THE BLOG

Good Business = Well-Being of People and Planet?

09/16/2013 04:46 pm ET | Updated Nov 16, 2013
  • Jules Peck Founding Partner, Jericho Chambers; Trustee, New Economics Foundation, member of the Advisory Board of the B Team.

When you see the likes of Sir Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington, Paul Polman, Ratan Tata, Dr. Mo Ibrahim, Francois-Henri Pinault, Professor Muhammad Yunus and Jochen Zeitz call for a refocus of business towards well-being you know that change is afoot. Well-being? It all sounds a bit fluffy for hardcore business leaders, doesn't it?

So what might these B-Team Leaders mean when they launch with a headline commitment to help create a world where business is used as "a primary driver of holistic well-being, adding social value through evolving business models, employee welfare, health, citizen engagement and human rights"? And what might Paul Polman's company Unilever mean when its Sustainable Living Plan commits to improve the well-being of one billion people by 2020?

Let me take you back to the build up to Rio '92. In 1987, the UN Brundtland Report defined what 'sustainable' development was all about as development which meets the needs of current and future generations within the limits of the planet. In other words, there are two lenses to sustainable development: to be sustainable, development has to focus on satisfying human needs while respecting natural limits. Until now, however, most corporate sustainability has focused on only one of these two lenses, the planetary limits, and has missed the far more crucial question of human needs. This is where well-being comes in.

There are various ways of understanding human needs, those things and circumstances we require to flourish, to have high levels of well-being. Most of us know Maslow's hierarchy, with basic material needs at the bottom and non-material psycho-spiritual ones at the top. The problem with the way we live today is that we've heaped much of our material use (and resulting pollutants) at the top - in the non-material needs area. In an age when we know we are living way beyond safe planetary limits, it seems crazy and profligate to be wasting scarce materials to try, often unsuccessfully, to satisfy these non-material needs.

We all know intrinsically that money can't buy us happiness, as Professor Tim Jackson says of our current 'insatiability doctrine' in his brilliant TED talk, "We spend money we don't have on things we don't need to impress people we don't even care about." So what are the key ways to attain well-being? Well, once our basic material needs for food, warmth and the like are met, the key headline things which increase well-being - the 'five ways to well-being' are connection to friends, family and community; giving back and volunteering; being physically active; having life goals and continuing to learn; and taking notice and being engaged. Behind those five-ways sits a more complex matrix of what are known as well-being-satisfiers developed by an economist called Professor Manfred Max-Neef. But lets not get all technical here. What can business do about all of this?

At Jericho Chambers, we've developed a process called WellbeingNeedfinding which is based on insights from user-centered-design, positive psychology, well-being and welfare economics, theories of human needs, hedonomics and neuroscience. This strategic innovation process helps companies map, measure, manage and maximize the well-being-satisfaction their brands, products and services can provide to customers and society. It's based on unpacking and understanding the real well-being-needs of customers and either mapping current products and services against that landscape of needs, or innovating with new products or services which can satisfy those needs in an ecologically optimal manner.

With leadership from progressive business, we should be able to satisfy the material and non-material well-being-needs (though not the created 'wants') of nine billion people. But to do so will require business to think very differently about its role and how it operates. That's why at The B-Team, we understand that the sustainable business of the future, the future bottom line, the future of leadership and future incentives will all need to be defined by their ability to ecologically-efficiently satisfy our well-being-needs.

As Sir Richard has said: "We have no planet B." It's time to live as if we recognize that, and time for business to view everything it does through the lens of satisfying well-being-needs, while respecting the limits of this one, beautiful planet we are so privileged to live on.