By Yaromir Steiner
For the past century, businesses and corporations around the world have often engaged in the kind of profit-seeking motives that require an excuse. American companies, in particular, have long been virgorated by a type of ruthless and relentless drive for growth—proliferated through ideas like Milton Friedman’s shareholder theory which argued that, above all else, company leaders should primarily work to maximize profits for their shareholders.
A Shift In Thinking
Happily, this is starting to change, with groups like the Business Roundtable denouncing the Friedman doctrine and rethinking the purpose of a corporation. Organizations are becoming more socially and environmentally conscious, and investing in causes and community initiatives with no obvious ROI component.
In simple terms, more companies are doing good.
What’s more, the relatively modest investments that entrepreneurs and private businesses make in education, community and charitable initiatives not only deliver meaningful short-term gains in terms of positive brand association and goodwill, but they also contribute to stronger, more economically dynamic and sustainable communities over time.
Conscious capitalism is a philosophy that has surfaced to describe this era of corporate virtue—stating that businesses should serve not just their shareholders, but every principal stakeholder including employees, customers, citizens and the environment. Where core foundations of free market capitalism include entrepreneurship, competition and freedom of trade, conscious capitalism adds elements like compassion, trust and collaboration to encourage assimilation of all interests into a company’s business plan.
The shift in thinking on the issue of conscious capitalism has been slow but steady. It’s difficult to convince corporations to redefine their views of success and incorporate change that may go against the credos that made them successful in the first place.
Old Dog, Same Tricks
At Steiner, I am proud to say that we have long been ahead of the curve on this issue. As a decades-old developer who both literally and figuratively builds public spaces that only succeed if they become fully integrated as flourishing communities, we have seen firsthand how much of an impact corporate philanthropy and community outreach can have.
At Easton Town Center in Columbus, Ohio—an iconic development that celebrated 20 years in 2019—our Change for Charity initiative has served as an industry model of how to design and run charitable giving and community-focused programs. Each month, the initiative funnels the
proceeds from the center’s metered on-street parking to deserving local and regional non-profit organizations. Additional funds go toward supporting the Easton Community Foundation and its charitable giving, community programming and special events—including annual scholarship programs for local high schools.
Since Change for Charity was first rolled out in 1999, the Easton Community Foundation has invested more than $8.4 million in the local community, donated to over 80 youth and family organizations, awarded scholarships to 137 students and hosted annual Cornerstone Events that have raised more than $25 million in support of worthy causes.
The deep connection to the community that these contributions have created has cemented Easton’s role as a local and regional resource with an impact that extends to—and ultimately beyond—our bottom line.
One For All
It is refreshing to see the business world step up investment in environmental and sustainability initiatives that reap long-term benefits for millions of people—from wastewater management and renewable energy, to efficient designs and creative programs like Easton’s policy of ensuring that all florae planted are bee- and pollinator-friendly.
Expanding the social mission of the enterprise is based in the recognition that we are all connected. The health and well-being of corporations and communities are profoundly linked, and more businesses are beginning to realize that individual success is connected to collective prosperity.
When it comes to the bottom line, doing good is one of the best investments a company can make.