Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Role of Business.. of course about providing a product or service, perhaps both, of value to a customer, client, or patron so as to generate revenue, and profit.

Businesses have many links and impact points in our global society. Actions of apparently small and insignificant meaning have a cascading effect on things that we may or may not know about. A decision to buy a certain brand of frozen chicken at the supermarket transfers money to businesses and enterprises that extend far beyond the local retailer. Millions of these simple transactions add up to billions of dollars circulating the global economy. They have far reaching implications with employee relations (health care, vacation, wages, etc.), taxes, vendor profit and therefore that vendor's internal and external relationships with their suppliers and communities, and on and on. Systems thinking is an interesting way to think about our actions and their impact on individuals and institutions around us. I remember thinking about this when I heard Peter Senge speak at the NESEA Building Energy renewable energy trade show held at Boston University back in March of 2004.

As I continue to observe and ponder what business "is" and how we can make it sustainable and socially responsible, systems thinking strikes me as one of many potential tools to unravel the complex relationships that define "business". Will it help understand companies' relationships with its employees, its vendors, its customers, and its community? How does thinking about our daily interactions with coworkers and customers in a larger context affect the overall health and prosperity of the business, our communities, and the planet?

The underlying imperative is to maintain and strengthen the company's financial sustainability. A company with the best reputation in the community and the highest social performance but a failure financially punches a hole in the very model of "sustainable business".

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