The Case for Positive Businesses in Four Charts

In 1970, amid “a widespread aversion to ‘profits’ and the 'soulless corporation,'” 20th century economist Milton Friedman declared the sole purpose of business was to create profit for its shareholders. 

Mr. Friedman sought to establish once and for all that shareholders (via wealth gained through their investments) and individuals (using income from wages) should make charitable donations as they see fit and use the democratic process to have the government (through tax income), cure social and environmental ills, of which he specifically mentioned avoiding pollution and reducing poverty.

He continued that the corporation should ". . . use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud."

Friedman's dictum became the basis of business as usual. We could debate the merit of his perspective or his assumptions around "deception or fraud," or we could simply look at what's happened over the last 45+ years to understand its impact. 

Our Environment – Surface temperatures and levels of carbon dioxide in the air have both increased since 1970, with reported adverse effects on photosynthesis – a necessary component to life on Earth.


Our People – Far from alleviating poverty, money coming into the average family over the course of a year has declined significantly since 1970.

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Our Relationships – Sixty-two percent of Americans do not trust CEOs, an all-time low since Edelman has measured it over the last 19 years, making it a widespread sentiment (still) and harder for business owners who rely on relationships to create sustainable success.

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It seems that the pursuit of profit has been perilous for business and society, but a course-correction is available to us now.

Described as the for-benefit economy, the not-just-for-profit economy, or the fourth sector economy, it features a model for doing business that incorporates a purpose-driven, values-based, impact-minded, and yes, positive approach to creating real value for all of its stakeholders, not just its shareholders.

Companies of all types and sizes are leading the way. Organizations such as B Labs, Conscious Capitalism, Fourth Sector Group and others are supporting these companies with standards and resources that are helping to redefine capitalism.

The companies are proving that the positive business model often leads to increased business capacity and performance while literally creating a world of good. It's the 21st century way of doing business.

If you’ve always had a not-just-for-profit business mindset, now you can easily formalize what makes your company special and viable, expand on its positive core, use it in your communications strategies, and be recognized for it. There's never been a better time to start.


About Me, Kelly Stewart: Drawing on my marketing strategy experience, I have a natural desire to bring out the best in a brand. As a Positive Business Consultant and Speaker, I help business leaders identify, develop, and most importantly, document how they put their not-just-for-profit mindset into practice. I see tremendous opportunities in the for-benefit economy for small and mid-sized business leaders who want to be part of this evolution and am excited to help them succeed in it. Mom to two by birth and two by marriage, I live in Bucks County, PA with my fun and wonderful husband and our four dogs of all sizes and strange habits.