Businesses Need to Do More to Support the Well-being of Future Generations
by Rob Bisceglie, CEO
In August of this year, the Business Roundtable released a statement expressing why their shareholders shouldn’t be their absolute priority. They argued that businesses should also recognize the value of purposeful investments in their customers, employees, suppliers and communities. The sentiment here is great, and long overdue. It shows that some of the biggest corporations are aware of the role they can — and sometimes do — play in improving our society. Nevertheless, I think the statement should have gone a step further. Businesses should also take steps to prioritize the well-being of future generations. There is no greater need and no more urgent opportunity.
Our country has a long history of stating in our prose, politics and policies that we treasure the well-being of our kids first and foremost. In fact, a Pew study in January found that education, along with the economy and health care costs, remained the public’s top policy priorities in 2019. But in recent years, our actions in support of children haven’t aligned with those priorities. As a result, we can see a growing childhood health crisis unfolding right in front of us, from poor diet and reduced physical activity to increasing mental health conditions and substance abuse. Clearly, it’s time for those who have benefitted so much from our society to transition from talk to action.
Businesses are leaders within our society.
As leaders in our society, businesses need to make a clear commitment to children by ensuring their decisions have a positive impact on future generations. They have the power to create change on a massive scale involving our youngest who are also often the most vulnerable in our society.
When companies take intentional steps to improve the communities they operate within and beyond, there is a domino effect of immediate, positive change, as well as dialogue around critical issues. The Business Roundtable surely knew that their statement would cause companies everywhere to reevaluate their responsibilities to stakeholders, so here are three additions to the Business Roundtable’s stated commitments I hope all business leaders will take to heart:
- Expand the definition of investing in employees to ensure their income allows them to put healthy food on the table and have access to affordable and preventative health care for the entire family.
- Support communities in which your business operates, not just through sustainable operating practices but by investing in those communities to create safe places for kids to play, preserving natural spaces, refurbishing play spaces, and supporting local schools and recreation initiatives that provide opportunities for kids and their families to be active.
- Redefine what delivering value to your customers means by ensuring your products align with purpose. Millennials and Gen-Z — the next largest adult generations — prioritize empathy, compassion and ethics in their choices. For example, Millennials are passionate consumers who say they’re willing to spend more money on products and services that match their own values. And Gen-Z and generations following have tremendous purchasing power. By next year, Gen-Z alone is expected to account for anywhere between $29 to $143 billion in spending.
Future generations are powerful forces for positive corporate change.
Not only are younger generations inclined to purchase from brands that support causes they care about, but they are powerful beyond what they consume. They seek to find the root causes of the problems the world faces and create solutions. Take for instance Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who has used social media to rally the world behind her cause. She and 15 other young people from across the globe are suing 15 carbon-polluting countries for violating the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child.
Similarly, the root causes of the childhood health crisis can be addressed if businesses take a solution-oriented approach to their products and services and the way they do business. Businesses are run by and serve people — people with families who want the best for their children’s futures. That’s why all business leaders should take a hard look at the impact they have on their communities. Business leaders should ask themselves: What is the impact we’re having on our world? Are we helping our future generations? Start with these questions:
- Whether through products we produce or community initiatives we support, is our company helping to support sound and appropriate nutrition for all children and families and their knowledge and ability to make healthy choices for themselves?
- Are we fostering safe, healthy and supportive physical environments that provide children opportunities for active exploration, exercise and social connections?
- In our capacity as an employer, are we supporting the parents and caregivers among our employees in cultivating stable and responsible relationships with their children and helping them in their roles to support learning and improved social emotional skills?
It’s our collective responsibility to support our children.
When businesses prioritize long-term impact, especially their effect on the health and well-being of the children in their communities, over short-term profits, the potential for return on investment is boundless — because the children of today are the workers, consumers, leaders and catalysts of change tomorrow.
We have to stop just saying we care about our children and their healthy futures and start really showing it with our actions. Companies must make investing in their communities and the children within them a priority, not only to help themselves, but because it is the right thing to do.
For companies that want to learn more about what they should do next, they can look to organizations, including my organization, Action for Healthy Kids, that are working towards a more equitable society and promoting community health and well-being for all stakeholders, especially children.
Categories: Making Change Happen