Listen Up: Companies Should Not Be Afraid to Get Political
Over the past two years, it seems like everything is political, from coffee makers to the color red, and as sustainability experts we desperately need to be advocates for climate change policy.
You might think jumping into the world of politics isn’t a good move if you’re not in an advocacy industry, but just “selling good products to good people.” Concerns about alienating some of your clients are real, but here’s the thing: fighting for what your business values likely won’t be offensive to your core clientele.
Here are some tips to help you commit to your goals so you can make a difference in the long term and continue doing important work in your day-to-day life.
A recent piece about how getting political has impacted companies following the Parkland shooting outlined some valid points for any industry or organization that intends to take a stand. The benefits that come with making your opinions known can be greater than sitting on the sidelines.
Time has shown that corporate responsibility can actually have a positive impact on business, including political advocacy and issue alignment.
Understanding the values and motivation of a company can deepen the relationship a business has with its customers, employees, and other stakeholders.
The four elements of sustainability consulting that we center our own work around — transparency, consistency, materiality, and leadership — are the same elements that frame a company’s plan to “go political.”
Relationships between companies and their stakeholders are based on trust — and transparency when it comes to areas that you feel your business should take a stand. If you are forthright with your ideas, clients are likely to accept them long term.
This is where consistency comes in. You can’t change your mind over time. For example, Patagonia has long been a vocal supporter of environmental legislation. When President Trump noted that he would eliminate federal protections for national monuments in Utah, Patagonia’s clear message that they opposed this decision was what customers and other stakeholders expected to hear. In fact, they likely would have been disappointed in Patagonia if the company had not responded in this manner.
Organizational leaders worry that speaking out might damage the bottom line, but consumers actually expect companies to be driven in part by profits —“Rent-seeking is not only tolerated, but admired, so long as a company is transparent, consistent, and shows leadership in its industry.”
And leadership plays a vital role. Stakeholders are more likely to purchase from, work for, and invest in companies that have social and environmental impact where leaders are genuine and firm in taking sides.
While it may seem like avoiding the political spotlight is the best choice, companies that are transparent, consistent, and can make a business case for political positions are sometimes better off standing out in the crowd.
And it’s true, sometimes a company might regret making their values known. But maybe that’s because the company needs to take a hard look at its values.