny Inner Business Owner started her little rant “I have enough to worry about without having to support half the world”.and “But I buy my groceries locally!”. Rather than be swept away by her persuasive arguments, I calmly sat down, acknowledged that I wasn’t going to save the world in one afternoon and started to consider just what economic impact my business did have and could have in the future.
I started by asking some tough questions:
How economically sustainable is my own business internally? This was something I felt comfortable with as it meant looking at my traditional definition of Profit – Are my outgoings less than my income? Do I have productive processes which make the most of my resources including time, money, energy, people? Also, what’s the longevity of my business? Am I re-investing in the right ways so that it can continue while it is still needed by the market?
Where does the money trail lead? I next looked outside of my business. Was I buying the products and services of other sustainable businesses or businesses in my local area? Was I creating a culture of growth for other businesses in my area or was I undercutting the market to drive them and their jobs out? What were my suppliers doing to contribute to the economic sustainability of their communities? Was I buying fair trade products which provide the economic structures for third world communities or the products of a multinational which has fly-in/fly-out workers?
Where does the money come from? Whether it’s investors, clients or the bank, how was the money that sustains my business made? Is it better to work with clients whose income I know comes from exploiting migrants because “think of the potential for change” or do I have to put my foot down and say no, I’m only working with people whose income is not exploitative? And how will I really know?
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I then considered the areas I know I’m doing well on..
I provide opportunities for others I’m big on referrals. If I know I’m not the right person for a client, I always recommend another more suitable person. I think it’s common, though for soloists and other business owners to take on clients and work which is outside their expertise and capability.
I appreciate what I’ve got. All those little things I might gripe about having to pay (eg APRA fees) are providing jobs and a growing dynamic culture in which I live. If I’m cash rich and time poor, well I am thankful that I’m not cash poor and time poor. And most importantly I have the resources to improve not only my own economic position but contribute to others.
Finally, I had an idea for improvement. If I’m not in a position to invest money in local economies, maybe I could provide time or support to others to help them improve their economic position. Simple things, like making sure there is child minding available at events so that working mothers can attend, can make a big difference.
For me, economic sustainability comes down to this:
If I really want my business to stick around for a while then I need to step back from the culture of commerce every now and then. I need to look outside the little world of me and my business and remember that I am human and I happen to share this planet.
When I really looked at sustainable practices across all business, be they big, small or micro, I realised that becoming sustainable makes long term sense for all. With our ability to make immediate decisions, the soloist who chooses to be sustainable will surely have the edge.