Big companies can be a force for good—if they ask the right questions

Transformation of big companies is really important if we want to create a system that is fairer, more sustainable and less unequal.

Lorna Davis: I think that for all of us who are dreaming of, hoping for, and committed to creating a system that is fairer, more sustainable, less unequal, we all ask ourselves the question of: Where do we fit in? What do we actually do? What do I do versus what do other people do? And I think there’s a lot that governments can do and should do and there’s a lot that not-for-profits can and should do. What I’m very interested in is what I know and what we know, which is big corporate life. And what we know is that big corporates are very powerful. They control an enormous number of resources – human and planetary resources. And so the transformation of big companies is a really important part of the puzzle. It’s not the only thing, but it’s a really important part of the puzzle. So I think that the more that big companies take their responsibility seriously to transform, the better off the entire puzzle is going to be. I think one of the questions that people ask all the time is what can I personally do. And I think if you’re an individual one of the questions that you can ask yourself is: if you’re buying something you can ask “Where did this thing come from, and where is it going to?” I think if you’re a normal, sort of smallish size company one of the questions that you can ask yourself is, “Where am I leaving money on the table?” Because basically anything that is a linear process is probably not as financially efficient as it could be if it were a circular process. But I think that the big question that companies, large companies like Danone and other big multinationals can and should ask themselves is “Where can we collaborate? Where can we pre-compete?” Because there’s a place for competition and always will be. That’s why business as a mechanism is powerful. Competition is an important part of that. But there is also a really important time to collaborate. And I think that the journey that we’re on is kind of an exploration of when to collaborate and when to compete. And I think that this is going to be a really sensitive and interesting conversation in the years ahead because collaboration with governments, NGOs, and other big multinationals is going to be really important in some areas—and, by the way, extremely helpful if we can get legislation that evens up the playing field. And then continuing to compete in areas where we can differentiate and innovate is a really important part of why business is a powerful force, and I think the combination of those two things will help business to be the force for good that we dream it to be. One of the things that I think distinguishes B Corp certification from many of the other certifications is that it’s holistic, but it also allows you to double down in areas that you really want to be exceptional in and just be okay in areas that you’re not choosing to double down on basically. And if you take the subject of workers, for example, the question of how much ownership your workers have of your organization, the question of what percentage of your workers are at or above the living wage; The question of what’s the size of the gap between the most well-paid employee and the least well-paid employee in your organization. These are just some of the questions that you need to answer in the B-Impact Assessment. And what’s interesting for me is that simply being asked those questions causes you to ask yourself what kind of company you are and what kind of company you want to be. So I’ll give you an example: We didn’t even measure the living wage. We didn’t even know what the living wage was. It took us months to work out what our numbers were. We just didn’t track them. And so what happens is (a combination of I think three things) is interesting. A combination of the questions that you have to answer causes the leadership of an organization to rethink the kind of company that it wants to be. Secondly, there is a transparency to the whole process that makes it very difficult to pretend to be something that you’re not. So your scores are public, your ratings are public. And anybody can kind of ask the B-Lab, the not-for-profit whatever questions that they have about your organization. So there’s not much chance for you—there’s no chance, really, for you to hide. And I think what’s interesting about these kinds of metrics is it’s not necessarily an individual metric. It’s a combination of metrics and it’s a combination of ways that you deal with your people and the planet really that makes you a good company or less good company. And if you’ve got poor intent a lot of the metrics out there you can kind of duck and dive. But because this is pretty holistic it’s very difficult to do that and because it’s transparent. And I think the third thing that’s been very interesting for us, and I think it’s true for pretty much everybody on this journey is: because purpose is so important to the more junior and the younger employees in all organizations they get empowered to ask questions about these kinds of things in a way that they don’t necessarily in a traditional company. So what I have found very interesting in Danone is how much, because we made the declaration to become a B Corp, it opens up the question of what we’re trying to be, and it allows people to ask questions about the things that are covered in that assessment that I don’t think that would be asked otherwise. So I think it’s a pretty interesting sort of package of things that leads to generally a good outcome.

  • Large companies can and should ask themselves "Where can we collaborate? Where can we pre-compete?"
  • Both collaboration and competition can help big business be the force for good.
  • B Corp certifications can lead to companies being more purposeful and transparent.

Scientists find a horrible new way cocaine can damage your brain

Swiss researchers identify new dangers of modern cocaine.

Getty Images
Mind & Brain
  • Cocaine cut with anti-worming adulterant levamisole may cause brain damage.
  • Levamisole can thin out the prefrontal cortex and affect cognitive skills.
  • Government health programs should encourage testing of cocaine for purity.
Keep reading Show less

How to vaccinate the world’s most vulnerable? Build global partnerships.

Pfizer's partnerships strengthen their ability to deliver vaccines in developing countries.

Susan Silbermann, Global President of Pfizer Vaccines, looks on as a health care worker administers a vaccine in Rwanda. Photo: Courtesy of Pfizer.
Sponsored
  • Community healthcare workers face many challenges in their work, including often traveling far distances to see their clients
  • Pfizer is helping to drive the UN's sustainable development goals through partnerships.
  • Pfizer partnered with AMP and the World Health Organization to develop a training program for healthcare workers.
Keep reading Show less
Politics & Current Affairs

Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.