The Purpose of Business





As a student pursuing a career in medicine, I came into the program eager to learn about how innovation for sustainability, social responsibility and positive impact are closely interlinked in the world of business. My interest in business stems from my realization that even though medicine is a profession, healthcare in the United States is a business. It is imperative that medical professionals develop a comprehensive understanding of their field as it relates to business. The quality of service physicians provide to their patients is contingent upon how they interact with consumers and meet their needs. In essence, patients are consumers, who expect the healthcare industry to transform and improve along with the world they live in. Hence, these expectations are reflected in the healthcare industry’s drive towards innovation and a better customer experience for every patient.

In broader terms, business encompasses much more than maximizing profits for shareholders as coined by Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman. During the first two weeks of class, I learned that enterprises bear the responsibility to bridge the gap between social responsibility and corporate performance. Michael E. Porter and Mark R. Kramer’s “Creating Shared Value” in the Harvard Business Review stresses the need of companies to embed shared value principles into their operations as the sole mean to generate the next wave of business innovation and growth. In an era where despite companies’ investments into their ethicality, such installing codes of ethics, ethics training,  and in-house watchdogs, unethical behaviors are on the rise. This creates a visible dissonance between the public and companies, whose moral blindness to issues such as child labor and environmental abuse, jeopardizes the corporation’s longevity such as in the case of Kathy Lee Grifford’s clothing line.   

Furthermore, the revolutionary concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) must be adopted by the business world, because a consumer has the choice of whether to purchase a product from company that maximizes profit or one that is cognizant of environmental impact. Will a customer prefer a company that cares for the waste it generates, for the water it uses, for the CO2 emissions, for untested chemicals it uses — and the health ramifications of the product? Some customers may be looking only at the cost of the product, which is the most challenging component of all companies adopting CSR. A key solution is both local government’s enforcement of laws and the company’s transparency.

For example, Evian does not deny its shortcoming in providing alternatives to recyclables plastic water bottles as evidenced from my course’s Evian factory tour this week. The intent of Evian seems to be on the proper path to environmental sustainability, even though many would argue that it is a slippery slope. However, market pressures, such as Japan’s request for virgin plastic, hinders progress. Therefore, as a global community we must take initiative to encourage change. Change cannot solely depend on the U.S. market, but rather a global, unified step forward must be taken to embrace the culture of responsibility. Ultimately, business serves society, and if business depletes the earth’s resources, then it can no longer serve society. Thus, shared value offers corporations the opportunity to reconnect company success and community success.

Geneva, Switzerland.