Thursday, March 3, 2011

Purpose-Driven Capitalism

Sustainability is Good Business

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Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers is not like the leaders of most large incumbent energy companies. He recognizes that climate change is real. He understands our "carbon-constrained" future. He resigned his position on the board of the US Chamber of Commerce because of its policies.

His support for action on climate change is laudable, especially because of his position atop a legacy energy company. His call for action comes despite the possibility that it would cost his own company money.

Yesterday he went farther, generalizing the core idea, and calling for "purpose-driven capitalism" that elevates other priorities along side of making profits. Addressing the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce in Durham, Rogers said:
We need to refocus on purpose now, on values, on significance. Wealth for wealth's sake is meaningless. Just as getting big simply to get large is misguided, and sometimes tragic. This reorientation is purpose-driven capitalism.

Purpose-driven capitalism is really an old-idea in a new suit. It's the recognition that business has a role to play in society beyond simply driving shareholder returns. Business serves a wide array of stakeholders, from customers and employees, to business partners, the government, and our communities. And I believe the true value of a business can only be measured in relation to its impact on its wide array of stakeholders, not just earnings per share.

This isn't to say that the bottom line doesn't matter. As all of us in this room know, it does and always will. But it's only one limited measure of success.

Purpose-driven capitalism. Many of you live it. I certainly have tried to throughout my career... The change begins with us, here, now. It's not just energy, or healthcare, or new-generation textiles, or financial services. It's all of us who are making a living in the private sector and creating opportunities for others...
Rogers could have talked about the triple bottom line, as this is another way of describing the same core idea. It is a recognition that long-term corporate health depends on more than repeatedly maximizing short-term financial profit. It recognizes that one's stakeholders are crucial for continuing success. It is managing for the future. It is being sustainable.

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