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Rethinking the “bottom line”-The 3 P’s: People, Planet and Profit

Written by: on February 9, 2017

Thus, the market system seems to have grown up after the Fall rather than having been inherent in God’s original design. As such, it can never lead to salvation. It will not, left to its own devices, usher us back to the goodness of the Garden.”  [1]

One thing is clear, capitalism is not a perfect system. Max Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, argues that it was Protestant ideals that fueled Capitalism in its infancy but as it continued to propel forward it no longer needed these ideals to continue to rise and grow in our society. He talks about the Protestant Reformation and how Martin Luther was fundamental in using “calling” to be applied outside religious activities. Weber even identified Calvinistic characteristics that were evident within capitalism. I will state that, in my opinion, Weber was not intending to attack John Calvin but he was simply stating his observation and connecting characteristics that influenced culture. Furthermore, he also discusses the impact of traditionalism on the issues that rose with labor and compensation.  In addition, he address the negative effects of capitalism and its motivation for profitability as the primary purpose.

Weber definitely made a case for how the Spirit of Protestant ethics was influential in the early formation of capitalism. It is evident that today, the many problems and issues he identified remain. While big business continues to take over leaving inequality in the labor market causing the continual fight for purposeful work and livable wages, there are those who see opportunities for redemption in the midst of its brokenness.While in my Master’s program both in the Seminary and Business School at Seattle Pacific University we were taught to think beyond profit as the only bottom-line. We were challenged to think about how do we see redemption in business and its purpose to value people, planet and profit. We referred to this as the 3P’s. There are many companies within our American capitalist society that are choosing to see beyond just profit. In fact, many of them who made the leap to hold them 3 in tandem found themselves more profitable in the end.

There are two Christian business men who both wrote books focused on the redemptive opportunities for the free market and our economy. One would be considered more a “secular” main stream approach to redemption and the other uses theology to argue his case. John Allison, CEO of the Cato Institute and former chairman and CEO of BB&T bank, in The Leadership Crisis and the Free Market Cure argues that we are innately good human beings. Our human nature gives us the ability to reason and through reason we are able to be creative, productive  and find self -reward. He goes as far to say that rational thinking is “our only means to survival, success and happiness”. [2] . He asserts that in order to solve the issues of our free market we must return to the core values of our nation laid out in the Declaration of Independence “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”. In his conclusion of his book he states:

Concepts such as honesty, integrity, rationality, and personal responsibility are all rewarded in a free society.  The competition of ideas and results drives individuals to act rationally in free markets and free societies. Naturally, there will always be some deviant behavior, because human beings have free will. But the incentive structure in free societies rewards strong moral character, and moral behavior is the societal norm when the initiation of force is prohibited. Values matter for individuals, organizations, and society as a whole. A society based on the correct ideals will flourish. It is critical that we return to the principles that made America great–life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. “[3]

I agree that morality , principles and values do matter. However, I do not believe that they are innate to our human nature and can inevitably in and of themselves cure the free market.t  I believe that there is a danger in placing humanity at the center and asserting that any remedy that tries to change or “fix” human behavior is an unnecessary force.

Dr. Jeff Van Duzer, Provost and former Dean of the School of Business and Economics at Seattle Pacific University, in his book Why Business Matters to God (And What Still Needs to Be Fixed) advocates for the intrinsic purposes of business being “(1) to provide the community with goods and services that will enable it to flourish, and (2) to provide opportunities for meaningful work that will allow employees to express their God-given creativity.“[4] He takes a theological approach beginning with the creation and goes on to consummation outlining how business can be put back together and seen with an eternal purpose.  Van Duzer lays out his argument as to why God even cares about business and so should all of us. Stewardship and sustainability are core values and drivers of business and as such we must find our purpose within its limitation. This way of doing business refutes profit by any means necessary. It must also benefit people and planet.

In the context of business, then, the pursuit of purpose should be limited by the notion of sustainability. As business pursues even godly objectives, it should do no harm. And this do-no-harm constraint should apply to all of the business’s stakeholders. It applies to investors who provide business capital and to employees who contribute their labor. It applies to suppliers who provide raw goods and to customers who purchase finished goods. It applies to the communities that nurture businesses and, of course, to the natural environment in which business is situated.”[5]

I am hopeful that in the midst of the brokenness there is hope for redemption. I do believe that business is called to serve! Our communities can flourish and we can experience greater purpose that allows for meaningful work.

 

[1] Van Duzer Jeffrey B., Why business matters to God: (and what still needs to be fixed) (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2010).77.

[2] John A. Allison, The leadership crisis and the free market cure: why the future of business depends on the       return to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015).193.

[3]Ibid, 197

[4] Van Duzer Jeffrey B., Why business matters to God: (and what still needs to be fixed) (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2010).42.

[5] Ibid, 158

About the Author

Christal Jenkins Tanks

7 responses to “Rethinking the “bottom line”-The 3 P’s: People, Planet and Profit”

  1. Jim Sabella says:

    Excellent post Christal! You mention the desire of many companies to be redemptive in their business activities, by putting profit last, after people and planet (3Ps). I’ve not heard of this before and I find it very encouraging on many levels. Due to the nature of Weber’s topic, it’s interesting that the word redemptive is used in the context of capitalism. I would assume it has no religious connotations, but due to the fact the Weber asserts that the roots of capitalism are in the protestant church, the use of the word redemptive seems fitting. I’ve also heard the term evangelist and of course, bible used within the context of business. You bring a unique perspective to the subject. Thanks for an interesting post.

  2. Mary Walker says:

    Christal thank you for your very optimistic post! I believe that even if many Americans are caught up in consumerism, there remains the better side of “capitalism” in their motives.
    My husband and I travel a lot by driving. When we travel along we meet what I hope is the real America. Americans really are a very generous people.
    Anyway, Jeffrey Van Duzer seems to have the balance needed. We can’t turn the clock back and go back to an agrarian based economy. Things are the way they are. Redeeming businesses is a big part of redeeming our culture.

  3. Stu Cocanougher says:

    “to provide the community with goods and services that will enable it to flourish, and to provide opportunities for meaningful work that will allow employees to express their God-given creativity.“

    Tony Campolo once told the story of a janitor at his University who always seemed so happy in his work. He noticed one day that the janitor was cleaning the backside of the toilet. Campolo questioned why he cleaned that area, since no one could see it. The old janitor’s reply went something like this… “I don’t clean these toilets for you, God gave me this job. I clean these toilets for God, and HE can see everything.”

    I think the point is obvious, when we see our work as a form of worship to God, the quality of our work is exemplary.

  4. Great post, Christal! I especially liked your perspective on business and the writings from the SPU professor: “It must also benefit people and planet.” That’s a great quote that measures the purpose and ethical boundaries of business. Also, I concur with your summary that business needs to be a service. I really like business and the ability to profit as well as benefit others and our planet, but it really helps me to put it concisely based on your blog. Valuable perspective from a savvy business woman. Thank you!

  5. Thank you for your post, “its motivation for profitability as the primary purpose.” Your views of the business man or woman as an important part of life is good and that it must not be the primary purpose to make money for just themselves.

  6. Thank you Christal! I have read parts of Van Duzer’s book and I was so encouraged by it. I think he captures the heartbeat of the millennial generation and their business ethos.
    I was talking to my dad about this topic last night and he (a total workaholic before he retired) reminded me that we get caught up in an individualistic “work unto the Lord” mindset, forgetting that we aren’t really working unto the Lord if we aren’t putting people and creation above profits. It’s just an excuse to work too much. Ouch.

  7. Christal,
    Great post! I haven’t heard of Van Duzer before, but I think I would like him!

    I think too, that you are correct – placing too much trust in humanity or any creation (such as the free market) is always going to lead to trouble….

    And, of course, as the resident Calvinist – I would say that our human nature tends to idolatry and tyranny (hmmm? anything in our current world to support that?) As those that trust in Jesus, our response to God’s grace and salvation and blessing in our lives by sharing that blessing faithfully in every aspect of our lives (work, family, social, etc.) We redeem the market not by making it ‘free’ but by acting in it as faithful followers of Jesus. Or something like that

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