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A New Normal

This collective pause we’ve all recently taken—and many of us are still in— has me thinking about the health of humanity and our planet. We’ve recently witnessed the environmental benefits of using less, buying less, travelling less and giving the planet a much needed break. This has me wondering if we’re willing to continue on this trajectory and take the needed steps to make the world a better place for generations to come.

Can we be ok with less? Can we start to co-exist with our surrounding ecosystems instead of trying to control them? Can we behave in a way that sustains all life on earth? 

As we move forward, I’ve also been wondering if businesses are willing to help shape a “new normal” that supports sustainability. If we continue with the traditional business model that focuses on profits alone then I believe our future is bleak, however if we move towards a business model that attaches a value to environmental impact and social value then I think a better future for all beings on this planet is possible. I envision a future where business integrates into an all-encompassing ecosystem that mitigates environmental degradation, provides a good quality of life for all and puts the very thing that keeps us alive at the center of the decision-making process—planet earth.

Over the last 50 years, environmentalists and social justice advocates have worked to broaden the traditional definition of a successful business, which is usually based on profit alone, by introducing full cost accounting. For example, if a corporation shows a monetary profit, but their asbestos mine creates a product that makes people sick or a copper mine pollutes a river and the government ends up spending taxpayer money on health care and river clean-up, how do we perform a full societal cost-benefit analysis?

Unlike the single or double bottom line business that only considers people and profits, a broader definition called triple bottom line adds one more aspects to the equation—the environment or planet.  This triple bottom line approach—people, planet and profit— brings a new thought process that takes the environmental and social impact of the business into account and in some instances holds the company responsible for its actions.

Let’s take it one step further and add a quadruple bottom line by including a humanistic value such as purpose. In this instance we are not referring to purpose like providing goods or services to others as the purpose of a business, but rather making the purpose something greater than the business itself. This business would be creating a purpose that integrates all or any combination of spirituality, ethics, culture and/or compassion.  

For example, compassion is the “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it” and this definition is not just human to human, but perhaps human to all living ecosystems. What a world we would live in if compassion was a driving force in the business decision-making process.

Imagine a future where business incorporates the alleviation of poverty or a desire to help one’s neighbor or the realization that they are a member of their environmental ecosystem and not a controller of it. What kind of world would that look like? Are we on our way there? Are we able to start this conversation and look toward the possibilities an idea like this will bring to future generations?

The ultimate question is, are we as a human race ready and willing to make systemic change in our daily lives in order to achieve a greater good? Can we find a better balance between competition and cooperation that will bring ourselves and the planet into alignment and harmony? are very challenging questions to answer.

Universal Outreach has been fortunate to partner in the building of the honey and coconut oil industries in Liberia, West Africa as a mechanism for poverty reduction. A key ingredient in this development has been Liberia Pure, a local honey and coconut oil packaging and distribution business. We’ve mentored Liberia Pure for eight years and this social enterprise is an excellent example of a quadruple bottom line business. It’s been the single most interesting, dynamic, impactful and positive endeavor that The Universal Outreach community have ever engaged in. Here is a breakdown of how Liberia Pure functions as a quadruple bottom line business model:

People – Farmers, transport workers, production and packaging workers, managers, secondary businesses that feed into the industries and many more all have an equally important role in the production of the honey and coconut oil products. It is an intricate web of connection that creates an environment of people who care about the wellbeing of one another. Liberia Pure and its suppliers/farmers work together to achieve a greater goal.

Planet – All products from Liberia Pure are produced with very low carbon footprints with a focus on integrating into the ecology or the surrounding forests and coastlines of Liberia. Liberia Pure understands that integration is more important than control because in agriculture you are never in control, you must work with your natural surroundings and stay focused on ways to improve the ecology rather than degrade it.

Purpose – What is life without a purpose? We must look at our business as something that is moving towards a greater purpose. How is our business taking culture, spirituality, gender and the betterment of our planet into account? How do you go to work each day with a renewed feeling of responsibility towards all that is around us and not just us alone? How deep are we able to go to find purpose in our lives and business’s that push our comfort zones and challenge us to be better global citizens? At Liberia Pure we learn from our surroundings, from the very people that are being trained to create these natural products and from the culture that surrounds us every day. We are all students of our natural world and at Liberia Pure it is taken seriously; we are as much of an observer as a participant and we are trying to consistently work within our means to achieve the greater good for all.

Profit or Prosperity– Liberia Pure often asks itself: who’s profit is this? The answer is that profits are given back to the farmers in the way of infrastructure, loans and dividend payouts. At the end of the day it is not only about the amount of profit the business is making, but what it does with it.

Quadruple bottom line business is about inclusiveness and cooperation and I believe that those who adopt these concepts early will be business leaders in the years to come. I hope for a “new normal” where people see less as more, where we consider the impact of our purchasing power and where we support holistic business practices that take people, planet, purpose and profit into account. We’ve learnt a great deal during this time of reflection and I believe we can make the necessary changes to create a healthy all-inclusive world for future generations.