Water utilities were created to maintain a vital, life-sustaining resource. Achieving this ideal has become increasingly difficult as the industry struggles to grow despite mounting challenges to sustainability, including droughts, climate change, aging infrastructure and the forthcoming retirement of baby boomers.
At the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority (RWA), we accept what we can’t control and are committed to focusing on what we can influence by looking inward and elevating our internal cultural values. Our nonprofit corporation has adopted the philosophies of Conscious Capitalism, which have allowed us to grow and become stronger. This philosophy recognizes the potential of a business to make a positive impact on the world.
Pursuant to the Conscious Capitalism philosophy, a business closely examines its motivations and identifies its unique “why” in the form of a higher purpose – a reason for being that motivates stakeholders beyond dollars and cents as well as inherently reinforces sustainability (economically, culturally and environmentally) across the organization and amid market shifts. Conscious Capitalism isn’t a business strategy; it’s a core philosophy that resonates throughout an organization to create a culture of aligned purpose.
According to the philosophy, business is inherently good because it creates value; it is ethical because it is based on voluntary exchange; it is noble because it can elevate our existence; and it is heroic because it lifts people out of poverty and creates prosperity.
The benefits of Conscious Capitalism are quantifiable. According to the book Firms of Endearment: How World Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose, recent research covering a 10-year period showed that by enhancing the four principles of Conscious Capitalism outlined in the following paragraph, companies not only improved their cultures but are outperforming their peers 14-1. It’s a simple concept: If a company does good, has good products and the employees love to do their jobs, the market will react positively.
The four principles of Conscious Capitalism involve the “who,” “what,” “why,” and “how” of a conscious business:
- Who – encouraging conscious leadership focused on the “we” rather than the “me”
- What – cultivating positive stakeholder orientation across the interconnected web of business relationships
- Why – identifying and working toward a unifying higher purpose
- How – maintaining a sustainable, conscious culture that outperforms the competition
At the RWA, we’re motivated by great companies such as REI, the Container Store, Key Bank and Southwest Airlines, all of which successfully apply the principles of Conscious Capitalism. These businesses consistently outperform their competitors by motivating staff and focusing on operational sustainability rather than squeezing employees and suppliers.
For our organization, maintaining leadership and cultural commitment to the sustainable practices of Conscious Capitalism has been a natural evolution. Our stakeholders consistently have their efforts validated through ongoing quantitative results, which include the following:
- Improved operating efficiency and reduced expenses and debt service, securing a savings of approximately $18 million, which mitigated rate increases for our customers by about 16 percent.
- Replenished our discretionary capital reserves by 2.6 times since 2009, improving our financial strength and ability to realize our higher purpose to make life better for people by delivering water for life and our commitment to elevating the community.
- Expanded RWA Laboratory Services, which performs more than 100,000 tests annually to ensure the RWA’s and other utilities’ water quality meets or is better than state and federal standards.
- Invested millions of dollars annually to improve and maintain the RWA water system to protect our water quality and achieve reliable service. Our record of main breaks is one of the lowest in the industry at four breaks per 100 miles per year.
- Received industry recognition of our accomplishments and commitment to a higher purpose with two important awards. In 2015, the RWA received the Utility of the Year Award from the New England Water Works Association and the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies’ Platinum Award for Utility Excellence.
With ongoing quantitative and qualitative successes, it’s time to share our best practices with other businesses in our community, which is why we have formed the first Conscious Capitalism chapter in Connecticut. Conscious Capitalism Connecticut is a non-profit organization founded in 2016 and dedicated to collaborating with local thought leaders and other chapters to offer engaging discussions and events, share ideas and promote the ideas of Conscious Capitalism and best practices for implementing them. For information, or to join, go to www.connecticut.consciouscapitalism.org.
Larry L. Bingaman is President & CEO of the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority and Chairman of Conscious Capitalism Connecticut.