Carrie is the Co-CEO of SecondMuse, an impact and innovation company that builds resilient economies.
When I first entered the corporate world, I knew I wanted to be part of a new generation of leaders who saw the opportunity all businesses have to be a force for good in the world. In the last few years, the tide has finally started to turn. Today, organizations of all sizes are recognizing the new imperative for using their power and influence to drive positive change.
According to the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer, about 60% of consumers and employees make decisions on what to buy and where to work based on the brands’ expressed beliefs and values. Meanwhile, a 2021 Public Affairs poll found that 91% of major businesses surveyed believe pressure to engage on social issues has increased in the previous three years. Of course, we’ve already seen what’s possible when big businesses act as forces for good, playing a role in everything from addressing systemic racism and sexual harassment to protesting wars.
But it’s not only big businesses that can foster change. My colleagues and I work with hundreds of entrepreneurs every year, and we always impart that even small business owners have power and influence. As they do their foundational work, there’s still space to make statements, join forces with others and lead by example. Beyond being something that all stakeholders—from employees to consumers—increasingly demand, businesses have an increasing ethical obligation to foster good in the world.
For those startups unsure of how to proceed, consider these tips.
Create A Culture Of Care For Employees
One of the most foundational ways small businesses can be a force for good is by prioritizing the people who work for them. Before taking stands on other issues, employers should begin by showing employees that they’re valued. They can achieve this with an intentional, cultivated atmosphere of compassion and care.
There are many ways to approach this goal. If businesses aren’t in a position to offer employees the salaries they aspire to, they can offer other benefits. Popular options include flexible working arrangements or providing as much time off as feasible. This shows employees that their bosses recognize, respect and make space for them to have full lives. This also benefits employers as these efforts can attract new talent.
Prioritize Intentional Investing And Partnerships
Small businesses can—and should—consider their environmental footprint and ensure that the investments and partnerships they make have minimal negative impacts. That’s not always easy to do. But even if a startup can’t immediately make the investments needed to reduce its carbon footprint aggressively, it can insist on working with manufacturers, suppliers and other stakeholders who have.
Startups can also create a sustainable workplace culture. They can discourage the use of single-use plastics, minimize its production of internal paper materials and encourage everyone to be conscious of little things like turning the lights off when leaving a room.
Engage In Intentional Hiring Practices
Intentionality in talent aquisition helps businesses strive to foster diverse, respectful workplaces where everyone is set up to thrive. Time-strapped startups often tap their own networks first when staffing up, but this can limit diversity. Fortunately, an abundance of free hiring platforms have emerged in recent years to help businesses see beyond their own often-homogeneous networks.
Seek Other Commitments and Pledges
One way small businesses can make a difference is joining other companies and organizations in accountability commitments and pledges to meet social and environmental targets. Some initiatives, like The Climate Pledge, are more ambitious than others and may require a business to have the capacity to do time-consuming data collection and reporting. Beyond existing commitments, business owners can make public statements about topics that matter to them. For example, amid the 2020 movement for racial justice, many shared their decision to recognize Juneteenth as a paid holiday.
Since 90% of businesses in the world are small or medium enterprises, even their smallest actions contribute to large-scale positive impacts. Whether it’s tackling climate change or public health issues, making the world more economically inclusive for historically marginalized groups or taking targeted stands, entrepreneurs can become forces for good. Being committed to important causes benefits both society and these companies by raising awareness while letting consumers know that they’re supporting worthy businesses. So, this is more than a growing obligation for businesses—it’s an absolute necessity.