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CEOs Showed Backbone in 2017; How More Can Step up Next Year


By Michael Eberhart

In all the chaos of 2017, one profoundly positive outcome was CEOs finding – and using – their moral voices. In January, CEOs from Google, American Airlines, Starbucks and others spoke out against the administration’s travel ban targeting Muslim refugees. In June, Elon Musk and others quit the president’s business advisory council over objections to Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement. And in August, when the president said the violent white supremacists in Charlottesville included “very fine people,” the advisory council itself was disbanded after remaining business leaders walked out in protest.

Over and over – from the proposed ban on transgender military services members to the proposal to end DACA protections for America’s DREAMers – CEO activism made 2017 a year when business leaders moved out of their comfort zones to take public stands for causes they believe in and issues they care about.

This is not new for some in the responsible business community. Many have long been fierce and vocal leaders in their communities, publicly confronting forces destructive to people and the planet. Others have remained silent in the past, but now a combination of personal outrage, mission and brand alignment, and pressure from employees and customers has created a new opportunity for every CEO and business owner to engage.

Have you seen things happening that cannot go unchallenged? Do you feel the need to speak out? You know you would be letting your team down if you didn’t. But you also know that it can be risky to step into the political fray – blowback can hurt sales, distractions can derail your business’s priorities, and disruptions can have long-term effects.

How do you make your voice heard on controversial issues with integrity, in a way that is understood by your staff, your customers and your investors – regardless of their political stance? What do you need to take on, and what should you leave for others?

To help answer these questions, the American Sustainable Business Council, working with Conscious Company, created an advocacy guide for responsible business leaders about best practices to influence policymakers. The guide, “Step Up, Speak Out, Impact Policy,” shows business leaders from small business owners to CEOs how they can make their voices heard by lawmakers and the media on these important issues.

Business leaders are one of the most effective messengers able to cut across party lines. Politicians at every level of government respect their role in creating jobs, and they rely on business leaders understanding of the economy and what businesses need to thrive. But all too often, lawmakers only hear from the entrenched business lobbies offering a short-sighted perspective. Instead, they need to hear from leaders who share the triple-bottom-line values of responsible, innovative companies.

Business people have unique influence in their communities, in the media and with policymakers. ASBC has helped many CEOs and business owners step up and speak out. ASBC’s guide explains why they do it, and what they learned in the process. All business leader can leverage their power as a force for good well beyond their subtle influence over employees and customers. For business leaders who feel moral outrage, the examples have been set, and the tools are available. Find out more by getting your own copy of the advocacy guide for responsible business leaders.

Michael Eberhart is a Public Relations Intern at the American Sustainable Business Council.

Image source: Flickr / Harrie van Veen

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The <a href="http://asbcouncil.org">American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC)</a> is a network of companies and business associations. Its column, Policy Points, identifies public policies where a business voice, grounded in principles of innovation, fairness and environmental stewardship, can make an essential difference in the advocacy process. The goal is to arm readers with information and specific actions to take. As business leaders, we can and must support policy change to help make the economy more green and sustainable. The column editor is Richard Eidlin, ASBC's Vice President - Public Policy and Business Engagement.

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