Power to the (business) people: Why we must celebrate the workers driving positive change
It is important to recognise and applaud the individuals collectively working to challenge the status quo in business, argues Natura & Co’s Char Love
When B Lab first started in 2006, they launched with a truly inspiring invitation to join a community of ‘people using business as a force for good’.
This tag line remains at the heart of the global B Corp movement. However as more and more organisations and influencers have stepped into this area some have shortened the slogan to one we hear and see in many places today: ‘Business as a force for good’.
We all know that narratives change and evolve over time – sometimes with unintended consequences. This is an important moment to remind those who are aligned with B Lab’s mission that people really are at the heart of the change that we seek to have through business.
As a bit of context, I have spent a lot of my career connected in some way, shape or form to the B Corp movement. I co-founded of one the first UK B Corps, strategic advisory firm Volans, as well as B Lab UK, where I went on to hold several roles, including activist-in-residence. I am now director of advocacy at Natura & Co, the world’s largest B Corp.
Over the years I’ve heard the B Corp community described in many ways. The words of one of my friends from B Lab Europe captured its essence and spirit best when she remarked that you can always tell when you’re in a room of people connected to the B Corp movement because they have a special sparkle in their eyes.
Yes, this movement is about business. But a business – like systems – is made up of people. The direction a business goes in and the impact it has on the world is all, in fact, based on the people that work there. The people are the ones who make both big strategic decisions and every day small choices. It is the people that are the driving force which put the business on the path to doing good.
By dropping the ‘people’ part of the narrative we could be perpetuating the dehumanisation of business. When people feel that they are not connected to the decisions they are making, they can distance themselves from them. And in that distancing they can lose the perspective of the impacts these decisions have on others.
B Lab and the B Corp community should continue to talk passionately and celebrate the 6,000 businesses that are in the community. But we should also celebrate the 540,000 workers in these businesses. From marketeers to techies, accountants to product designers, salespeople to HR team members, it is people who make business a force for good and who are united in a determination to truly use their power to drive positive change.
But does this focus on people really matter? Research seems to suggest it does. When it comes to system level change, Harvard political scientist Erica Chenoweth points to the importance of securing support from powerbrokers (in other words, people) within institutions which benefit from the status quo, for instance corporations and shareholders.
Research where Chenoweth showed that governments are generally unable to withstand the force of 3.5 per cent of the population engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience has been cited by many movements. A recent update to this research into ‘3.5 per cent rule’ reinforces the critical role people in business can play in accelerating change.
If you’re reading this as someone who works in business and wants to ‘go beyond’ in using your power as a force for good, there are a number of actions you can take within your organisation, whether it is a B Corp or not.
For starters, you should know your own special kind of power. There are many ways people in business can drive change. There are those that have impact as a quiet practitioner, those that organise collective action at a community level, those who join protests, and those that focus on educating and training others. To find out what kind of superpower you have in business you can check out the Forces of Nature online quiz or review the different changemaker talents on The Body Shop website.
It is also important to speak up. Courageously question the status quo. With global emissions rising and the gap between the haves and have nots growing, we know that the current way our system operates just isn’t cutting it. B Lab calls for system change which involves both regulatory change, behaviour change, and culture change – and culture change is about speaking up and taking an active role in shaping new norms.
Walking the talk is also critical. We know that greenwashing is a real challenge. Businesses may have good intentions and set bold targets, but when it comes to making it happen, people can still struggle when it comes to making the right choices, especially when KPIs and incentives are not fully aligned. Make sure you consider the choices you have, and always consider how the decisions you make impact both shareholders and all other stakeholders. Using stakeholder governance as a north star will keep you on the right side of the road and walking (maybe even running) the talk.
Meanwhlie, find friends and fellow travellers. Driving the kind of change we know is needed in the world is not a solo sport. It will require teams, coalitions of the willing and coalitions of the doers. It will require a movement of movements. Find those in your function, in your industry, in your trade associations who you can connect with to deepen your connection and trust. And don’t be afraid to build bridges with ‘unusual’ friends – such as competitors or those that hold different perspectives. Exciting new ideas can emerge when we lean into these areas of tension.
Finally, transfer your power to others. Power is an incredible force. Holding it is a reflection of privilege. Power is also something that can be shaped and channelled and transferred to others. Find ways to actively share your power, helping it flow like electricity as more people feel it and harness it. And in doing so, lifting up the voices that might not otherwise be heard.
March is B Corp Month and the call to action is ‘we go beyond’. My challenge to us all is to make sure we’re celebrating the sparkle of all the people in business who make the decisions that challenge the status quo and are truly using their power as a force for good.
Charmian Love is global director of advocacy at Natura & Co and co-founder of B Lab UK