This week is the annual Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship. The Forum accelerates the impact of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs by uniting them with essential partners in a collaborative pursuit of learning, leverage and large scale social change. Since I am not there hanging out with Paul Hawken, I figured that the next best thing I could do was post excerpts from a presentation I gave last year at Enterprise Your Passions about social entrepreneurship and green business.
If you want to start a business that creates solutions for the issues you care most about and change society for the better, than consider yourself a social entrepreneur. While there are many areas of social entrepreneurship, I have focused on five key green principles for starting your venture which I learned from starting Zola Goods.
I. See the Big Picture
”Make a habit of two things—to help, or at least to do no harm.” Hippocrates
The first core principle of green business is to See the Big Picture. Oftentimes businesses are focused on profit or the bottom line. Green business is concerned with not only profit, but also people and the planet. People, Planet and Profit is known as the Triple Bottom Line. So, beyond determining how much you can make from a product or service that you want to sell, ask yourself about the impact on the people around you? How is it made? Where does it come from? What happens to it at the end of its’ life? What resources are used to make the products? How is this going to benefit – or possible hurt – other people’s lives? Widen the aperture on your lense, take a step back, and consider these implications and permutations. If the pros significantly outweigh the cons, then you know you are on the right track.
“In every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.” From the Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy
A second core principle of Green Business is the commitment to sustainability. Sustainability is defined as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
In terms of how this relates to your new business venture, it means asking yourself if you have the resources necessary to launch – and succeed – in your new business. By resources, I am not only referring to the financial aspects of starting a new business, but also the time, support, and commitment needed to see it through.
“This we know. The earth does not belong to man, man belongs to earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family… Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.” Chief Seattle, 1854
A third core principle in the green movement, and at the heart of my personal philosophy, is the belief that we are all connected. When you operate from this mindset, “networking” no longer has the negative – or even intimidating connotations – sometimes associated with it. Networking is not about getting something from someone. It is about finding our common ground, and developing a mutually beneficial relationship.
I’m sure you are all familiar with the theory of “the survival of the fittest.” The idea that only the strongest of a species survive – and if we look at the world this way, we cannot help but feel competitive as it is seen as essential to our survival. It seems like this mindset has permeated our culture on so many levels. However, more recently, it has been pointed out that “fittest” may not necessarily mean the strongest – rather “fittest” may mean the most adaptable and that which is most likely to “fit” in with the environment – and there are many examples throughout nature to prove this.
Isn’t that an incredible shift? When you view life in this way, you have the opportunity to get past the initial primordial reaction to a perceived threat, and find ways to work together and build partnerships. Also, when you are driven by your purpose, and have the sense that we are all part of a larger whole, it is much easier to set aside initial insecurities and ego and act in the best interest of your business.
IV. Little actions make a big difference
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Lao-Tzu
Another mantra in the green movement is little actions make a big difference. For example, you have probably heard the statistic that if everyone changed a regular light bulb to a CFL, it would be the equivalent of taking 1 million cars off the road. Not only do these combined efforts help to decrease CO2 emissions, they also to raise the collective consciousness as we become more aware of our actions and their impact.
Similarly, by taking little actions towards your goal, you start to build momentum for your business to the point where it starts to take on a life of its’ own. It is very important to do something everyday that relates to your new business. This can be anything – from doing market research, to sending out e-mails, reading about industry trends, or simply talking about it with others. On the days where you feel like you need a break – find something inspiring or say some affirmations – that counts too. The point is that you need to stay on course – and as Michael Beckwith says, you need to become a participant – not an anticipant- in your life.
V. Life-Cycle Re-evaluation
“Let the beauty you love be what you do. There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth.” Rumi
The fifth key principle is the idea of a life-cycle assessment. In our current society, we mainly operate in a linear fashion – we buy it, use it, and throw it away. Green business is looking to change our current cycle by having the production of products more closely resemble the waste-free, closed-loop, cycle which exists in nature.
One cycle that we participate in, which has most likely stopped us from starting a business before is the Having – Doing- Being cycle. The idea that if only I had – time, money, fill in the blank – I would be able to go back to school, start a business, etc…and then I would be happy, healthy, financially independent, etc…
Let’s flip that cycle around and start with Being. When we realize that the beauty we love – or in other words, our passion – connects us to our Being, then we can start from right there. We start from that place inside of us which connects us to a power greater than ourselves and when you come from this place, of deep inner knowing, it becomes about something larger than yourself, and you are not only inspired – you are compelled to take action. So now, the second part of this cycle is the Doing. You don’t have to do it in the order mentioned above – but from writing a business plan, to building a support network, to networking and building momentum by becoming a participant in your life – you now have many options to start doing what it is you are meant to do with your life. This brings us to Having. When you follow your bliss, your world will open up to you in ways you have imagined and beyond, and you will have the security, happiness, and fulfillment that you desire.
Even though this cycle is a much better alternative to our current model, we still need to close the loop. This means we need to continually connect back with our true Being and we can do this through gratitude, and by being of service by joyfully giving time and money in alignment with your purpose.
The closer you get to your center of your Being the more joy and fulfillment your service will bring to you and those around you. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said, “Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve.” By following your passion, you are serving this world, and you are allowing your greatness to be fully realized.