Don't be such a cynic: Success starts with telling the truth

Hilltribe Organics
Source: Hilltribe Organics

Corporations can be great, or they can be extraordinary.

Companies that provide exceptional value to every part of the chain that they depend on for profitability are extraordinary.

Whole Foods' success is based on the perception of conscious business. The success of organic foods and Fair Trade, of solar and wind power, is based on similar perceptions.

The true story sells.

Consumers are demanding greater accountability from sellers of products and services. Products that sell are those from companies that demonstrate benefit to society and the environment.

It's not too late

Petroleum companies invest in sustainable energy research, but their core activities contradict this perfunctory gesture. Banks support social endeavors and give money to causes. These are not impactful businesses. More and more, the final point of contact with the customer requires evidence of ethically produced products and services. But you can redirect an existing corporation to become a conscious business.

The German retailer Aldi's recent decision to ban the sale of goods using pesticides, synthetic colors and added-MSG, while greatly expanding its proportion of organic products, is an example of a courageous, value-based decision. Undoubtedly, it was a decision reached by the need to meet customer demand and represents a significant challenge to competing retailers. But they could have increased organic offerings without this all-out commitment.

What's the impact from this? It goes all the way back to the environment. A domino effect through its suppliers, an increase in organic farming activity, the reduction of pesticides and chemicals in our soils, and healthier farmers and consumers. And a feel-good workplace for its employees.

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You can start a business with clear values and vision that earns while enhancing the lives of everyone involved in the process of producing the final product or service the business profits from.

I founded Hilltribe Organics, a social-impact business in Northern Thailand that works with marginalized Hilltribe communities in the Chiang Rai region. Through a contract-farming framework, the Hilltribe farmers, who in the past grew poppies for opium, raise laying hens and sell organic eggs to the company at zero expense. Every farming input, from the hens and organic feed to the training and veterinary services, is provided to them without cost. Through this initiative, Hilltribe Organics has been able to increase the farmers' household incomes by up to 300 percent.

HTO is today the premium organic egg brand in Thailand and the only egg producer with organic certification in the country. A growing number of family members are returning to their Hilltribe communities from cities because of guaranteed work, and there are instances of Hilltribe women leaving work in the nightlife industry. The project has also enabled the farmers to develop other organic crops to sell.

Hilltribe Organics is just one example of a focused inclusive business that proves that with imagination and conviction, amazing results can be achieved, one which offers a sense of pride to everyone in the entire chain.

Where to begin

So how do you become an impactful company?

It is all about people. People are impactful. They make the decisions in companies. Our value system determines the reasoning we apply in the process of making profits. The first step is always with the person that spearheads the creation of a sustainable and inclusive business. Conscious businesses depend on the values of the people in the company, and corporate culture selects those who are employed. Companies are impactful because they employ people who make these choices and direct the actions of the corporation.

Mandate them to identify all opportunities in your chain of operations where actions can benefit your target. The first critical decision to create a profitable business that enhances society and the environment will dictate the operating parameters of the company. Identify every potential for improving the lives and the environment the business touches. Design it early on with the knowledge that not only the product or service that you wish to sell must be exceptional, your story must also be verifiable and, with intent, impactful.

By Arvind Narula, founder and CEO of Urmatt, which works with the economically underprivileged and culturally indigenous communities of Thailand. He is also a member of the CNBC-YPO Chief Executive Network.

About YPO

CNBC and YPO have formed an exclusive editorial partnership consisting of regional "Chief Executive Networks" in the Americas, EMEA and Asia-Pacific. These Chief Executive Networks are made up of a sample of YPO's global network of 24,000 top executives from 120 countries who are on the front lines of the economy and run companies that collectively generate $6 trillion in annual revenue.