Shared Office Spaces in London. A Powerful New Model for Doing Business
Do you remember when it was countercultural for a company to act like it gave a shit? In her 1994 book Body and Soul: Profits with Principles, The Body Shop founder Anita Roddick laid out her unconventional business philosophy:
“First, you have to have fun. Second, you have to put love where your labour is. Third, you have to go in the opposite direction to everyone else.”
Now, even more so than then, we need business to swim against the current. Under the accepted paradigm of profit-maximisation – where social and environmental costs are externalised wherever possible – business has pushed our civilisation towards political turmoil and the brink of environmental collapse.
That same year, 25 years ago, Volans co-founder John Elkington proposed a Triple Bottom Line for business. This concept put forward the idea that a company should not only be concerned with the bottom line on its profit and loss sheet but also the impact it has on society and the environment (a triple bottom line of people, planet and profit). Only then is a business taking into account the full cost of doing business, and could begin to better manage environmental constraints and social expectations.
Today you’d be hard-pressed to find a company who doesn’t talk about or report on their sustainability, social responsibility or their purpose beyond just making a profit. So, mission accomplished? Not quite.
Last year John Elkington called for a product recall of the concept – citing that, 25 years on, it had still failed to bury the single bottom line paradigm. The vast majority of businesses are still driven by a compulsion to place profits before all else, only doing “the right thing” when it benefits their financial bottom line. That businesses exist to make money is still the dominant narrative; all that’s changed, perhaps, is an awareness by business that if they pursue – or at least appear to pursue – positive social and environmental outcomes, it might benefit their bottom line in the long-term. Call it enlightened self-interest.
If the triple bottom line is the accounting framework for purpose-driven business then it was failing to report that, collectively, we were in the red.
Much like when you see the latest manufactured pop group wearing the ripped denim jackets of the punk movement which once stood for exactly the opposite of what the pop group and their management represent, we have seen profit-maximising companies co-opt what was once countercultural, neuter its disruptive potential, and make sure change stays within its comfort zone.
It is this facade of moving beyond the single-bottom line approach to business that has created a world where every business appears to care deeply about solving the world’s problems, yet simultaneously the problems are all getting worse.
That does not rule out, however, that the new model for business has in fact already been born. But good luck finding it in the murky waters of the ‘purpose movement’.
Companies do exist who are driven by something other than profit. Companies for whom profit is only ever a result of pursuing a broader environmental or social purpose. What’s more, these companies are amongst the most exciting businesses operating today.
Volans is delighted to be working with x+why to investigate the cutting edge of this new approach to business. From insurance startups with over 30 million customers, market leading baby food brands and apparel companies reinventing how our clothes are made, we’re speaking to pioneering entrepreneurs to understand how they run their companies differently, and how that’s translating into business success.
At Volans, we’ve always been inspired by the William Gibson quote “the future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed”. And so it is with finding a new model for doing business. Later this year we will synthesise our research into a guidebook to inspire and enable other companies to build the market leaders of tomorrow and help make the single bottom line approach to business obsolete.
So, watch this space! We’ll be publishing some of our interviews as standalone articles on this website in the coming weeks to give you a deeper insight into some of the inspiring insights we’ve been uncovering.
Volans has taken this approach before. Since 2015 we’ve partnered with the UN’s business network – the UN Global Compact – to help their member companies understand the technologies and business models needed to create the radical innovation that can make the Sustainable Development Goals a reality. In the video below we asked leading innovators and business leaders about the mindset needed to make it all possible.
If you have any ideas on how we make sure this guidebook can have the biggest impact possible then please email me on email@example.com.