Monday, July 8, 2013

The Human Factor

What does it mean to be a sustainable business? If you look at how a lot of companies and groups portray themselves, something's missing.
  • Your Silver LEED building is impressive and beautiful. The rainwater catchment and onsite composting are nice touches. But oh, you forgot to get health insurance for your employees.
  • The coffees you sell are delicious, organic and shade grown -- but it's not fair trade. And you use biodegradable sporks -- but your all-part time staff don't get any benefits and have to get health care paid by Medicaid, as if they are working at Walmart and not a self-styled 'sustainable' business.
What these (actual) example companies miss is the reality that they aren't truly sustainable if their workers are treated as disposable resources.

Having sick employees rely on the ER is the moral equivalent of midnight dumping. Taxpayers foot the bill to clean up the private sector's profit-incentivized mess. These are clear examples of how health care is really a public good, and ought to be paid for and distributed that way.

Thank god for Obamacare, even though it's only a small, small step in the right directon.

Even nonprofit organizations can be part of the problem they're trying to alleviate. For instance, I am familiar with a major, respected human services agency that requires its staff to pay into a 401K plan.

It makes sense as a way to improve personal, long term financial sustainability (ignoring that a 401K is also a good way to expose your retirement savings to Wall Street greedheads).

But it turns out this organization pays staff salaries that are below average,* and health plan premiums are $ky-high if your doctor doesn't work at the preferred HMO.

In a high cost of living place like Seattle, this nonprofit's personnel policy means employees -- after all the payroll deductions -- face the real possibility of losing money every month.

In a way, the agency makes its employees part of the at-risk population they serve. Not good for staff recruitment -- and not really sustainable.

Update 1
Another example: 'Green' Vancouver developer tickets employee for 'unprofessional' all-day use of bike rack

* Management, naturally, earn generous salaries. It's as if they don't realize anyone can look up 990 tax returns on the internet.

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