Should Sustainability principles be applied to embracing the Commons and how can that be applied to the Financial Service Industry? First, we need to provide clarity to Sustainability principles, second, elaborate on ”The Tragedy of the Commons”, and last, examine how we can apply those lessons of ”The Tragedy of the Commons” to the Financial Service Industry. What does that have to do with Sustainability and what are the implications to the Financial Service Industry?
Basic principles for sustainability can be drawn from six leadership principles: awareness, optimization, differentiation, strategies, talent and transparency. Each area revitalizes your organization, promotes integrity and institutionalizes sustainability as a key foundation for your corporate philosophy, as well as, promoting smart decision-making processes for survivability.
• Awareness: Learning how to adopt Sustainability principles to produce a corporation’s awareness of resource consumption like carbon, water, and electricity in order to run their businesses in compliance with existing regulations.
• Optimization: Organizations often use this increased awareness to optimize their processes, compelled by financial benefits through cost savings and increased productivity.
• Differentiation: Companies often leverage Sustainability principles to differentiate their products and services to the market. Companies often acknowledge sustainable features or components in their products and services.
• Strategies: Creating an isolated sustainability strategy will promote failure. Sustainability strategies must be woven into overall corporate strategies, like quality management strategies, to reap true tangible benefits.
• Talent: Brand image promotes adoption of Sustainability principles, which in turn, often attracts higher-quality talent that aligns to prospective personnel values, as well.
• Transparency: Build brand value through setting, keeping, and communicating sustainability promises to all stakeholders, including customers. Integrity based communication, incentives, and visible commitment to Sustainability and Quality will be your linchpins to address stakeholder and shareholder requests, and a push for cost reductions through greater efficiency.
Adopting sustainability principles should be integrated into all leadership roles throughout the enterprise. Whether looking from a sustainability view, which monitors external influences on the organization, or managing internal performance, which monitors internal variation and waste, organizational leadership can correlate internal and external influences from major functional organizations and capture tangible benefits from Sustainability and Quality methodologies.
”The Tragedy of the Commons”, was first published in the journal science in 1968, by an American ecologist by the name of Garret Hardin. The tragedy of the commons is a metaphor of avoiding over-exploitation of common resources.The tragedy of the commons portrays a scenario in which multiple individuals, when acting independently and in their own self interests, can unwittingly deplete a shared resource, even when it is not in anyone’s long-term interest.
Years later, this model was labeled ”Hardin’s Commons Theory”, and was frequently cited to support arguments for sustainable development, fusing economic growth with environmental protection, and effects on numerous current issues (i.e., global warming). The example is based on the hypothetical situation based in medieval Europe. The herders of the community share a common parcel of land and are able to graze their livestock. It is in the herders best interest to acquire more cows, to increase their personal wealth. Overgrazing the Commons produces an environmental impact on the Commons. Damages are shared by the entire group, and without addressing the problem, the Commons could be depleted, destroyed or made useless to all herders.
This metaphor illustrates the argument that free access and unrestricted demand for a finite resource ultimately reduces that resource through over exploitation, either temporarily or permanently. This is because the benefits of exploitation to individuals or groups are motivated to maximize the use of the resource, while the costs are borne by all those who use resource. The depletion of the resource is based on three primary factors:
• Number of cows that consume resources,
• Consumption rate of their usage, and
• Relative robustness and regeneration of the Common’s environs.
From the article, there were a number of different lessons to be learned in the scenario, but one of the most important were the recognition of strategic factors in the Commons dilemma. An often studied strategic factor is the timing of the usage of the resource. In this scenario, all the herders used the commons in a random order. The first herders were identified as leaders and they felt entitled to take more than their share. The next group, called followers, interpreted the behavior of the first players who felt more entitled and took more. In sequential play, individuals didn’t adopt a first come first serve rule. Another strategic factor is the ability to enhance reputations. Research found that people take less from a common pool in public situations than in anonymous private situations. Last, the most significant strategy is recognizing sharing of the limited resource to meet the needs of all, not just the individual.
Other examples of Commons:
• Commercial fishing in international waters that do not accept stewardship rather leans on a mindset that believes no one will know who over-exploited the fish population
• Taxation where everyone would be better off if all paid their fair share, there is an opposing view to an incentive to cheat when working around the “system”
• Pollution of atmosphere and oceans, the owners rely on “proving” their responsibility and adhere to global warming concerns
• Internal accounting systems that subsume a large percentage of the funds into overhead and do not reflect successful accountability, nor reflect actual tangible benefits from transformation
• Forests that are harvested only to be replaced by single specie tree replacement or other plants that do no augment soil erosion, soil nutrients or other environmental needs
• Internet “boundaries” that are not ubiquitous in terms of privacy safeguards, financial security of accounts, personal identity theft, acquisition of individual data that formerly was considered “private or personal” and other hacking activities and threats
Sustainability in the Financial Service Industry?
So, what does that have to do with Sustainability and what are the implications to the Financial Service Industry?According to a recent Gallup poll: “Americans continue to express low levels of satisfaction with the way things are going in the United States, rivaling the lowest Gallup has measured in the past 30+ years. That dissatisfaction probably reflects Americans’ economic anguish, and the prospects for considerable improvement in satisfaction are not great unless the economy improves significantly.”
That poll reflects that most Americans are concerned about the U.S. economy in general, unemployment or loss of jobs, and dissatisfaction with government and politicians. These three issues are most probably key variables in public opinions and measuring customer satisfaction. In the post Great Recession period, brand-name of financial corporations, and in particular, the reputation and trust of the Financial Service Industry are at historic lows.
Currently, financial organizations are aware of their competition in the marketplace, both domestically and internationally. However, sustainability principles recognize that any market (e.g., “common”) is a limited resource that must managed in a “sustainable” way for long-term usage. Many corporations learn how to adopt sustainability principles to improve their products, services, brand image and re-establish trust and integrity. The Financial Service Industry would be wise to learn from their successes.
The Financial Service institutions, likewise, will need to recognize transparency as a tool for integrity building. Financial leadership must recognize and be compliant in existing laws and regulations, improve relationships with customers, acknowledge their unique stewardship role in the economy, and ensure pragmatic policies to current survival needs without jeopardizing those needs of future generations.
Financial institutions are adept to optimizing their products, processes, and services, but not in terms of a sustainability framework. Currently, financial emphasis is often placed only on profitability through market growth, acquisitions, new products or services, cost savings and increased performance. However, accountability of maintaing a “healthy” marketplace is lost in today’s financial practices.
Differentiation is a key incentive for most corporations who elect to implement Sustainability. Sustainability, based on committed stewardship, reflects executive leadership’s dedication to eliminating waste and over exploitation of resources. Strategies affecting brand image or often successful and appeal public environmental concerns. Sustainability principles are a pathway for the Financial Service Industry to recapture integrity and build trust. Those institutions that choose to succeed, will reap benefits based on market and product differentiation.
In many cases, strategies for financial institutions may continue to loan monies to corporations for sustainability improvement, but those institutions are neither seen as leaders in sustainability, nor practice the strategies and policies to promote sustainability. It is ironic that their customers have demonstrated that sustainability strategies indeed work, but Financial Services are reluctant to adopt their customer’s approach to a triple bottom line. Sustainable corporate strategies embrace the concept of planet, people, and profit. But at this time, financial institutions are not proactively involved in sustainability, nor reap its benefits.
As in many other industries, the Financial Service Industry will benefit by attracting new talent oriented to sustainability. However, that industry must recognize the benefits of change and translate those benefits into tangible assets. New talent, based on shared interests of sustainability practices and philosophy, could open new products and services for those institutions and extend current markets and create new ones. New “blood” in an organization has the potential to expand services through creative alternatives seen through the lens of stewardship.
Transparency is needed to align the banks back to their community. Traditional leadership roles for the financial institution have not promoted customer loyalty, nor has it addressed issues generated by other stakeholders and shareholders. In a Sustainability Transformation, financial leadership will be obliged to address transparency and embrace that idea when founded on corporate integrity, driven by strong leadership ethos. Rebuilding trust in the public’s opinion, through transparency, will be a major critical success factor for the Financial Service Industry.
The effort to rebuild trust must begin with bank leadership, then flow through a bank’s employees to customers, the public, lawmakers, and regulators. Every interaction matters. If bank leaders and employees do not demonstrate that they trust their own bank, other stakeholders never will. Because the process of rebuilding trust with the public starts with the bank. Gallup recommends that bank leaders make rebuilding employees’ trust in banks their No. 1 priority. That involves taking these essential steps:
• Involve managers and employees in the process of reviewing, recasting, and restating the mission and purpose of the organization.
• Start with the top 100 managers and cascade the new mission down to the front lines.
• Align managers on your bank’s brand promise and the points of difference between your bank and your competitors.
• Create metrics to map trust and brand message alignment with key constituencies, including leaders, employees, customers, and regulators.
Historically, the Financial Service Industry has been regulated through government acts, and financial penalties to ensure market stability, avoid misuse of funds, insure protection for individual accounts and regulate behavior in the financial sector. The Commons, in this scenario, is regulated by legislative authority that also institutionalized punitive damages for encroachment. So, the Commons has historically has used these alternative types of control:
• Government Regulation: This is obviously a common solution, but one business frequently try to avoid, as perceived as punitive, instead industries often seek “self-regulation”. This is especially true of the Financial Service Industry.
• Financial Penalties: Penalties such as fines are also potential solutions, but enforcement is often costly and inefficient. The usual approach is to penalize polluters, rather than the whole industry. In this case, polluters are persons or institutions who willingly manipulate or over-exploit markets (whether by sub-prime lending practices, derivatives, real-estate investment, canceling important audit information, manipulating regulatory agencies, robo foreclosures, limiting loans for small businesses, etc.).
Other forms of laws and regulation changes precipitated the Great Recession. Previous U.S. legislation (i.e., Glass–Steagall Act of 1933) segregated industry services in the 1930s, only later to be repealed by the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act (a.k.a., Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999). Some of the barriers removed affected the market among banking companies, securities companies and insurance companies that prohibited any one institution from acting as any combination of an investment bank, a commercial bank, and an insurance company.
The Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act implements financial regulatory, passed as a response to the Great Recession, and brought the most significant changes to financial regulation in the United States since the regulatory reform that followed the Great Depression. Dodd-Frank represents a significant change in the American financial regulatory environment affecting all Federal financial regulatory agencies and almost every aspect of the nation’s financial services industry. Financial Service Industry leaders continue to balk at these regulations, although banks continue to make billions of dollars in profits.
What are some other possible solutions of the commons in the Financial Service Industry? Historic solutions are not the only alternatives. Other modern solutions include a variety of examples utilized by other industries and briefly describe their respective effectiveness:
• Collaboration: In this solution the users of the commons recognize that they are independent and work collectively to manage the Commons in a “healthy manner”. This solution promotes continuous innovation and that element may be one of the driving forces of continued self-regulation and success.
• Financial Incentives or Subsidies: This is the opposite of penalties. However, some critics claim businesses should not be paid “to do the right thing”. In today’s clime, this approach may not politically justified nor a serious option given rising governmental indebtedness and distrust in the Financial Service Industry.
• Technological Solutions: Technology is often part of a solution to the commons, they rarely eliminate the entire problem altogether and could be considered as another factor to bind the solution together.
The Financial Commons has had recessions, panics and depressions for centuries and consequently fosters instability and commercial risk that is a current threat and threatens the future. Today, we live in an integrated global economy where one national downturn impacts and affects other connected economies. We are no longer insulated by geography. Information flow is instantaneous over the internet. At issue is how to transform wasteful self interests into recognizing broader needs for long-term sustainability. We must have a viable Financial Commons for our current needs without sacrificing resources for future generations.
Don Tapscott, who was recently honored and ranked 9th in the Thinkers50 2011 awards, summarized the current financial debacle; “Companies need to act with integrity — not just to secure a healthy business environment, but for their own sustainability and competitive advantage. Increasingly, firms that exhibit ethical values and candor have discovered that they can build trust with customers, employees, shareholders and business partners. This makes them more competitive and profitable. … If Wall Street does not adopt these three principles (Integrity, Transparency, and Embracing the Commons) and change its core modus operandi, it risks having its license revoked.”
 M. Jones, Jeffrey; U.S. Satisfaction in 2011 Ranks as Second Lowest Since 1979, December 22, 2011, http://www.gallup.com/poll/151700/Satisfaction-2011-Ranks-Second-Lowest-1979.aspx, Retrieved: 2 January 2012
 Wood, John and Berg, Paul; Rebuilding Trust in Banks, Gallup Managment Journal, August 2011, Retrieved: 02 January 2012
 Tapscott, Don ; “Three Principles for a New Wall Street”, Reuters.com, Posted: 10/20/11, Additional note: Don Tapscott was recently honored and ranked 9th in the Thinkers50 2011 awards, the definitive global ranking of management thinkers.