“The new sustainability standard is being Net Good. Net Good. Everything has a cost, in energy, emissions and entropy. But there can still be ways to bring enough ‘good’ in some parts of your business to cancel out or justify any inevitable ‘bads’ from the raw impact of your operations.”

John Grant, Greener Marketing


the purpose of business is to create, and offer, value without extracting, or exploiting, things that are valued.

therefore. value is collectively created.

things we value that shouldn’t be exploited:






and, of course, natural resources that sustain humanity.


Well. If we business folk are honest, 80% of businesses are pretty horrible in how they make the things they sell. They exploit labor, do things that aren’t particularly good for the environment and flora/fauna, and in general, are pretty horrible. Now. I was fortunate enough to get a reader’s draft of John Grant’s fabulous book “Greener Marketing” in which John’s point, among several, was we are past modest expectations and business needs to decide what constitutes leading edge ‘better ways of doing business’ thinking and behavior. He culls it down to ‘not bad’, a commitment to minimise negative impacts, and ‘net good’, the world is a better place for your business existing.  Loved the book, loved the concepts, heartily support everything he says. That said. I am setting my sights a bit lower for business. Call me pragmatic, call me cynical, or just call me experienced. By all means set objectives and aim for all the ‘net zero’ you can cram into your pockets. But for the bulk of businesses out there I propose simply ‘do better’ and ‘do less harm.’

“the first imperative of Greener Marketing which is to be Not Bad. This is an extension of all the sustainability work companies have done. Reducing negative impacts on communities and ecosystems. And in the process reducing risk and improving reputation. Not Bad is a commitment to minimize negative impacts. With no skeletons in your closet. No child labour, no excessive carbon emissions, no carcinogenic ingredients. But it goes beyond harm reduction into innovation. Embracing new technologies, market segments. Technologies to achieve this may not even yet exist. But you will only find them in time if you set the objective and start the search now. The private sector is great at this sort of thing. Setting a stretch goal then devising strategies to reach it. Companies can also be good at transparency and owning up when they don’t achieve their targets. Given the pressure from governments and publics, companies can no longer afford to be just Not Bad and to report some reduction in the harm that they do. The new sustainability standard is being Net Good. Everything has a cost, in energy, emissions and entropy. But there can still be ways to bring enough ‘good’ in some parts of your business to cancel out or justify any inevitable ‘bads’ from the raw impact of your operations.”

John Grant. Greener Marketing

Now. My thinking doesn’t just have to do with sustainability and environment responsibility, but the larger narrative of business itself. Every business should be aspiring to ‘do better’ in terms of bettering the way we conduct business, treat people and be a part of society.

This do better belief is partially a reflection of the transparency world we are in at the moment. I don’t just mean business purposefully being transparent, but rather internal organizations have individual voices IN public to expose transparency. In other words, tell your story or it will be told for you. To be clear, transparency is a double-edged sword. While business sells benefits (things that get used) and not sausage making (how they make the things) the only way to get to root causes of harm and ‘not good’ is transparency. You will not fix everything at once nor should you (in most cases), but we shouldn’t fool ourselves with “net zero carbon’ plans and selective environmental initiatives or even some well-articulated values statements or some grand Purpose. If business is truly honest with itself, we are still being horrible, just less so. And that is also okay (up to a point).

All that said, a business can no longer be benign. While many people today will be indifferent to all the horrible sausage making being done for all the products they are buying giving them some benefit, the future would appear to tell a different story. Businesses that exploit their horribleness will be exposed in some form or fashion. Businesses that cover up their horribleness will be exposed. Suffice it to say, exploitation doesn’t really add any value and at some point, one can envision enough non-exploiters, or those attempting to exploit less, where people will have a discernible choice with actual user benefit never compromised.

As an extension of my belief a business can no longer be benign, the truth is the world is cluttered with things we don’t really need nor are particularly useful. While I would love business to focus on decluttering; that is a fantasy. So, if we, the business world, must continue making and selling unnecessary things we may as well do so doing the least amount of harm as possible. This is not a Purpose; this is simply doing better and being a bit less harmful. Not a real reason to celebrate yourself or make some grand statement to the world (or even your own business) its just a statement of progress and a desire to be a bit better than maybe you were.

I believe it was Michael Porter who offered business the concept of “creating shared value”: finding business opportunities in social problems. This is actually a derivative of an older Drucker thought that social problems create business opportunities. Within that fairly coldhearted capitalist concept is actually a ‘do better’ business mission.

In the end.

I am not sure if I set the bar too high for business – to purposefully be in and of society – or set the bar too low for business – just do better and do less harm. What I am sure of is that somewhere within those two thoughts resides a better business world.

Written by Bruce