By Michael Solomon, Profit Through Ethics
The sharing economy is taking root and growing fast the world over. This is extremely welcome.
While it will undoubtedly influence the mainstream economy, can it ever replace it? At this stage, only the most fervent believers imagine so. However, if you use a slightly wider concept of a “sharing society,” then we believe sharing can become a mainstream phenomenon.
This is because, against a backdrop of enormous challenges (e.g. scarcity of natural resources, an imperiled environment, faltering prosperity and a widening wealth gap between the winners and the losers), businesses which support the sharing economy or exhibit a culture of sharing stand out.
Further, by sharing resources, ideas, opportunities, or by sharing responsibility in creating and being part of a better economic system, by contributing to the common good, businesses can gain commercial advantage. For compelling business reasons, sharing makes sense.
Sharing informs decision making
More and more we will see sharing-minded individuals seek out and buy from (and work for) sharing-minded businesses. Even where the majority of transactions see goods and services sold and consumed in traditional, single-owner/user ways, an increasing number of relationships between businesses and individuals are being founded upon shared values and shared ethics.
Your attitude, ethos and values matter. They are part of your identity and your brand. They enable others to compile and sort their various options and to choose you to buy from or work for. Profit Through Ethics Ltd is one of a growing number of businesses which consider a willingness to share to be a badge of honour. Sharing is a strong proxy for community and responsibility, and it really counts.
For example, in our first year or two in business we were reluctant to share and were protective of our intellectual property. But we came to learn that by talking to anyone and everyone about our philosophy and what we were striving to achieve, and by adopting a default position of “collaborate,” we achieved much greater success. Our approach and attitude said important things about us, it indicated other values our collaborators considered important.
Conversely, businesses that are unable or unwilling to share are ever more visible and challengeable. Starbucks is currently being pilloried in the UK media for its apparent reluctance to share the costs of the roads, schools, hospitals and other key infrastructure that an economy requires to function. The world’s biggest coffee chain is reported to have paid just £8.6m in total UK tax over 13 years of trading here. During this time it has recorded sales of £3.1bn. Behaviour and values matter. Starbucks’ aggressive tax avoidance practices are forecast to cost the company up to 24 percent of sales when coffee drinkers make their purchases elsewhere.
Sharing builds knowledge, learning and bridges
Sharing is powerful and useful in many ways. Greater openness and a desire to share lead to building knowledge and learning. We work with both the voluntary and private sector and have witnessed a change where previously neither had been particularly inclined to listen to or engage with the other side.
Business is part of the solution but it can be difficult for it to acknowledge challenges or problems it struggles to fix. Similarly, NGOs are part of the solution, but taking the moral high ground and campaigning against business is much easier and more familiar than offering help, resources or ideas and exploring the possibilities collaboration affords.
From entrenched positions, little is ever achieved. Many businesses and NGOs we work with are beginning to recognise that by assuming shared responsibility to make the world a better place and by proving this is more than mere talk, new and valuable opportunities can arise.
Sharing creates new resources
The barriers to a sustainable future are many and complex, and no single entity has all the answers. In a sharing society, organisations and individuals alike can pool the vast wealth of collective know-how, ideas and experiences and put them to excellent use.
By sharing knowledge and sharing a variety of different perspectives, we are better placed to identify and address the wide range of social, environmental and ethical issues affecting business and wider society.
Sharing is good for you, good for me, good for everyone
Responsible 100 is, in effect, a platform and catalyst for sharing. We have created a means for various members of the sharing society to enjoy some of the benefits described above. And crucially, participants are able to benefit themselves while benefiting others.
NGOs and campaign group participants work with us to develop questions which cover a wide range of responsibility issues affecting business and society. In doing this, they help ensure their areas of focus and campaigning remain firmly on the business agenda.
Business participants gain commercial advantage. We mentor them through a process of providing complete, accurate and verifiable answers to these questions. By publishing their answers on the platform and appearing in the rankings, they are able to use the Responsible 100 logo to demonstrate they are open, honest and proving their responsibility commitments.
At the same time, Responsible 100 empowers individuals. Consumers, employees, members of the local community, indeed all stakeholders, gain real influence. Individuals comment on and rate answers to let businesses know where they meet expectations and where they need to do more.
Responsible 100 champions sharing businesses. Businesses which welcome transparency and accountability as means to prove their values and to gain public trust. It helps them balance their pursuit of profit with the interests of society at large. At the same time, it empowers people by enabling everyone to identify and support such businesses.
In this dynamic new society, sharing will increasingly become, to use the technical parlance, the rational economic choice.