We can do better than sociopathic business as usual

Written by Tom Greenwood - March 26, 2021

I’ve long held the belief that business is at the heart of most modern human activity, whether we like it or not. It plays a central role in shaping the type of society that we live in, the (ill) health of our natural environment and the type of future that we’re moving toward. While some in the environmental movement believe that businesses are fundamentally part of the problem, I believe that they can and must be part of the solution.

I know, I know… as a business owner, I am biased. However, my passion for creating a better world and belief that businesses must play a role in solving social and environmental issues is a key part of the reason why I decided to start a business in the first place.

But something isn’t right

Despite my belief that business can be a force for good, I’m deeply concerned that on balance, it is not. It’s exciting to see positive movements such as B Corp growing rapidly, with over 500 businesses now certified in the UK. However, in this decisive decade of climate, ecological and social action, the B Corp movement in the UK only represent 0.00008% of all registered businesses. Credit to Tom Tapper at B Corp Nice and Serious for doing the maths on that!

It’s growing, but it is still a tiny drop in a very large ocean. Of course, there are businesses trying to be a force for good and not certified as B Corps, but when I look around, they are clearly the exception and not the rule.

In a recent interview with Bloomberg (below), Jeremy Grantham (the investor and benefactor of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment) stated that “If you say, as an individual, ‘My only interest is to maximise my advantages’, which is what they say at the corporate level, you’re a sociopath”. This is a powerful statement! The standard operating model of business – to maximise financial profit – is a sociopathic operating model.

It aligns with the work of psychologist Kevin Dutton, whose research found that the career with the highest proportion of psychopaths was… wait for it… not banker, not politician, not dentist… but CEO. Yikes! (For the record, I’m not a CEO. hehe).

This affects us all

This is a problem, a really big problem, because people in positions of corporate power do not act alone. They set the culture for their entire organisations and to some extent for society at large. These organisations employ vast numbers of people, the majority of whom are not sociopaths or psychopaths, and whose personal values do not align with the true values of the organisation. I’m not talking about those fluffy values they print in the annual report and chant at company retreats, but the real values that underlie the actions of the organisation.

Just take a look at any major stock market and take a long hard look at the companies listed. It’s a who’s who of human rights abusing mining companies, industrial conglomerates controlled by Russian oligarchs, banks (don’t get me started), fossil fuel companies who have systematically delayed climate action by decades, house builders who lobby against tighter energy efficiency regulations for new homes, retailers who pioneered zero hour contracts and of course, big tech companies who manipulate and sell our minds for their own tax evaded profit. It’s a cheery place on the old stock exchange!

I highlight stock markets because this is where the biggest and most powerful companies reside, and it’s where for those lucky enough to have any, much our savings and pensions are invested. Think about that. The money that we put away for our future is invested in sociopathic companies that do not care about our future.

I was so frustrated by this that I spent some time recently investigating the companies that I truly admire for the forward thinking, caring and responsible ways that they run their businesses. I could not find a single one that was floated on the stock market. For my own sanity, do drop me a note if you find one!

We need to fix this, and we need to do it together.

UPDATE: I found one! It turns out that renewable energy pioneers Good Energy are in fact floated on the stock market. There is hope!

Business can be better

The B Corp Movement really is a ray of hope because it proves that businesses can be commercially successful and have values that align more closely with most people in our society. Businesses that want to contribute to (not just extract from), a thriving and healthy society with a bright future.

Image of the homepage for the Better Business Act website
It was a real honour for us to collaborate with B Lab on the Better Business Act website

That’s why I’m so excited by the Better Business Act and proud to put our name behind it (not to mention build the website). The act is being put forward to parliament as an amendment to the existing Companies Act, to establish a level playing field where it’s no longer acceptable for businesses to use short-term profit maximising to justify behaviour that’s harmful to society or the environment.

Of course, it’s not a panacea, but it could be an important step forward in aligning the values of the corporate world with those of wider society. The Better Business Act campaign launch event is taking place on the 31st of March, so if you’d like to support it or learn more, sign up for your free ticket. I hope to see you there!