Redefining ‘a Business Decision’
The concept of a “business decision” is fast becoming a cliché. Even outside of traditional corporate settings, the term has come to represent the more straightforward option when faced with difficult choices in which fiscal considerations trump all else. Think layoffs, store closures or any strategic initiative that might call into question one’s values.
These are the types of decisions leaders in the impact space like Aseem Das of World Centric confront every day. The difference is that there isn’t yet an agreed-upon phrase that really captures the opposite idea – when leaders prioritize long-term impact and sustainability over seemingly obvious short-term financial goals.
The lens through which these “other” values-driven choices are made helped to inform the very name of World Centric. Originally launched as a nonprofit focused on education and creating awareness around large-scale humanitarian and environmental issues, the company has since evolved to become one of the leading Certified B Corporations producing compostable and zero-waste products for the food-service industry. The name stems from the idea that sustainable change doesn’t happen when individuals think only about themselves or their immediate surroundings; it requires a more holistic world view in which thought and action consider less-immediate impacts on far-reaching communities and the environment around us.
Rethinking Business as Usual
In identifying the sustainability issues most important to World Centric, the company’s efforts to reduce waste and alleviate extreme poverty offer a direct connection between intention and impact. The compostable packaging the company produces directly helps to solve the first issue, while it’s “grassroots giving” program addresses the second (committing 25% of profits to communities experiencing extreme poverty). But the third focus area, “rethinking business as usual,” can be harder to recognize on the surface even if it imbues the culture and inner workings of the business.
At the highest level, the company addresses this in part through fostering and attending to its supply chain. World Centric regularly audits outsourced factories under Fair Labor Association guidelines. The company also sets aside a small percentage of profits to provide bonuses to suppliers and their factory workers, reinforcing their standing as a valued partner. But this idea, to rethink business as usual, truly cuts across every part of the business.
The company’s work to create a round pizza box, for instance, was far more intensive than most would assume. From an impact perspective, consider the excess waste that could potentially be eliminated. Most of us, at some point in our secondary school education, would’ve been confronted with a circle inscribed in a square and tasked with trying to figure out the area of the non-overlapping parts. Now multiply that by the 3 billion pizzas sold each year, and the potential impact is obvious.
But to actually create a round pizza box, one that’s adopted and gains critical mass, demanded World Centric to solve other challenges far beyond basic geometry: What’s required to keep the pizza from losing its temperature or, worse, prevent the bottom crust from getting soggy? Are there ways to prevent the cheese from sticking to the top of the box? From an operational perspective, will the design require too much space for corner pizzerias with limited real estate at their disposal? And will the circular pizza boxes hold up when multiple pies are stacked on top of each other? Not to be overlooked, can accommodations be made for workers to quickly separate the boxes out of the case? (Anyone in the QSR industry well knows that “throughput,” to get diners in and out of the restaurant as fast as possible, drives a significant proportion of the industry’s “business decisions.”)
These are all questions that may seem easy to overlook, but which also speak to the thought and thoroughness required to change business as usual.
If there is a phrase that can characterize the “business decisions” that aren’t premised on fleeting financial motivations, perhaps it’s the “right decisions” to create a sustainable business whose positive impact extends far beyond its end market or within the company itself. Because these are the choices that tend to define the most impactful leaders whose companies are changing the status quo.