Living Enterprises for Living Economies

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There are numerous enterprise forms that link the interests of the enterprise to the interests of the people, communities, and natural systems of the places where it does business.  We call them living enterprises because they have living owners and relate to the living communities in which they operate in ways similar to the relationship of a healthy living cell to the healthy living body it both serves and would not exist without. At their best, living enterprises work in harmony with natural systems, support vibrant community life, provide meaningful living-wage jobs, treat profit as a means rather than an end, and cooperate with like-minded businesses to create community wealth for all stakeholders.

A living enterprise functions as a community of people making a living, not a pool of money seeking to reproduce itself. It is built on human relationships and maintains itself at a human-scale — preferably less than a hundred employees and rarely more than 500 — because to grow larger would be to lose its human quality. It is owned by engaged stakeholders — workers, community members, customers and suppliers — who have a personal involvement in its operation and a living interest in both the healthy function of the enterprise and of the community in which it is located. 

These owners invest themselves as well as their money in the enterprise and expect that in addition to a modest financial return they will also receive a living return in the form of a healthy and prosperous community and a vibrant natural environment. Financial viability — including a fair return on financial investment — is essential to any for-profit enterprise, but a fair return is not the same as maximum return. Furthermore, the living enterprise seeks a fair and balanced return to all its stakeholders --- including safe, meaningful, family wage jobs for its employees, good service and useful, safe, quality products for its customers, and a healthy social and natural environment for the community in which it is located.

The guiding question for those who lead a living enterprise is not "What action will create the biggest boost in our stock price this quarter?" but rather "How can we best contribute to creating community wealth in a way consistent with financial viability and a fair return on financial investment?"