Friday, June 14, 2013

The Rise of Benefit Corporations

(Authored by Michael Lee, CEO of the ATM Industry Association ( and author of "Knowing the Future - The Startling Case for Futurology")

As a futurist and head of a global non-profit trade association for the 2.4 million strong ATM industry, I urge business leaders to consider becoming Benefit Corporation Champions, embracing a new, more gratifying way of conducting business by being of benefit to society and the environment while succeeding in business. Consider evolving, along with a growing number of business and social leaders, into a benefit business.

A new paradigm for business, one focused more on defining how to bring broader benefits to society, has become desirable following the self-evident failures of governance which led to the 2008 global credit crisis and subsequent economic crash and slow-down.  In addition, climate change, along with the extreme and damaging weather it's increasingly bringing, requires public leaders to consider the environmental impacts of industry.  Everyone loses if we tip over into irreversible ecological decline.

Even if there had been no global economic crisis and even if climate change did not exist, it would still be true that it is ultimately people who make the world of business go around.  They are the customers, employees and employers.  Being people-friendly is good for the sustainability and governance of business.

Our world has a crying need today for more companies to become benefit businesses.

But just what is a benefit corporation? It's a simple but grand idea that I, for one, would like to champion, along with my esteemed colleagues at the Benefit Corporation Standards Institute (BCSI) -  To this point, fifteen states and the District of Columbia have passed benefit corporation legislation in the United States alone.

It all starts with one powerful word: benefit.  Benefit means gaining an advantage or profit from doing something well which brings good to the world, however humble.   The Latin word benefactum means to do good, from bene, meaning "well" or "good." The adjective "beneficial" refers to an action which results in favorable, or advantageous, conditions.

Specifically, we are talking about businesses upping the ante when it comes to recognizing their social, economic and environmental responsibilities.  When last did you or I do something good for our world, whether for our community, our wider society, our economy or our environment? A benefit business believes that the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts, that we are all part of an interlocking world with many ecosystems which provide the resources and power we need to conduct business in the first place.

At BCSI, our mission, in the light of wanting businesses to be beneficial, is straightforward: to fundamentally transform how marketplace performance is measured and perceived by businesses, consumers and investors.

To do that, we set credible, meaningful standards for the rising number of benefit corporations we would like to publicly recognize and endorse.

If you are in business, BCSI believes our standards, embodying this triple responsibility to society, the economy and the environment, will empower you to prioritize sustainable policies and decision-making for today's complex, globalized and rapidly evolving society.

To get started on your journey to become a benefit corporation champion, first read our Core Principles.  If you identify with them, as I'm sure you will, get in touch with us.  It's a journey we all need to travel together.

Becoming a benefit business is literally a world-changing idea.