Evolution to Cooperation: Life Experiences Lead to Enlightened Economic Views

The Solidarity Community and Triple Bottom Line Business Practices

Summarized by Kevin Zeese

These presentations on the Evolution to Cooperation session focus on two perspectives on the economy: The Solidarity Community and the Triple Bottom Line for business.  The presentations were part of the economic track of the Democracy Convention and were held on August 26, 2011.  The presenters were Jim Tarbell and Paul Linzmeyer whose biographies and contact information are at the bottom of this summary.

Jim Tarbell grew up in the suburbs of Portland, OR in the 1950s.  They were not allowed to raise chickens or grow corn in the suburbs; instead, everyone had the same grass lawns.  Food came from the supermarket down the street not from the yard.  Who knew where the food really came from – how far away did that vegetable travel to get to that store shelf?

Jim graduated and moved to Washington, DC to go to American University where he got a degree in economics.  They did not talk about maximization of profits but of happiness.  This started to get him thinking in a whole different way.  During the Vietnam War, Jim was conscientious objector and went to Ecuador with the Peace Corps.  He lived in villages that were very geographically diverse.  Jim attended indigenous parties where people would build houses, drink local fermented corn juice, work together and build from the Earth.

After Ecuador he came back to DC and worked on Capitol Hill for four years where he felt a disconnect.  His brother called and asked if he wanted to build a log cabin in Northern California – it was a great reason to leave Washington, DC.  He went 156 miles north of San Francisco and got into the back to the land movement, built houses without permits and helped organize a food co-op.  Things changed when Ronald Reagan came to power.  Jim moved to another town and started Ridge Review Magazine which examined local industry in town and discovered that 80% of the land was owned by corporate timber companies from out of the area.

Jim lived in Mendocino County, about 10 years ago when the localization movement was getting started. He became very involved in moving from the extraction economy to the restoration economy.  He went to the US Social Forum in Atlanta in 2007. The Center for Popular Economics had a series of workshops on local economics called the Solidarity Economy. The Solidary Economy is an economy that eschews greed, envy and competition in favor of cooperation, democracy and generosity. It is all around us, thriving in a lot of the world.  In Latin America it is thriving, especially in Ecuador.  The alternative economy already exists, we can see it in co-ops, non-profits, health centers – they share an ethic of the economics of happiness.  The Solidarity Economy seeks to recognize them, and bring them together to support each other.  Quebec maybe the furthest advanced where now banks, unions, government support it.  By standing together, they showed politicians that their economy was a strong part of the economy, one that withstood economic collapse, and that it was deserving of support.  The Solidarity Economy network are the termites within the house of capitalism; eating away from the inside.

Paul Linzmeyer has been a businessman in San Francisco, Chicago, Denver and currently in Green Bay. He believes that growth as an economic indicator should mean not only profit and production but growth of innovation and creativity. Paul is an advocate of the triple bottom line – people, profits and planet – where they overlap is the sweet spot where corporate and societal interests intersect.


Paul was diagnosed with cancer and a couple of good things came out it.  First, he realized he did not have control of the situation.  This is a rare experience for a successful white male in American society. The experience strengthened his belief in what we are talking about today. He believes we can make positive change in all sectors of society, including business.  Paul was part of the generation that ended war, created civil rights but then seemingly stopped.  When he turned 60 Paul realized “I only have 20 years of productive time life and want it to be meaningful.”  Paul now considers himself a “business activist.”

His experience shows business people can be successful with the triple bottom line.  When he was Chair of Green Bay Chamber of Commerce, a conservative group, the organization opposed English-only language legislation and supported diversity as they saw the value of different views and backgrounds that create the richness in our culture, that encourages creativity and innovation. The Chamber also created a Board position for the arts, because the arts are also critical to our success in the economy, as they inspire and spur innovation. He was appointed by three governors to different boards on economic development and was able to bring conservative groups and liberal ones together on areas where they agree, putting aside disagreements.

Paul’s experience shows him that you can have healthy outcomes if you approach things in a sustainable manner, e.g. having dietician in the company, offering a free health clinic, migrating people to healthy lifestyles, supporting farmers markets and monthly food events. These build up the people who work with you.  Around the environment, telecommuting and web-based telephone meetings, lower the carbon food print and increase morale.  From the social side he believed social justice as something important, e.g. immigrants were a major focus.

Paul works with some of the largest corporations in the country in Wisconsin.  He always asks – what is your most important asset?  And, the answer is always the same: “people.”  Then he asks – why do you treat them so poorly?  How many people go to work and turn off?  Large numbers.  How many are truly engaged?  Very few. What if you could turn that around? What if people wanted to go to work?  We can have environments like that but instead we institutionalize people.

He began to make presentations to engage his stakeholders and show them how we can be successful when we focus on the triple bottom line. Paul was asked to present to the Secretary of Commerce in the George W. Bush administration.  As a result Bush appointed him to a task force that gave him a chance to show that not all American business are what is often seen.  Back at home his company was going gangbusters.  People would walk in to his company and there was energy in the air.  He did this not by focusing on competition but by creating a positive work environment for the “people” part of the triple bottom line.

Joseph A. Shumpeter is best known for the idea that capitalism is a process of “creative destruction.” This means break down old paradigms and build new ones. When Paul came to his company in 1994 he looked at everything and tore down the old systems and rebuilt based on unbridled radical thoughts.  Seventeen years later it has lived up to his expectations.

Another important thinker for Paul is Peter Drucker who believes the essential purpose of management in the knowledge society is to encourage systematic organizational innovation; Paul sees a need for a system of change model that requires equal collaboration of business, government and NGO’s.  Business often looks at government and NGO’s in disrespectful way.  This is unhealthy.  Business needs to see the value of working together. Collaboration is the secret to Paul’s success. Paul is currently working on a project that follows Peter Drucker’s model perfectly.  It will bring social, environmental and economic justice to the forefront.  Below is a short synopsis.

“This is a massive collaborative effort to clean up the Fox River and Bay of Green Bay Watershed to make the Bay swimmable and thus become part of the Great Lakes coastline which will help enhance our communities economic, social and environmental health.  To accomplish this, we need to use best practices to reduce nonpoint source pollution from Agriculture, municipalities, and industry for the reduction of sediment including phosphorous.  We have applied for grants and got the business and farm community’s full support.  This work is being coordinated by NEW Wilderness Alliance and is building on close to 40 years of environmental research and monitoring, current GIS mapping of hotspots, and the communities emotional, historic, and cultural ties to the water.

“We would create experiential demonstrations sites (in-land ponds with natural filtration, computerized kiosks at public sites like libraries, museums and schools) around the Fox River and the Bay to have residents learn and participate as citizen scientists in the progress of the cleanup project.  This project would enhance land values and offer us options to not only swim in the Bay but also move coal piles and underused or abandoned factories.  The River and the Bay would become an attractive drawing point for people and would revitalize downtown.  Single family ownership would increase and we could create an opportunity to integrate all socio economic classes in mixed use housing (rather than just shifting them to another area).”

Also critical to his understanding was Russel Ackoff of the Wharton School of Business, who wrote Creating Corporate Future.  One thing he points out that profit for a corporation is like oxygen for a body, but is it not your reason for being. We do not live to breathe oxygen, we live to live life.  Corporations today mistakenly think profit is the reason for being and lose track of real purpose of their business.

Both of these enlightened thinkers on the economy have evolved to very much the same place because of their life experiences.  There is synergy in their thinking about the triple bottom line and the solidarity community.  Both put people and the planet at the center of a successful economy.

For more information:

Justice Rising Issue on Solidarity Economy

U.S. Solidarity Economy Network

Center for Popular Economics

International Forum on the Social and Solidarity economy

Sustainable Business Strategies

Triple Pundit: People, Profit, Planet

Jim Tarbell has researched, written about and been active in developing local economies for 30 years. He co-edited and published Ridge Review Magazine, a bio-regional journal in Northern California, for fifteen years. He co-founded and hosted the radio program Corporations and Democracy, and has written two books on globalization and the American Empire. He is now editor of the publication Justice Rising: Grassroots Solutions to Corporate Rule, which recently published an edition on Building an Economy for People and Nature. He is also an associate of the Noyo Headlands Unified Design Group where he is part of an effort to move the economy in Northern California from “the extraction economy to the restoration economy.” Contact: rtp@mcn.org

Paul Linzmeyer is a Green Bay, WI businessman and champion of economic development through sustainable energy. He has been described as a “business activist.”  He is chairman of Ecolution Inc. and a consultant on sustainability. He is the former president of Bay Towel, Inc.  Linzmeyer established the Employers Workforce Development Network to help other employers expand their work forces. He also serves as chairperson of the Wisconsin Council on Workforce Investment, the Bay Area Workforce Development Board, and the Green Bay Area Chamber of Commerce Diversity Committee. He is a member of the Governor’s Economic Growth Council, the NEW North Board and Executive Committee, and the board of Clean Wisconsin. Linzmeyer was named a Wisconsin Exemplary Employer in 2000 for his work in developing employees and was the 2006 Recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award from the UW-Green Bay. In 2008, Linzmeyer was appointed by the US Department of Commerce to represent the United States in Paris for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development policy meeting. Contact: isointernationalllc@gmail.com

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