Never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect to spend a day at the White House with 29 members of the Obama administration – including Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; Hilda Solis, Secretary of the Department of Labor; Nancy Sutley, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality; and Greg Nelson, Chief of Staff of the National Economic Council – discussing why the externalities of business prevent real progress on sustainability and how full-cost accounting is a concept that’s time has finally come.
The American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) barely two years old, and with its members represents more than 150,000 businesses. ASBC was developed to provide a positive voice for a sustainable economy and to counterbalance the old economy positions pushed by corporate lobbies, like the US Chamber of Commerce, The Summit was quite an amazing accomplishment as it has brought the ASBC the attention and opportunities typically reserved for groups of multinational companies.
We came to Washington to make a call for change – for a new economy.
As Mark Gunther, writer for Fortune and GreenBiz noted, while “Corporate executives lobby Washington every day. This week, a group called the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) convened in our nation’s capital to issue “A Business Call for a New Economy” that’s built around ‘triple bottom line’ principles,” including shared prosperity and environmental stewardship.
We are calling for an expanded view of sustainability, which balances economic, social and environmental benefits. The idea is to build on what good companies are doing with policies that enable responsible corporate behavior to become the norm.
Just look at ASBC member American Income Life Insurance Company (AIL). With just $25,000 of borrowed capital, Bernard Rapoport founded AIL more than 50 years ago. Today, it’s become one of the nation’s largest providers of supplemental life insurance to labor unions, credit unions, and associations. American Income Life provides coverage to over two million policyholders and represents over $130 million in annual insurance product sales. In a series of panels and discussions at the White House, AIL’s current president and CEO Roger Smith pushed for policies that would support quality jobs and shared prosperity.
Other members who joined us in Washington included Stonyfield Farms, Eileen Fisher, New Belgium Brewery and Greyston Bakery. These, like many others, have found that policies pushed by conservative business lobbies are often the opposite of what responsible and sustainable businesses need. Collectively, they understand that by following principles such as those in ASBC’s Call for a New Economy, the nation can move its entire economy to the right path for today and the future.
Those principles include:
- Market economy: Our current system must be adjusted to account for externalities, the human health costs that have been passed on to the general public and our government to address. We also need to expand our system to include a variety of ownership mechanisms. Think co-ops, community and social enterprises, B-corporations and employee-owned businesses.
- Broad Prosperity: “When too few have too much and too many have too little, society cannot be sustained,” said Roger Smith of AIL. We agree.
- Sustainability: We need a balance of people, planet and profit to manage our needs and the needs of future generations. That means stewardship and regeneration of natural resources, and reinvestment in communities for long-term vitality.
- Sensible Measures & Regulations: Good rules and regulations promote fair competition, innovation and change, and help ensure the stability of the financial systems, protecting against the externalization of costs that hurt environment and society.
- Democratic Control: Fair, transparent, well regulated and fully accountable to all participants – that’s the kind of system we need – and we need to ensure that our electoral and legislative process isn’t controlled by just the wealthiest.
By properly managing markets, accounting for full costs, creating incentives, providing support and creating a level playing field, government can help create an enabling environment in which restorative, equitable and sustainable economic models can thrive. We also create economic opportunities – jobs – for more Americans.
The 125 business executives, investors, and business organization leaders we brought to the White House, and the next day on the Hill, presented and discussed strategies derived from their own businesses, or those in which they invest. How exciting to have these messages from the very individuals who are today, creating quality jobs and taking better care of our environment!
The participation of so many Administration officials allowed us to have detailed and meaningful conversations that we believe will influence policy and lead to a more sustainable, resilient and just economy for all Americans.