THE BLOG
01/27/2016 12:34 pm ET Updated Jan 27, 2017

Helping Business Become a Better Citizen: 5 Actions Corporations Can Take

Corporations are recognizing that the marketplace is a democracy where consumers can vote with their consciences.

Recent polls suggest that the American public is abandoning its fixation on wealth and power and adopting a more public-spirited mindset. Americans are looking to a future that is not just environmentally sustainable but also that regenerates destroyed environments, that is socially just and personally fulfilling. They're fed up with lying politicians and corporations that take away their jobs and overcharge for products made for pennies by unprotected workers overseas.

Some Americans even argue that we need to rid the planet of corporations altogether. While there's little chance of that happening - at least not in my lifetime - the attitudes and goals of those who own and manage corporations can be changed.

In fact, there are many indications that a change in corporate consciousness is already happening. At corporate conferences and MBA programs, I often hear smart people admit that the current economic system verges on collapse and that new economic models are needed. Many companies have begun to recognize that, say, protecting the environment is not only good for the world, but good for their bottom lines, too.

Still, many CEOs who favor changing their corporate strategies are afraid. They believe that if they lose short-term market share or profits they're sure to be replaced by people who care only about market share or profits. Some CEOs hope that consumer movements will gain enough public support to force a change within their companies.

Armed with thousands of letters and e-mails that say, "I love your product but will not buy it until you pay your workers a living wage," gives CEOs a lot more leverage when trying to convince their executive committees, stockholders, and founders, that initiating a more enlightened program makes smart business sense.

If people make purchases guided by their consciences, corporations will eventually get the idea. Consumers are the ones with the real power. The marketplace is a democracy, and every time people make a purchase they cast a vote.

Most corporate leaders assert their intention to do the right thing. In discussions with them I often hear that they have children or nephews and nieces and they want to pass on a habitable world to them. However, they also believe that taking seriously their roles of responsible business leaders means maximizing profits.

We need to help them - and their stockholders - understand that responsible business practices include policies that demand social justice and sustainable and regenerative environments.

In my upcoming book, The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, I provide many lists of what people can do, ranging from students to retired people. Here are just a few suggestions from the list for corporations.

1. Include in the corporation's mission statement a commitment to serving the public, the natural environment, social harmony, and justice. Let it be known that your company is looking out for the future as well as the present, and that those who support you as customers or investors are making the world a better place.

2. Launch programs to ensure that all goods and services are sustainably produced.

3. Implement policies that ensure fair, living, and equitable compensation for all employees and other workers. Establish wage, bonus, and other compensation standards that minimize the gap between the lowest- and the highest-paid.

4. Create management systems that encourage creativity, joy, and a sense of camaraderie and community. Make the transition from the command-and-control leadership model to collaborative decision-making.

5. Treat environmental and social criticisms and proposals from the media, stockholders, and other sources with respect and appreciation, and commit to taking actions that facilitate constant improvement.