Chelsea Green Publishing

Chelsea Green Blog

Staying Small and Keeping It Local: The Companies We Keep

The following book review was originally published on TriplePundit.com. Business books on the Triple Bottom Line abound. Trust me. I speak from experience. I am an MBA student in a program focused on sustainability, and a mountain of these books stands between me and the end of each semester. Most do an adequate job of plodding through the subject matter, but I usually find myself skimming the material to extract the main points so I can move on to the next book. One down, mountain to go. That was not my experience with John Abrams’ revised edition of Companies We Keep – Employee Ownership and the Business of Community and Place. The book is a revised and expanded version of his 2005 Company We Keep. Abrams is the cofounder of South Mountain Company, an employee-owned, custom building business based on Martha’s Vineyard that began operations in 1975. He’s written a very readable narrative that knits together a personal memoir with an examination of the employee-owned business model he has developed at South Mountain Company. In Abrams’ words, “This is a book about a different way of doing business in today’s world — a way based on workplace democracy, shared ownership, staying small, building community, commitment to a place, and long term thinking.” He believes that building a profitable company can be compatible with serving the needs of people (employees and owners), the local community, and the environment.
We assign priority to a collection of bottom lines while consigning the traditional bottom line – profit – to its appropriate role as a vital tool that serves the others.
A worker cooperative typically uses the C or LLC corporate framework, and shares many of the same benefits. It has corporate protection from liability, earns profits, is governed by a board of directors, and is managed by one or more officers. But it differs in three aspects as Abrams explains. First, it’s a membership organization limited to employees who complete a trial period and invest through a membership fee. Second, a cooperative is democratically governed as each member gets one vote, rather than the usual one share/one vote model. And third, a portion of earnings is allocated to members based on their work investment rather than their capital investment. Beyond the legal framework, Abrams’ vision of the worker co-op also emphasizes staying small and keeping it local. These two principles buttress the social and environmental bottom lines.
I question the lack of value placed on maintenance of those business communities we create and the communities within which our companies operate. This disregard supports unfettered allegiance to an economy whose rewards have become skewed toward the distant and the global at the expense of the local, and whose system of incentives encourages wage servitude and environmental recklessness.
Read the whole review here.


A Dictionary to Survive the Future

When British economist David Fleming died unexpectedly in 2010, he left behind his great unpublished work, a masterpiece more than thirty years in the making—an intellectually evocative and inspiring dictionary, Lean Logic: A Dictionary for the Future and How to Survive It. In it, Fleming examined the consequences of an economy that destroys the very foundations—ecological, […] Read More

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In 2016, Earth Overshoot Day happened on August 8—the day when we’ve exhausted the planet’s resources for the year, and are essentially borrowing from future years to maintain our existence today.Perhaps you celebrated this day with a counter-solution: a vegetarian meal, telecommuted, or turned off the air conditioning. There’s a lot more you could be […] Read More

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Climate Change & the End of Stationarity

Just as predicting the rise of Donald Trump as a leading presidential candidate stumped even the best of political analysts (looking at you Nate “FiveThirtyEight” Silver), the advent of the Sixth Great Extinction due to climate change and an increasingly potent mix of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has completely upended how we predict the […] Read More

Use Simple Games to Better Understand Climate Change

How is it that emissions keep growing despite rising concern about the climate change they cause? It is possible to identify several reasons for the paradox, most of which lie outside the scope of The Climate Change Playbook. But one important reason is relevant here: people do not understand the behaviors of the climate system.And […] Read More
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