Let’s tale a look at the ME (My Empire) To the WE (Wellbeing & Environment ) in the context of the family business.
Our survival instincts generally want us to have more for ourselves which results potentially in ignoring the needs of others. In the ever changing and uncertain world in which we now find ourselves it is not uncommon to find families with different generations growing in completely different environments, with little in terms of day-to-day contact and over the past few years it can be seen that this gap appears to be widening.
COVID-19 has in a way halted this trend and we have seen families reconnect and the distance between family members decreased, not least because of the need for forced conversations and crisis management.
During an informal conversation with a family business recently the family member said that as a small business ‘it is still possible to think about ESG and our impact and by focusing on our business, things will be better for all of us.’
I was not sure that I was in agreement with the sentiment made and in a closing remark added “that it’s not about big or small but that each one of us can do our bit & make changes to our daily lives that have a real, positive impact too.”
As is often the case with family business owners, a very senior member smirked & challenges by response by asking me to share what I have actually done myself rather than talking about what I might be planning to do.
I was irked yet choose to share my bit. Thanks to my family we have made a number of changes to our lives. Firstly, consumption of single usage plastic has been reduced by more than 50%, replaced with steel straws, steel tiffin & bottle and jute or paper bags. Our use of air conditioning at home, in the office and the car has come down by 30%, aircraft travel is significantly down and we have made conscious efforts to reduce food, water and electricity wastage too. I conclude my response by saying that it is a work-in-progress but that changes are being made.
I was surprised by the response which came by way of a round of applause, in particular from those in the next generation who really do appreciate the need to change and protect the precious resources available to us. The larger purpose of life seems to have been discovered & the focus seems to have moved ahead of just profits to include an equally strong focus on people, society & environmental wellbeing. The next generation really are grasping the challenge and appreciate the need for work life balance.
This is now moving to a longer term & responsible view that life in business is not only about money or profits.
How can we be more responsible & leave a better legacy for the coming generations and protect our communities and the planet on which we live? This is a topic that seems to be getting attention from a lot more people and is beginning to be discussed in more and more boardrooms around the world, as well as around the family dining table too.
COVID-19 has given a rude wake up call to the capitalists that just focusing on profits and money does not make them immune or safe from such a calamity. A deeper reflection on how serious action is being taken by nature against the misuse of its resources has become visible. People are beginning to reflect and reassess what is important to them. Many are happy just to be alive. Suddenly the shift is more towards electric bicycles than private jets.
When leaders cycle or walk to work the spirit of community & environmental care can be enhanced as others follow suit too. Switching off the air conditioning, lights, fans and water taps when not needed for a few hours daily can save so much energy that it can contribute to making a big difference.
CSR no longer remains a tick box exercise where and it is not just about a CEO giving donations to charity and basking in the media coverage as a result when the broader wellbeing of the employees and their families may not have been so high on the agenda.
Most business operations are being streamlined for a digital world with WFH or rather work from anywhere being acceptable wherever its practically possible.
The world is changing. The world of family business is changing too. It’s time to understand that the narrow focus that we have always had on business performance & profits now needs to move towards the wellbeing of people, society & the environment. The millennials and generation Z seem to be looking for a deeper meaning from their association/contribution/existence and the sustainability agenda is gaining real momentum.
On a zoom call recently, a younger niece shared a point that plastics make up more than the combined mass of land animals & marine creatures. This was like a wake-up call to us and it led to the set-up of an organized recycling system & minimization of wastage of water, electricity and food.
People at work and at home were made aware of this startling fact and with small nudges & suggestions encouraged to take action. ‘Switch off when not in use’ was a common nudge across the board wherein both electricity & water could be saved. Sanitizer & drinking water was now dispensed via dispenser in reusable glass/pet bottles. An open-air mechanical gym was put up wherein solar panels could charge mobile phones or run the fans or lights while the machine worked without any power.
Small pots of herbs were distributed which could be carried home or kept at work. Elders too aligned as most felt that a lot of food could be easily saved from going to waste & could be redistributed to the those in need.
Water saving by small actions like not leaving the tap open, reusing a lot of waste water for recycling, kitchen water for the gardens, collecting rain water & using it appropriately also made a difference.
This exercise was a great initiative where people across the generations came together, sharing a common purpose and aligning their actions, both at work & home.
Grandpa & Great Grand-Daughter sipping their juice from glass bottles using paper straws was a great example/nudge too. At work the nudges resulted in more action and in real terms resulted in better quality, customer satisfaction & savings.
The best examples were shared with people across the business so that the doers received acknowledgement & the non-doers encouragement. The overall decision-making frameworks needed to change to focus on the larger good, thereby ensuring a better legacy for the coming generations.
It will be by ensuring responsible decision making by stakeholders that nature, the environment & society are also thoughtfully taken care of. Overall wellbeing & legacy building is the desired new normal.
In the zoom townhall the chairman said the call for action ‘prompts me to ask you not just how much plastic usage have you reduced or recycled and food & water have you stopped from going waste. How each one of you have put it better reuse for the overall benefit of society, environment & business is the question each one of us must be asking one’s self.’