“Infinity” is a symbol I use to explain the frame of reference for the sustainability of companies.
Companies follow a short-term cycle whose goal is to satisfy the material desires of individuals; the profits created by satisfying this cycle permit new investments in the business’ activities. But this isn’t always a sustainable practice. There is also another cycle which sustainable businesses must satisfy, which involves satisfying the long-term economic, social and environmental needs of communities.
Combined, these two cycles – present desires and long-term needs – can both be satisfied through the same activities. Bringing these two cycles together creates the symbol of infinity, in the sense of both short-term and long-term sustainability and satisfaction.
This same concept can be applied to the short-term and long-term cycles of humanity. Since humans and the universe are perpetually linked, to protect the universe means to preserve the human race. Conversely, destroying the first would result in the annihilation of the second. Therefore, the main obligation for the future is preservation. Meanwhile, perfection in life means happiness or, in other words, the satisfaction of our needs and desires. Consequently, the main obligation for the present is happiness.
The present (= satisfaction) and the future (= preservation) are actually not incompatible. They were until recently, because life was based on exhausting the available resources. But they are no longer incompatible in the system we are presently developing, because its goal is to save and protect the available resources.
So, what is the role of a company in this process? In my opinion, the hierarchy in society is as follows: families > companies > state. Just like bricks make walls and walls make buildings, families make companies and companies make states. This is why companies should be considered communities that do their own part by creating happiness, by satisfying the communities and by ensuring preservation.
Doesn’t this sound a lot like the definition of sustainable development? In fact, according to the United Nations, “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The stakeholders of a company are extended communities. They are made of people who are directly or indirectly involved in the company’s activities. They include customers, workers, suppliers, shareholders and the social fabric where the company does business. Needless to say, preservation concerns all the economic, social and environmental interests. Thus, the two cycles of satisfaction blend and become one: an endless macro-cycle.
All right, but how? Capital and know-how are the most important resources of every company. On the one hand, without returns capital is slowly eroded, and it is therefore essential to constantly have returns. On the other hand, without know-how the company cannot afford to deal with environmental evolutions. Therefore, returns and know-how guarantee a long life to the company. Profit is not the main goal: it is just the means.
I believe that the main purpose of a long-lasting company is to constantly create value and knowledge to share with its stakeholders in order to ensure happiness and preservation.