The idea of the “common good” has a history going back as far as Aristotle. Usually this phrase refers to a specific community of people (e.g., an organization, a city) or to all of humanity. The idea of the “integral common good” suggests that we are also members of a larger ecological community (e.g., we depend on plants for food and oxygen), which COVID-19 has reminded us of recently. As members of this socio-ecological community, we also have moral obligations to other members. For a description of the integral common good and its implications for management practice, see my recent paper "The integral common good: Implications for Mele’s seven key practices of humanistic management” in Humanistic Management Journal. It can be downloaded at https://brunodyck.weebly.com/managing-sustainably.html.
Tall Grass Prairie Bakery is a place-based SET firm that has been around for 30 years. It has inspired the start-up of many other SET firms and is featured in chapter 7 of our book. Here is a short video that describes its response to COVID-19, in part by going back to its roots.
Rebecca Henderson, a professor at the Harvard School of Business, believes that the time is ripe to usher in a reimagined capitalism, where profits are not seen as the end goal of business, but rather as a means to produce goods and services in ways that both respect the environment and treat one another with dignity. She notes that business people’s support for ecological well-being came earlier than their support for social well-being, but is optimistic that social inequalities laid bare by COVID-19 may hasten manager's commitment to social justice issues as well. She argues that: “embracing a pro-social purpose beyond profit maximization and taking responsibility for the health of the natural and social systems on which we all rely not only makes good business sense but is also morally required” (Henderson, 2020: 11).
Henderson, R. (2020). Reimagining capitalism in a world on fire. New York, NY: Hachette Book Group Inc.
Peters, A. (2020, May 4). How businesses can make positive change during the pandemic. Fast Company.
During this time of uncertainty and stress, my heart goes out to those who are suffering physically, financially, and emotionally due to the COVID-19 pandemic. My wife and I are self-isolating, but we look forward to our daily afternoon walks. We know it may take months before we get back to anything resembling normal, and I can’t help but wonder what that new “normal” might look like.
Others in the field of sustainability are asking themselves similar questions. Joel Makower, Chairman and Executive Editor of GreenBiz, lists several important lessons we are all learning from our collective experience with self-isolation, which can be applied to climate change, including:
“How to think about the common good while protecting our own well-being and self-interest. How to view a problem simultaneously at the personal, community, national and global scales. What it’s like to be part of a problem that none of us can control, including government at the highest level, but which can’t be remedied without everyone playing their part.”
Then he goes on to describe pros and cons of applying to climate change a variation of the COVID-19 “flatten the curve” meme:
To read this article in full, go to https://www.greenbiz.com/article/can-we-flatten-curve-climate.
Research suggests that people who support SET business practices (e.g., who usually purchase eco-friendly products and brands, who belong to environmental or conservation organizations) are more likely to visit natural spaces at least once week (e.g., go for a walk) and are more likely to feel connected to nature (e.g., to feel they are part of nature, to find beauty in nature and treat nature with respect). There is also a positive relationship between people feeling connected to nature and their feeling that the things they do in their life are worthwhile, a relationship that is strengthened if they go for a walk at least once a week.
Martin, L., White, M. P., Hunt, A., Richardson, M., Pahl, S., & Burt, J. (2020). Nature contact, nature connectedness and associations with health, wellbeing and pro-environmental behaviours. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 68, 101389: 1-12
Marketing has traditionally focused on stimulating demand and selling as much product as possible. However, in light of the environmental crises associated with this approach, a small but growing number of businesses and scholars are developing a SET approach to marketing that ensures that everyone has enough (not too much, and not too little). Examples include Patagonia’s famous “Don't buy this jacket” ad and its free service to repair damaged clothing, and also the general ideas of “slow food” and "slow fashion" marketing (e.g., where consumers purchase fewer garments that are made locally and from environmentally friendly materials). About half the time sufficiency marketing is prompted by the altruistic principles of business owners, and the other half it is prompted by the recognition of consumer demand for SET oriented products. Researchers emphasize the importance of belonging to larger communities where members share sufficiency values.
For an excellent article that reviews this literature, see:
Gossen, M., Ziesemer, F., & Schrader, U. (2019). Why and how commercial marketing should promote sufficient consumption: a systematic literature review. Journal of Macromarketing, 39(3), 252-269.
What happens when a firm wants to have the positive image that comes from being seen as transparent about its environmental performance, but its environmental performance is unfavourable? Research suggests that such companies issue confusing reports that are difficult for readers to understand (long sentences, technical terms, multi-syllabic jargon). It seems they want the benefit of appearing to be transparent, while avoiding the reputational costs that come from poor actual performance. In contrast, from a SET perspective, it is important to provide clear and transparent communication about environmental and social performance. Moreover, SET firms may invite third parties to help prepare such reports.
Fabrizio, K. R., & Kim, E. H. (2019). Reluctant Disclosure and Transparency: Evidence from Environmental Disclosures. Organization Science, 30(6), 1207-1231.
It’s been another remarkable week of news about climate change and business responding. Headlines tell us about record-breaking fires in Australia and announce that the past decade has been the hottest on record, with a director from NASA saying; “If you think you’ve heard this story before, you haven’t seen anything yet.”
Meanwhile Blackrock, the world’s largest asset manager ($7 trillion), announces that it is changing its focus to climate change. Founder and CEO Laurence Fink believes we are "on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance" because of a warming planet. And, based on a survey of 750 key decision makers prior to the World Economic Forum, environmental issues are at the top of the list of concerns for those heading to Davos. The need for an interest in SET management is growing weekly.
Sources: Borenstein, S. (2020 Jan 16). Past decade the hottest on record. Winnipeg Free Press; Pylas, P. (2020 Jan 16). Environmental issues top list of worries for those heading to Davos. Winnipeg Free Press. Associated Press (2020 Jan 14). BlackRock, world’s largest asset management, changing its focus to climate change. https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/blackrock-investment-climate-change-1.5426465?cmp=rss
Pay for performance (P4P) systems—which are “widely used by firms to both motivate employee effort and attract the best talent”—have been linked to increased levels of depression and anxiety. From a SET perspective, it is not surprising that focusing on financial well-being reduces attending to other important forms of well-being.
From the Abstract: This paper provides evidence linking pay-for-performance (P4P) adoption by employers to long-term and serious mental health problems in employees. Matching survey-based data on P4P adoption by 1,309 Danish firms with wage, demographic, and medical prescription data of 318,717 full-time employees, we find a four to six percent increase in the usage of anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication after firms adopt P4P. This change is strongest in low-performing and older workers.
Dahl, M.S., and Pierce, L. (2019 in press) Pay-for-performance and employee mental health: Large sample evident using employee prescription drug use. Academy of Management Discoveries.
The SET management approach has much in common with the “Cultural Re-Enlightenment” archetype described by leading management scholars Andrew Hoffman and Devereaux Jennings in their recent book “Re-engaging with sustainability in the Anthropocene era.” Both approaches share an emphasis on the need to go beyond sustainable development, to focus on flourishing rather than on materialism and self-interest, to replace reductionist thinking with a sense of transcendent connectedness, and to highlight the role of localized entrepreneurs. And, just like SET management is based on virtue ethics rather than mainstream utilitarian ethics, Hoffman and Devereaux observe that "the logics of science in Cultural Re-Enlightenment will be balanced by new logics of ... religion, philosophy, and others, ones that are congruent with one another.”