Guest Column - July/August 2008

It Takes Value to Create Value

By Paul Kiewiet, MAS

Since when did doing good in the world become a prerequisite to doing good in business? Why has Corporate Social Responsibility become not a trend or a fad, but a critical business strategy? Some of us remember the first Earth Day in 1970. Why has "Green" become the hottest movement in the world in 2008? And how does this matter to the world of premiums and incentives?

As practitioners in the premium and incentive space, we are involved in validating, acknowledging and honoring the value of people. In order to motivate performance, recognize achievement, engage consumers with brands and create higher levels of loyalty, we must move beyond product and connect with the meaning people aspire to or affiliate with. Today, it is not what a product does—the features and benefits—it is what the product means. How it interacts with the recipient and how it reinforces their individuality and lifestyle.

The Triple Bottom Line

Corporate social responsibility is about how organizations uphold the interests of society through the impact of their activities on customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders, communities and other stakeholders. This goes well beyond statutory obligations and compliance issues and gets to the core values of the people who make up the organization.

The impact is measured by the Triple Bottom Line—people, profit and planet. Where these three issues intersect, we find sustainability. A company that excels in all three areas is meeting the needs of the present without compromising future generations. While people still want lots of products, they are now cognizant of the human factor—of the people actually producing the goods and services—and consumers do not want products at the cost of human suffering or indignity. We are finally coming to an understanding that products come from our planet and return to our planet, and the production, distribution and disposal of our "stuff" needs to be a life cycle that will leave a habitable planet for future generations.

And we also know that "profit" is not a dirty word. Profit is the life blood of any business enterprise and provides an economic benefit to the host society. The difference is that the triple bottom line recognizes that all three are of equal importance and are integral to each other.

When the largest corporation in the history of the planet with a reputation of cutting costs at all costs adopts a triple bottom line, and the largest corporation in terms of market capitalization also seizes this as a strategy and direction, you know that this is not just the flavor of the month. Wal-Mart and General Electric are just two out of the more than 45 percent of the globe's largest corporations that now use metrics to measure and report a triple bottom line. And they are finding lots of benefits from it, too!

The innovation around being a better corporate citizen has created new cost-cutting and money-saving processes that are saving these companies millions. They are finding new sources of profit and margin in new previously undiscovered resources and alternatives to our old carbon-based models.

And the companies that are embracing and living out positive values are finding that they are winning the talent war. The best and brightest new young people entering the workforce want to make a difference in the world. They believe that the work they do can have a positive impact and so are seeking out companies that will allow them to do so. Oftentimes, these young, talented people are putting values ahead of salary and are willing to work for less if it means working for good.