The Responsibility of Businesses in the Trump Economy

When young people move into adulthood and out of home for the first time, there is a predictable response to the lack of structure that had previously been provided by parents.

For the newly unhindered, that freedom is exhilarating — all-night parties, new clothes and dinners purchased on that first credit card as well as a choice about whether to attend class or not.

With the possibility of massive deregulation, the Donald Trump political era is likely to bring some profound changes to our political and economic system.

For the newly unregulated, that could mean a level of freedom — and peril — similar to the example of the college freshman.

Case in point, if the cabinet nominees of the president-elect are confirmed, we will have a labor secretary who is an ardent and vocal opponent to workers’ rights and a head of the Environmental Protection Agency who is strongly aligned with oil, gas and coal interests and vehemently opposed to regulatory oversight.

Whether you love these choices or hate them, there is no denying that there will be deep and long-lasting effects of the desired policies — or lack thereof — that are being proposed.

As a business community, we are being “pushed out of the nest,” whether we like it or not.

Herein lies the challenge: if the regulations go away, are we going to act like the 18-year-old in his/her first semester at college?

If the EPA ceases to exist or at least decreases its environmental regulations, will Lancaster’s farms and production facilities allow our air, waterways and forests to be irreparably damaged by choosing short-term profits at the expense of long-term environmental stability?

If workers’ rights are subverted, will local businesses use that opportunity to exploit employees, further exacerbating poverty and economic inequality in our community?

Are we going to overindulge, or are we going to consider the full, long-term impact of our actions and business decisions?

If we enter a new era of an unfettered business rights and limited regulation with a short-term mindset —similar to that college freshman — we could very likely lose much of what makes Lancaster such a desirable place to live.

Our natural places and our water sources could be negatively impacted, and our air quality could continue to decline.

We may see more Lancastrians dealing with the reality of living in poverty and economic distress, which tends to result in more crime, higher incarceration and associated costs, and decreased educational attainment, among other outcomes.

Importantly for the businesses themselves, we also will see a community in which potential customers have less expendable income to spend in local businesses.

Our call to Lancaster’s businesses is to be the responsible college freshman who attends every class, studies hard and considers the future impact of their decisions.

Let’s make a decision, here and now, to protect our air quality, our waterways and our forests from degradation.

Let’s treat our employees with the respect and decency that we would want to be treated with ourselves, including ensuring them a livable wage.

Let’s not make the dwindling government programs or nonprofit sectors clean up our messes.

Let’s keep the messes from happening in the first place by considering the social and environmental impact of the business decisions we make.

More than 40 studies from sources including the Economist, Harvard Business Review and Deloitte all say that higher corporate standards around environment, social and governance practices reduce the company’s financial risk and create greater profitability.

The Trump economy is here for the next few years, so regardless of mandates from Washington, D.C., let’s continue to show this community, and the world, the long-term view, ethics and responsibility for which Lancaster businesses are known.

Evidence shows that this will have a positive return on investment for both our businesses and the community.

Jonathan Coleman is director of programs for Assets, a Lancaster-based nonprofit that works to create economic opportunity and cultivate entrepreneurial leadership in order to alleviate poverty and build vibrant, sustainable communities.

 

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