Today’s guest is Mark Lefko the author of Global Sustainability: 21 Leading CEO’s Show How to Do Well by Doing Good.

In today’s episode, we’re going to be talking about global sustainability and the values you need in your business to get there.  We’re going to learn how you as a business owner, can have a great deal of influence on how you’re seen and why you might want to learn what a triple bottom line is and how it can be applied to your business.

Some of the things we’re going to learn today are:

  • What a triple bottom line company is and why you need to care about this.
  • How becoming a socially responsible company can help with recruiting Millenials to come to work for you.
  • How Unilever is becoming a leader in triple bottom line thought and leadership as a large multi-national company.
  • What a Benefit Corporation is and why you might want to consider becoming one in your business.
  • How building a sustainable company starts with defining and understanding what your values are.
  • And, lots more……..


Narrator:         Welcome to The Sustainable Business Radio Show podcast where you’ll learn not only how to create a sustainable business but you’ll also learn the secrets of creating extraordinary value within your business and your life. In The Sustainable Business, we focus on what it’s going to take for you to take your successful business and make it economically and personally successful.

Your host, Josh Patrick, is going to help us through finding great thought leaders as well as providing insights he’s learned through his 40 years of owning, running, planning and thinking about what it takes to make a successful business sustainable.

Josh:                Hey, how are you today? This is Josh Patrick and you’re at The Sustainable Business.

Today, we have kind of a really interesting treat. I’m really looking forward to this conversation. We have Mark Lefko with us. Mark is the author of Global Sustainability: 21 Leading CEOs Show How to Do Well by Doing Good. One of my more interesting things to say – why don’t we let Mark introduce himself? So, we’ll bring Mark in.

Hey, Mark. How are you today?

Mark:              I’m doing great, Josh. Thanks for the opportunity.

Josh:                So, tell us a little about yourself.

Mark:              Well, I’ve been in business for over 40 years. I started off in Arthur Anderson in public accounting. I ran a large company. I was an investment banker for ten years. And then I’ve led many roundtables with CEOs of companies and Chairmen and think tanks, and served on a number of boards. And I’ve taken that experience and really began to apply it to my passion which is global sustainability.

Josh:                So, when you say global sustainability, what do you mean by that?

Mark:              Well, to me, sustainability is that everyone on this planet Earth has the resources and the environment to not only survive but to thrive – now and into the future. And by that, I mean, we have to be addressing issues like ending extreme poverty, fighting inequality and injustice, and then dealing with the climate change and the environmental issues.

Josh:                How does that sort of affect business? I mean, you know, that’s all good stuff to do but don’t we often think that government does those things and business does other stuff?

Mark:              This is a tremendous platform to really begin to address some of these key sustainability issues that exist today. Government has limited resources. It’s constrained. And in many cases, government does not have the ability to get things done. They’re tied up. They’re stuck in bureaucratic red tape, whereas business has a real can-do attitude.

But what’s really important and motivating and inspiring business is the profit component. And so, I really believe that a big part of the key to sustainability is businesses focusing on the triple bottom line which is dealing with the profit – the importance of profit but not ignoring the people and planet at the same time.

Josh:                That makes a lot of sense to me. In fact, I would say it probably makes a huge amount of sense if you happen to be trying to trying to attract millennials to your workforce. Would you say that’s true or not true or—?

Mark:              No, I agree. That’s really been proven.

You know, the millennials are really focused on purpose. They want to do good things in the world. They’re inspired by that. They do it a little different way.

And in some cases, businesses get frustrated with millennials because they have different values and they don’t really understand what drives them. But the millennials are the key to our future.

And, in writing the book, I really wanted to provide some examples of how big companies – really, leading companies, in the sustainability space are doing things that are really contributing to the greater good and at the same time they’re doing well by doing that.

Josh:                So, can you give us a couple of examples of who they might be and what they’re doing?

Mark:              Boy, there are so many fantastic examples.

I’ve had the good fortune – I’d say one of the most exciting interviews for me was with the CEO of Unilever which is a global multinational company with over 200,000 employees, based in London. I interviewed Paul Polman. They operate in 190 countries. They’re really focused on bringing sustainability in every aspect to the world.

And then I had opportunities to – I interviewed Richard Branson. You know, this was also very interesting and him talking about how he wants to see his airlines be carbon neutral by 2025.

I interviewed Ann Sherry who is the CEO of Carnival Australia who was talking about how Carnival is focusing on bringing some of the islanders in the Pacific Islands out of poverty and creating collaborations where they bring their cruisers to the islands and they build infrastructure and so forth – very inspiring; to Tom Szaky, the CEO of Teracycle, who focuses on recycling the unrecyclable items and collaborates with countries all around the world. How do you recycle cigarette butts? How do you recycle magic markers and pens? Just so many inspiring companies.

Josh:                I assume you know that Unilever owns Ben & Jerry’s?

Mark:              Yes, I do.

In fact, when I was with Paul Polman, in London, we were talking about Ben & Jerry’s and how Ben & Jerry’s is a B Corp and the founders of Ben & Jerry’s were encouraging Unilever to adopt the B Corp legal form in a number of their other subsidiaries and Paul was exploring that at the time.

Josh:                Really? Is he still exploring that?

Mark:              I think he is exploring it. There are some complexities with the global nature of their business but he is very supportive of Ben & Jerry’s. Paul is very open minded in ways to address all the issues, the sustainable development goals and all of the sustainability issues around the world.

Josh:                So, I’m going to bet some people here don’t know what a B Corp is, who are listening today. So, could you give us a short explanation of what a Benefit Corporation is?

Mark:              B Corp is a legal form that’s adopted. It’s not in every State in the United States but it has a list of very stringent requirements. Someone who’s exploring the B Corp as a legal form would be an organization whose values really support the people, their communities and the environment.

And the B Corp structure has an assessment tool – an assessment form that’s an online—I believe it’s about 150 questions, where a corporation would go through or a business would go through.

It could be even a small business. It could be a sole proprietorship that’s interested in this form. And they go online. They take this assessment and they have quite an extensive interview process. And once they are approved, they have a certain commitment to continue to report on how they are supporting their people, the communities and the environment.

Josh:                By the way, if you’re a small business, it’s not 150 questions. That’s a business with some employees. If you’re a solo or just a couple of people, it’s way easier to get through the analysis form than going through 150.

I actually have a friend who became a B Corp because they wanted to have a way that was easily and cost effective for them to certify they were doing the right thing. They happen to be King Arthur Flour. There are lots of reasons that people use B Corps along the way.

So, we want to talk a bit about values there for a second and I know that you’re a big values guy. So, why do you think values are so important in a business?

Mark:              Values are really the guiding principle that bring focus and communicate the intention of the business. I think it’s a key sustainability leadership practice is to start by defining your values and your guiding principles. That’s going to really be the way in which you make decisions about business ventures you’re going to be involved in. You’re going to make decisions about who you’re going to hire. You’re going to bring your team together because if you’re clear on those values and principles, it creates that purpose.

You know, we talked about the millennials, Josh. Millenials are very focused on being aligned with companies whose values they share and who are focused on purpose and are focused on doing good things in the world. So, if you’re clear on those values, and if you know those values, and you own those values, and you live those values, it really propels your organization in an easy and flowing way – in a successful way, in my experience.

Josh:                So, when you take values and you make them explicit in your company, what’s the biggest advantage that comes from that?

Mark:              What’s really important is there’s a couple of ways people approach values. They look at it as, “Okay, we’re going to create our mission and a vision in our values, and then we’re going to check the box, and we’re not going to do anything further with those.”

In my view, where the values have the biggest impact and those guiding principles have the biggest impact is in how you apply those, what those words mean, how you drive them into your organization and how they’re reflected out into the world. So, when I say identifying those values, it means, at the same time, bringing your team together and it will ignite the enthusiasm and the passion of the team but it’s also how you continue to reinforce them and make sure that they live a life within the organization.

Josh:                So, here’s been my experience with this, every time I get somebody to actually really pay attention to their personal values, move them into their corporate values, and actually make values a real part of what their company is, they often lose a few people in their company. What would you say to somebody who says, “Well, I’m not sure I want to lose anybody.”

Mark:              Well, I think it’s just a matter of time, Josh. I see companies and I coach and I mentor many, many CEOs over the years, and what I find is, many times, they are very attracted to an individual because of the skills that they can bring to the organization. And at the same time, they skip the step of trying to understand what that individual’s personal values are. And if the personal values are not aligned with the corporate values, it’s really just going to be a matter of time before that employee is going to do something that’s going to be in such violation of the company’s values that they’re going to be terminated. And then you have to start the process all over again.

So, if you think about it, if you’re really clear on your values, it’s very efficient. It takes all the angst out of deciding, “Do we enter into this transaction? Do we buy this company? Do we sell this company? Do we work with this supplier? Or even work with this customer or not?” And if they’re in alignment with our values, that’s the go sign. If they’re not, it’s easy to say, “Okay, we’re not going to work with you.” And sometimes it’s hard to walk away from business with transactions. But at the end of the day, it’s going to save you a lot of heartache and a lot of costs along the way.

It’s the same thing with employees, if you hire someone whose personal values are not aligned with your company values, it’s just going to be a matter of time, in my experience, before it breaks down and you’re back to the search again.

Josh:                That’s my experience also with that is that when you hire somebody, I kind of believe that if you’re not starting with values first, you’re guaranteed to have a bad fire – unless you’re lucky.

Mark:              Yes.

And, you know, some of your listeners, Josh, may be wondering, “So, how do I get really clear on what my values are?” And I’ve actually written an e-book on the topic of unlocking the power of your team using principles and values. And I make it available at no charge because I have such a passion for the subject.

And so, you can go to one of my websites. You can either go to or you can go to And maybe, Josh, if you can post that on your website afterwards – those couple of links.

But if you go there, in this e-book, there will be a checklist called the Cheat Sheet. And the Cheat Sheet has a list of maybe 150 different values that are possibilities, to kind of prompt your thinking while you’re trying to explore and examine what might be our company values. And it takes you through a process that you can take your team through. It’s what I would do for a team to facilitate but it’s really a how-to book that you can use to take your own team through this exercise, and then how you drive those values into the organization. So, it’s just one possible tool that I invite you to consider when you’re trying to get clear on these values.

Josh:                So, there are 120 values on your list, how many values should a company have maximum?

Mark:              I think, no more than five to seven values. People try and overdo it. I think it’s really important to go through it. And this e-book will take you through the process of how you distill down to those five to seven key values.

But it goes beyond just the words. The Cheat Sheet has words but those words can mean different things to different people. If you talk about teamwork or if you talk about customer service, those words can mean different things to different teams so it’s really important to define what you mean by those.

Josh:                It’s not “can”. They will mean different things different to different people.

Mark:              Exactly, exactly. You need to have the conversation about that.

Josh:                Not just writing the values down but also having the clarifying statement around each of those values would be really important also, I’m going to assume.

Mark:              Exactly right. Exactly right, Josh.

Josh:                I mean, that’s what we make our folks do when we do this exercise also. We actually have a very good values instrument that we put people through, who want to go down the values road. And by the way, you have to go down values because all companies have values whether they’re stated or not stated.

Mark:              Well, on those values, you can form what your culture is. It’s the same thing. Every company has a culture and those values define that culture.

Josh:                So, there’s a guy named Patrick Lencioni, who I’m assuming you’ve heard of before, the well-known author. And one of the things he writes about in his book, The Advantage, is about four different types of values. And the two types of values that I just want to spend a little bit of time talking about is what I call core values — or he calls core values and aspirational values. Is it okay to have, as one of your values for the company, an aspirational value? Something that’s not really a core value yet but you’re committed to making it a core value?

Mark:              I believe it absolutely is. Many times, people say “Wow, once we fix our values we can’t change our values.” I mean, I had a client, they went through the values exercise and they picked five or six values. I also facilitate off-site strategic planning retreats. We got together again the next year and they said, “We want to re-visit those values and we’d like to add one more value which is fun. You know, we just decided, we want to have fun at the company” which they named a Queen of Fun. And it’s okay to change your values as you reflect on them and you try them on as an organization grows and evolves.

Josh:                Yeah. My experience is, when you go through this for the first couple of years, you may try different values and say, “Well, that one fits and that one doesn’t fit.” And with the ones that don’t fit, it’s certainly okay to drop it. It’s not like, it sort of fits in with one of my values which is “mistakes are learning experiences.” I think your first values you choose for your company is actually a postulate for what your values should be. It’s not what they are because you haven’t tested them yet.

Mark:              Right.

And you know we’re all evolving and growing. And I think, to your point, we’re all going to make mistakes. We’re going to grow. And as we grow, it’s okay for us to evolve and re-assess where we are.

Josh:                Yeah, absolutely, absolutely.

So, let’s go back to your book a little bit more.

Mark:              I know this is a fun topic because we talk about sustainability and it may seem like this is a little off topic but it’s really not because it all starts with getting really clear on your values. And I think it’s really important to—if you can really take a look at the state of the world — and we can understand that we need to be moving beyond the “me and the I” to with “we and us” for us to be able to continue to be sustainable as a planet.

And as we move to that – to the “we and us”, it’s easy to make that leap to “You know, I want to do good things in the world.” And once you’re at the point of understanding that “I want to do good things—and it starts in my own backyard. And I can be a small company. I don’t have to be a giant Unilever. I could be a small company and I can begin to look at “How can I do good in the world?” and what I’m finding—and this is kind of my tag line is, , you know, “Do well by doing good.” And I really believe that companies can do well by doing good. And it starts by getting clear with that intention.

Josh:                Well, here in Vermont, that is probably the mantra for more businesses than not, I would say.

Mark:              Oh, interesting.

Josh:                Yeah. I actually think the biggest business group in Vermont is the Vermont Business for Social Responsibility Group. I think they’re bigger than the Chamber of Commerce.

Mark:              Ah, fantastic.

Josh:                It’s kind of an interesting State. And we also have a very active B Corp thing. So, business owners sort of think, “Well, we’re all about profit. Forget this sustainability stuff.” What would you say to somebody who says that to you?

Mark:              Well, I’d say, certainly, businesses are all about profit but I think there’s an opportunity to enhance that profit. At the end of the day, I find that people are looking to find meaning and fulfillment in life and happiness in life. And once you satisfy your profit needs. And if you’re on that Maslow’s hierarchy, once you get past the survival and you deal with the profit issues, we begin to feel better as we begin to move up that chain and do well by doing good.

So, my experience is, the companies that are dealing with the profit but also focusing on people and planet find it much more rewarding, enriching in their life experience and their companies begin to thrive because they attract the kind of talent, they attract customers that want to be around people that are positive and doing good things in the world. Particularly today, there’s a lot of support for that type of behavior. So, it’s doing well. It’s doing good for business and it’s good for the world.

Josh:                That certainly makes sense for me.

So, one more question and then we’re going to have to end for the day because we’re just about out of time. But, why did you write your book?

Mark:              You know, I wrote my book because I got very, very inspired by the United Nations when they came out with their global goals. They came out with the Millennial Development Goals about five years ago. And then they came out with the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015. And you can go to and you can see what those sustainable goals are. There are 17 of them and they really break down into the three main categories that I mentioned earlier which is ending extreme poverty, fighting inequality and injustice, and fixing climate change.

And so, I got very inspired by that and I felt – you know, it’s really important for me to engage because I think it’s part of my purpose, as an author and as a speaker to share some of the ideas. I’m a connector and I am fortunate to have a very broad network. And so, having the opportunity to share the stories from leading companies and what they’re doing from a sustainability leadership felt right for me.

And so, that was when I embarked on this project for the book. And it evolved into something amazing. And by talking to these leaders and encouraging them to keep on doing what they’re doing and inspiring other leaders through some of my keynote speaking, it’s been a very satisfying and rewarding experience.

Josh:                Cool.

Unfortunately, Mark, we are out of time and I’m going to bet that there are people listening to this podcast today who would love to learn more information or at least buy your book. So, how would they do both?

Mark:              Well, I think it’s easiest to buy the book. It’s called Global Sustainability. Again, my name is Mark Lefko. Just go to Amazon, that’s the easiest. It’s available on all forms there. And then I have a passion for speaking on the subject and lots of stories, lots of lessons learned which I’m happy to share. I would just suggest the easiest website is That’s kind of a portal for everything that I do.

Josh:                So, it’s L-E-F-K-O?

Mark:              That’s correct.

And then we’ve got a Facebook page – Mark Lefko author/speaker where we have some interesting things on that as well.

Josh:                Cool.

So, Mark, thanks so much for your time today.

I have an offer for you also. I have a one-hour free audio CD. It’s really easy for you to get this. All you’ve got to do is take out your smartphone. Don’t do this if you’re driving, but just take out your smartphone and text the word SUSTAINABLE to 44222. That’s the word SUSTAINABLE to 44222. You’ll get a link and you’ll be able to give us your mailing address. So, we’re going to mail you this free one-hour audio CD course on how to make your business economically and personally sustainable.

Thanks so much. This is Josh Patrick. You’re at the Sustainable Business and I hope to see you back your really soon.

Narrator:         You’ve been listening to The Sustainable Business podcast where we ask the question, “What would it take for your business to still be around 100 years from now?” If you like what you’ve heard and want more information, please contact Josh Patrick at 802‑846‑1264 ext 2, or visit us on our website at, or you can send Josh an e-mail at

Thanks for listening. We hope to see you at The Sustainable Business in the near future.


Topics: sustainability, sustainable business podcast, values, values-led company

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