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Make Money & Make the World Better (& What It Has to Do With Your Brain)
 

When you do something altruistic, your brain releases a squirt of the neurotransmitter Dopamine, and you feel good.

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I have always believed in doing well by others. This has been one of the core values of my business since I founded it in 1991.

I also believe that whatever you give away will eventually come back to you ten times magnified because you have planted a seed of generosity in the universe that ultimately grows and yields fruit. "There is a spiritual aspect to business, just as there is to the lives of individuals," noted Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben & Jerry's, to an audience at Purdue University in 2006. "As you give, you receive. As you help others, you are helped in return."

Years ago, people who wanted to make a difference worked at a non-profit group, while those who wanted to make money worked in the corporate world. A corporation that wanted to do something nice and get some good publicity would make a charitable contribution somewhere, or throw some money toward a worthy cause. Now non-profits have become more corporate, and the corporations have become more socially aware. It is possible for your self interest and ethical concerns to overlap. You can make money and make the world a better place at the same time.

It turns out evolution has made altruism self-serving in a biochemical way as well. When we do something altruistic, our brains release a self-congratulatory squirt of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which makes us feel good. You have no doubt heard the old adage, "'Tis better to give than to receive." It turns out the burst of dopamine we experience is literally greater when we give a gift than when we receive one.

A recent article in the journal Neuron explains that the differences in generosity among people is related to how you're brain is wired. Your level of altruism can be predicted by the size of a region in your brain called the temporoparietal junction, or TPJ (where your temporal and parietal lobes meet). This area allows you to feel empathy, and to appreciate the perspectives of others. People with more grey matter in their TPJ are more selfless. There is a possibility that the more generously you behave, the more altruistic you will actually become, because the volume of grey matter in the brain is affected by social processes. Eventually it may be possible to influence people to be more empathic and more generous by promoting the development of their TPJ.

So how do these differences in empathy and altruism play out in the business world?  Some companies, including Stonyfield Farm and Honest Tea (founders of both are Inc. columnists), make the maximum commitment to social responsibility not only by following principles like sustainability and creating wealth in poor areas, but also by manufacturing products they believe are good for people. Other companies, like TOMS and Warby Parker, give away one pair of their product to people in need for each pair they sell. Still other companies, like Patagonia and Timberland are known for giving away a percentage of profits, and aligning with environmental and charitable causes.

If you want your company to both do good and do well, you need to establish your core values--the first principles you will fight for, and the last you will give up. Think about things that tie into your own work, whether that's environmental sustainability, recycling, organic farming practices, fair trade principles for developing communities, selling a product that is good for people, or others.

Many of the more enlightened companies list core values on their websites for everyone to see. In addition to the companies listed above, take a look at the websites for New Belgium Brewing Company, Seventh Generation, The Body Shop, Green Mountain Coffee. You do not need to reinvent the wheel. See what other ethically aware companies are already doing.

Social responsibility is more than aligning your company with a charity or supporting a non-profit. Trying to make the world a better place affects everything from the products you create to the way you do business. Your core values will guide every aspect of your decision making.

Once you have decided on your socially-responsible core values, use them to set your brand apart. This article in AdWeek notes that 75% of consumers believe social responsibility is important, and 55% will choose a product that supports a worthy cause over a similar product that does not. You can do very well by doing a lot of good.

Last updated: Aug 3, 2012

GEIL BROWNING is founder of Emergenetics International, an organizational development firm in the U.S., Singapore, and the Netherlands. She co-created the Emergenetics Profile, a psychometric thinking and behavioral workplace assessment.
@Emergenetics_




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