Anyone who’s ever seen The Wolf of Wall Street knows that “big business” is often depicted as the “big bad wolf.” Of course, every company wants to turn a profit and keep their shareholders happy, but I know from experience that businesses can make money and be a force for good. And that’s why we at B Lab, a nonprofit that helps entrepreneurs solve social and environmental problems through impact measurement, are committed to redefining success in business.
Thanks to their size and status, many for-profit organizations are in the privileged position of being able to affect the social and environmental well-being of their communities — and even the world — through their everyday operations if they’re proactive about it.
At B Lab, it’s our mission to help businesses build a more shared and durable prosperity that everyone on earth can benefit from. As a standards analyst, it’s my job to help companies navigate the B Corp Certification process, which classifies companies that are committed to positively influencing society and the environment. When a company becomes a certified B Corp, the financial gain of their shareholders is no longer their sole priority; they are legally committing themselves to doing what is in the best interest of all stakeholders, including local residents, the local community, and the environment. Once they are certified, they receive a score based on the size of the impact they’re making.
Thanks to my work, I’ve had a front row seat as companies prioritized people and the planet in addition to profits. And, as it turns out, businesses that do so are actually at a huge advantage over other companies that don’t. Part of my job involves going on site visits and interviewing employees about their job satisfaction, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard employees of my generation say they value the transparency and forward-thinking leadership and empowerment that’s prevalent at B Corp companies, especially compared to the working environments at more traditional companies.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be the CEO of a huge business to make a difference. I believe a single employee can convince their company to make significant environmental and social change. Want to help your company do more good? Here’s how:
1. Find an ally
Start by thinking about the changes you hope to make. For example, if you work at a company where you want to cultivate environmental stewardship by recycling more and conserving electricity, than you should first figure out who within the company’s infrastructure is responsible for those things. If you have a personal relationship with that person or a mentor who can connect you, start there. If not, human resources is always a good place to begin those conversations.
2. Express the value of what you’re trying to do
Once you’ve identified an ally, you can then approach the company’s leadership to explain how much your plan could save the business, and why making such changes are great for the bottom line, company culture, and employee satisfaction. For instance, independent companies often don’t think about things like water intake or energy usage. So, those are easy areas for an entry-level or mid-level employee to address, which also save a company money.
3. Establish a plan of impact
In order to achieve your goals, you need a viable plan. Maybe it’s something you brainstorm with HR. Maybe it’s something you establish an internal committee to weigh in on. But, no matter what, you should outline specific initiatives you and your company can take to make a difference. Remember, these changes can feel overwhelming at first, so break them into steps and set achievable goals.
4. Put it in writing
Your plan should always include writing or updating a policy that clearly states what you’re trying to achieve. For example, if want to institute a policy stating that employees can have 20 hours of paid time off to volunteer, putting that in writing and integrating that into the employee handbook ensures your company is going to make good on that promise.
5. Hold yourself and others accountable
One thing that I’ve seen work at the companies that I’ve stewarded through the B Corp Certification process is instituting competitions that challenge and incentivize employees to stay on track with these new policies. A lot of companies use Slack or other messaging services, and they’ll send out a message like: “Happy Friday! The employee who recycles the most material today will win…” and then they’ll promise some sort of recognition. Focus on making it fun while inspiring employees to get creative.
6. If all else fails, be the change you wish to see
If your company isn’t onboard with making any changes, that doesn’t mean you can’t make changes on your own in an unofficial capacity. Sure, it can be a lot of responsibility, but you can engage your fellow employees directly to make a positive impact outside of the main operational system. I know some manufacturing employees who formed a volunteer group outside of the office; twice a week they volunteer at a local orphanage. It wasn’t an “official” company effort, but they still got to do something impactful. And that’s what matters most.
This article originally appeared on The Well, Jopwell’s digital magazine. The Well is the digital magazine of Jopwell, the career advancement platform for Black, Latino/Hispanic and Native American professionals and students. Subscribe to receive weekly stories and advice in your inbox.