Business, Sustainability

With business, not against business

Attending a conference about sustainable business, it quickly became apparent that the approach of this conference (and the attendees) was very much about environmental sustainability, how important it was and the fact that business just has to come on-board. The message of the conference was, this is how bad the problem is, now you go and adjust what you are doing so it gets fixed.

Firstly I thought it was a waste of the first half day explaining to the audience that environmental sustainability was an issue. Being members of a sustainable business group and attending a conference on that topic would sure indicate some awareness and buy-in already.

Secondly, their approach seemed to forget that they are a business group not an environmental group. A group of businesses concerned about sustainability not a group of environmentalists interested in business. This is a fundamental difference and one that I believe is holding back widespread innovation and action by businesses.

Most people want to do what is right for both the environment and their communities. If they could achieve their outcomes without causing damage to the wider eco-system, then they would probably at least look at it. What they don’t want to be told is that they’re the problem and it’s up to them to fix because they’re the bad guys here.

The message really needs to be more positive than that. We need to do better for our environment and communities and we need businesses help because they can make an awesome difference. How can we work together to make this happen?

The systems, resources, people, planning and ‘smarts’ of business can be a massive part of the solution, they’re not the enemy and being told by outsiders what to do isn’t the way to tap into all the positives they can bring.

The actions of business to these big issues need to be driven by business people, using business techniques in a way that isn’t detrimental to what business is trying to achieve.

Coming back to the conference, I was looking forward to listening to business people discussing what they have done and advice as to how businesses can look at their operations with a view to promoting positive changes.

If we take the approach that we all want the same outcomes, then we can use each other’s strengths to get the job done. Business is a great resource but it is business and changes need to come from a business perspective.

Jessica 2 

Business, Sustainability

A Journey Begun

There was a time when doing good was left to those who ran charities, but in recent years we see a growing number of businesses taking on social and environmental issues as a core part of who they are.

Businesses can play their part in building sustainable communities through sensible strategic and operational processes. Having seen how a business can operate in a commercial market while contributing to a greater good, I want to see more business practices that make good sense from an organisations perspective but also help the communities in which they operate.

You don’t have to run a large corporation to make a difference in the world, nor do you have a registered charity to make a meaningful contribution toward social change. Small business owners can easily incorporate social and environmental activities into their daily business and create an impressive public image in the process.

Sustainability ‘experts’ have been telling us for years how we should operate to make the world a better place – according to them. This approach continues to see a level of disconnect between the worlds of commerce and sustainability. Turning this around, I always start with looking at how businesses operate so they can play their part in making this a better world.

Sustainability is gaining significant momentum and will increasingly become a major focus for customers, suppliers and shareholders.


Some of the terminology being used to discuss sustainability may appear a bit foreign in the mainstream business world but fundamentally I have a very simple and optimistic view, whatever the current fad, ultimately most of us want to see a better world.

This story began for me when I attended a Masterclass in Advanced Strategic Governance held by Steve Bowman from ConsciousGovernance. I didn’t know it at the time but one simple question was to start me off on a whole new adventure.

The simple question that led to my light bulb moment was “What difference does your organisation make to the communities you serve?”

Enthused by the answer that the question produced, I explored how the company I was working for interacted with its communities and the many ways it made a difference to people’s lives.

money-2810338__340.pngLooking back, it was interesting that profits were never explicitly part of the thinking process, however they were always there as an assumption. From a business owner who wants to get rich simply to buy nice things, through to full on charities who are attempting to alleviate poverty in the third world, money coming in (profit) is a necessary tool.

Having started on this journey, I now realise that there is a growing acceptance of the importance for ‘human’ issues within the business sector. It really feels like now is the time for businesses to full-heartedly embrace community sustainability and the impact they can make.

Talking to inspiring business and social entrepreneurs has made me really take note of the need to build on this enthusiasm; to grow and develop social enterprises that operate as businesses but with multiple methods of achieving their social goals.

Why do we need to limit this to social enterprise though? We need to remember that people in business are ultimately…people first and foremost. There are a lot of great people in business who want to make a difference. These people need to be encouraged and supported because when their businesses do well, others can also benefit.

An efficient business is a tool that can be used to achieve many different outcomes. Both the business world and the Not-for-profit sector should be embracing the possibilities that successful business can bring.

Everything a business does will have some impact on the communities in which it operates or interacts with.

  • Where you operate from
  •  What you produce
  • How you manage your operations
  • Who you employ
  • Your supply chain and procurement practices
  • Where you sell to
  •  Your corporate social responsibility activity

The concept of community sustainability goes well beyond complying with the law and giving money to your local rugby club. It’s about the impact from all aspects of your operation.

Ask yourself: Is your business making the world a better place for the communities it impacts?




Business, For Purpose

Well said Darren Walker

The Ford Foundation in the US has said that it’s committing up to $1 billion from its $12 billion endowment over the next 10 years to mission-related investing (MRI). I really like what their President has said about MRI

“We are making this commitment because we believe MRIs have the potential to become the next great innovation for advancing social good,” said Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. “We need to expand our imaginations and our tools if we want to tackle the large-scale problems facing the world today. We can’t neglect the tremendous power of markets, including the capital markets, to contribute—and with today’s announcement, we are putting a significant amount of our money where our mission is.”

Yes indeed!

I’m so confident that social enterprise, purposeful business and mission-related investing will be responsible for the next great wave of social good.


Business, Cambridge

Cambridge Taking on the World

This is an article I wrote for the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce. I want to share it because the core theme applies to so many communities.

Businesses can, and must, be a key part of thriving, sustainable communities.


“I’ve noticed something about business in Cambridge recently and it excites me. We all know that the town is growing and growing fast but despite this, we are more than ever a business community.

Our Chamber is to the fore of this activity, not only regularly getting good attendances at its events but also for associated groups such as Optimum and 1st XV. The I-Site has become more prominent, BNI groups are going well and elite sport is providing so many new opportunities to leverage off similar organisations.

We talk to each other about our businesses, we openly share information and happily lend a hand when needed.

Sometimes it’s easy to look around and wonder what’s happened to our little town. So many new faces and so many new businesses. Busy streets and even traffic lights, we’ve come a long way from the days when the state highway went through the main street and we had sale yards down Carters Flat. Often growth can lead to that big city feel where everyone looks after themselves and other businesses are simply classified as the competition. I believe we’ve done the opposite and actually strengthened our community. This is why I’m excited.

At CSC Buying Group our passion for supporting thriving communities has become our purpose, with “Building Richer Communities” our new mission statement. In an increasingly diverse digital world, we see this as more necessary now than ever before. Like any community, businesses need to support each other and play a part in sustaining that community.

Buying local, employing locals and advocating for our local businesses should continue to be at the core of what we do. The question we should be asking now is how can we take this further?

For me, it’s about ensuring that we continually expand the size of the pie, not competing for a larger piece of what is already there. We need to strive to earn business from outside of Cambridge, even exporting for the ultimate ‘outside’ money.

There’s some great examples of this in Cambridge, some are very well known while others are quietly achieving well out of the limelight. We now need to grow the numbers doing this.

Obviously business growth also leads to employment meaning our town becomes far more economically sustainable, and let’s not forget the social benefits of full employment.

Singly we may be small but uniting and working together, we can get the scale to compete with the big city slickers – in their back yards. We all need to challenge ourselves and seek ways we can make this happen. Let’s talk unashamedly about Cambridge businesses taking on the world!

Finally, as we start to enjoy the benefits of growth, let us never forget what makes us unique … the village that is a growing community.”

The Chamber News is always a great read. Tania and the team do an amazing job with it. Read more


Band Stand

Business, For Purpose

Your passion is your pitch

I believe that the standard “elevator pitch” works best when you’re selling widgets or when your business is so well known, that the pitch is just brand recognition.



Your “passion pitch” doesn’t tell your whole story, it shares you enthusiasm and encourages people to want to know more. Tell people why your business excites you, draw them in so they want to engage more.

Authentic passion and enthusiasm for your WHY is what will grab attention and see people wanting conversations with you.



Be better than that…

Yesterday I wrote a blog about disability services but thinking about it again, the thrust really does apply to all business.

Traditional benchmarking quality against your competition limits your outcomes. We should always aim to give the customer the best possible experience, not just a better experience than they can get elsewhere.

We keep saying that the customer experience is paramount, but do we really live it every day?

Being better than the rest isn’t good enough – we need to be the best we can possibly be!

Don’t keep looking behind you at the chasing pack, look ahead at the rainbow over the horizon.


Business, For Purpose, Sustainability

Growing The New Wave

How we can grow and develop our social sector

A white paper from The Optimistic Cynic


End Fragmentation

We need genuine collaboration towards shared goals.

  • Organisational interests need to take a back seat in our drive to achieve these goals.
  • We need to look for partners outside of our specific sector to broaden our skills and resource base
  • Collaborate bravely to break down barriers and change systems


We need to stop fighting over funding

  • Accept that there will only ever be discrete levels of funding available to our NFP sector. Duplicating our services and resources simply dilutes that amount.
  • We need to recognise the place of business (both ‘social enterprise’ and ‘for profit’) in supporting shared goals. This relies on meaningful partnerships, not simply expecting donations.
  • Working with other organisations allows services to be delivered with economy of scale.


Scalability and Infrastructure

  • There is a place for mergers and joint ventures. We need to look past our own brands and ‘local solutions’ if we wish to make significant differences beyond our own backyards.
  • Local service solutions are also a valid option but we need to identify opportunities to share or leverage infrastructure. Duplicated infrastructure dilutes funding and diverts our focus from achieving our shared goals.


Listen, engage and disrupt

Forget just listening to those similar to ourselves

  • Get out and about, listen to those who we look to support, and those doing the work. We don’t learn the real issues and solutions if we restrict ourselves to hearing what managers, policy makers and politicians have to say.
  • Experts can tell you what they think is happening. Those on the ground can tell you what it’s actually like.


Group think holds us back

  • When a sector has consensus about the issues and the way forward, it’s likely that they have limited their conversations to between themselves.
  • We must be brave enough to argue and challenge existing consensus. We need outliers, people who are heading in different directions. At the very least, this will test whether the majority are on the right path.


Challenge ourselves

  • We need to disrupt our thinking and to do this we must challenge and argue. Ask the questions and don’t be afraid of the answers.
  • We need people to point out where we are wrong so that we can improve. We also need to provide that opportunity to others


Balance our priorities

Strategic Focus

  • We need to have clear long term goals with a planned strategy for how we will get there. Our vision should be bold and challenging, a story to bind us to a united future.


Responsive and flexible

  • We need to balance this long term strategy with the ability to be flexible to meet urgent and changing immediate need. Organisational bureaucracy cannot prevent us reacting quickly when need dictates.
  • We need to accept that our environment will continually change quickly and in ways that we will not expect. Embrace this challenge.


It’s all about the impact

Charity restricts us

  • The term “charity” is tarred with connotations of benevolent benefactors bestowing their grace and knowledge upon others, saving them from their burdens. This is not the story we want to tell and is a barrier to achieving buy-in from those we wish to support and those who wish to support us.
  • Reliance on social service funding restricts our innovation and flexibility. Our organisations become focussed on processes and risk minimisation, not risk taking and achieving our true objectives.
  • Doing good should never be assumed to be the sole realm of those with charity recorded in their constitution.


Focus on impact

  • We need to be brave enough to rip up our rule books. Organisations develop rules and systems that they operate by. Further rules and requirements are implemented to meet the needs of funders. This stifles innovation and risk taking.
  • Transparency is vital to ensure investment is impact not organisationally focussed.
  • Celebrate successful impact more than simply rewarding effort.
  • Maximum impact comes from addressing the root cause of an issue.


Make use of great resources

  • Invest in good infrastructure that supports you to develop significant impact. It’s about efficiency not blindly following the tradition of charities “making do” or buying cheap.
  • Reward those that make a difference. Staff, management and boards should be made up of people with the best possible skills and the passion to make a difference. Remuneration should reflect a high performance culture. Recruit for impact not ‘cheapness’.


It’s up to you

  • Never forget the why – why you are doing this!
  • Talk with passion and inspire others
  • Be brave enough to take risks
  • Stand up for what you believe in
  • Your actions should prove your words
  • Let your values guide all you do
  • Celebrate your successes


New Wave