A day after seeing Dark Waters at the movie theater, I watched The Informant on Netflix and it doesn’t take a genius to recognize that our obsession with money is our national sickness. Americans have long flocked to Europe to get a peek into a different world where quality of life superseded quantity of money amassed. The legendary long family lunches where people could be working to earn more money but don’t, the leisurely evenings out in the town square instead of checking stocks online, the attention to art and beauty and leisure that form our romantic notions of life in Paris or Rome—well-documented in classic films— is the takeaway lesson from a generation of Americans who had the good fortune to taste a different mode of life. And then another generation going to villages in Ghana or Bali or Bulgaria to get a different view of culture, community, time to make art and music, time to savor and enjoy. All the cultures who look with pity at the frazzled Americans and thing, “Well, you have the watches, but we have the time.”
This is a spiritual problem, but it also is a collective economic and political problem as those with big money push the world around with their heavy shoulders of power. I wrote about this last month is my 3P post about Profit, Power and Privilege. And then soon after, my daughter Kerala surprised me with another 3P idea that’s out in the world and starting to brand certain businesses who organize around the premise. A much happier 3P’s: People, Planet, Profit. A quick look at each:
People: The question a good-hearted and clear-thinking business should ask: Does our product, our process of running the company, our way of doing business help people or hurt them? Does it add to their quality of life or subtract? Do our customers feel valued? Do our employees feel valued? It’s a simple question to ask, but a difficult one to confront when there is a conflict between a product that seems to help folks—like Teflon allowing their eggs to cook without sticking to the pan, but the mode of disposal when making it contaminating our water and land and endangering our health. If you’re a genuine 3P product, you would stop the moment you find out that people are harmed.
Planet: Is this product necessary and important enough to justify the use of valuable resources? If we can make more money creating it in a short-sighted way that pollutes the land, air or water or make less doing it more responsibly, which should we choose? The new 3P is clear. Be a steward of the planet and factor this in all decision-making and economic ventures.
Profit: For a company to be sustainable, a certain amount of profit is necessary. If the first two are aligned, there is no shame in earning money. (For example, I’d be quite happy if my books sold a million copies instead of two thousand.) So by all means keep profit in the conversation, but watch out for the Rockefeller conundrum: When asked how much money is enough, he replied, “Just a little bit more.” And notice that Profit is last in the list. If it’s first and becomes more important than people or planet, well, that’s when the trouble starts.
So listen up corporations, let’s see if we can have our cake and eat it too. (From organic, properly farmed ingredients, of course.) And consumers, shift your allegiance to these 3P companies. Most companies would never choose to change decades of profit-at-the-center-at-all-costs thinking, but if they lose money because we are flocking to the 3P corporations, they’ll have to change their ways.
Food for thought on a Thursday morning.