What’s the secret to comprehensive conscious living? Look upstream. Better personal wellness habits may ultimately have little impact if the greater system that feeds your lives and communities is not holistically aligned.

It’s understood that protecting the environment and its natural resources is crucial to society from a sustainability perspective. But it’s time to recognize the physical, emotional and even economical impact it can have on the health of a community. The life-sustaining properties of water, in particular, can determine the vitality of a community. Water can create opportunity and allow everyone to rise with the tide.

In New Haven, the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority (RWA) has started to look at its work from a more holistic perspective. With an environment of so much social and economic disparity, RWA is perpetually asking how it can best work with its stakeholders to improve the greater good of the community and the region, while creating value for all.

Fortunately, for RWA and the New Haven area, its water supply is one of the region’s greatest assets. A history of conscious leadership, community support and sustainable environmental practices have resulted in an excess reserve of 15 million gallons of water a day that can support economic development and a vital community. With an established, dependable supply of quality water, RWA believes it has a deeper responsibility to the region and has identified a higher purpose for its work: ensuring that the New Haven region is well-positioned “upstream” to maintain its excellent water supply and use it as a source of growth and opportunity for its stakeholders in the region.

The realization of its higher purpose has led RWA to a new movement in business, aptly dubbed conscious capitalism. It is a business practice that exists to elevate humanity—transcending dollars and cents—for the greater good. Conscious capitalism recognizes the innate potential of business to make a positive impact on the world. When reinvented in this way, capitalism becomes a powerful system of value creation, mutually benefiting all stakeholders. RWA realizes that the well-being of its stakeholders is directly tied to its decision-making and is committed to prioritizing the community’s greater well-being.

Conscious capitalism can be a substantial commitment; it often strays from the “business as usual” practices that are so engrained in society. Changing the paradigm and old habits can be hard, but the payoffs are significant if a business can incorporate these four basic guiding principles of conscious capitalism into its operations:

Identifying a higher purpose

Committing to elevating all stake holders

Fostering conscious leadership

Encouraging a conscious culture

It’s been proven that if a business is created where everyone is aligned and engaged, profits will ensue. According to an April 2013 Harvard Business Review story by Tony Schwartz, companies practicing conscious capitalism consistently outperform their peers over the longer term.

The official Conscious Capitalism movement examined 28 of its most “conscious” firms; the
18 publically traded companies on the list performed an impressive 10 times better from 1996
to 2011 than S&P 500 companies. These businesses also consistently spent less on marketing,
while maintaining very strong loyalty and trust scores. It really is a very simple theory; if a
company does good, has good products, and the employees love todo their jobs, then the market
will react positively.

Brands large and small have demonstrated that conscious capitalism works, including Whole Foods Markets, The Container Store, Costco, Panera Bread, Tom’s Shoes and many others. They seem to inspire a deeper level of brand affinity and respect.

RWA is focused “upstream” on providing an abundant and reliable supply of safe water that is essential to a healthy, thriving and economically vibrant community. As an organization, it has come together to embrace conscious capitalism, incorporating it into its leadership, decision-making and culture. Shifting its paradigm has resulted in qualitative success, including:

  1. Improved operating efficiency and reduced operating expenses and debt service. It has
    thereby secured a savings of more than $12 million and mitigated customer rate increases
    by 12 percent.
  2. Replenished and increased discretionary capital reserves by 2.6 times since January 2009.
  3. Preserved the watershed and implemented a strategy to better serve its communities with a focus on water as an engine for economic growth in the greater New Haven region.

Elevating stakeholders and regularly turning its higher purpose into actionable programs that fostered holistic social change locally helped RWA achieve results such as:

  1. Investing more than $25 million annually to improve and maintain the RWA’s regional water system to protect water quality and achieve reliable service as evidenced by having one of the lowest main break records in the industry at four breaks per 100 miles.
  2. Leveraging the region’s water supply to bring new business opportunities, jobs and capital to the region through an original economic growth strategy. In 2014, RWA conducted a study to identify the businesses best positioned to use RWA’s water capacity. Today, it is working with a market research firm to attract these businesses to the region.
  3. Inspiring New Haven to “Take Back the Tap,” and get back to drinking tap water for health and environmental reasons. According to the Wall Street Journal, between 2000 and 2014, per capita bottled-water consumption more than doubled to 34.02 gallons from 16.74 gallons. Not only are the plastic water bottles hurting the environment, but in most communities, like New Haven, tap water costs less than a penny a gallon compared to a dollar or more for 12 ounces of bottled water. To encourage tap water consumption, RWA purchased a mobile bottle refill station that it uses to bring water to the people for free at sporting and community events throughout the region.
  4. Believing that wellness begins with education, RWA works with children to ensure an even healthier future for New Haven. This year, RWA is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its Whitney Water Educational Center and partnerships with local schools to give youth hands-on experiences with the region’s water sources. Through its education programs, RWA reaches about 10,000 students annually.
  5. Establishing environmental initiatives like the Land We Need for the Water We Use program to formalize sustainability guidelines for the selling and acquisition of land in an effort to further preserve water quality and protect the community’s resources. Since the inception of this program in 2007, RWA has preserved 776 acres in land and easement purchases at a cost of $11.75 million.
  6. Forming the first New England Conscious Capitalism chapter in New Haven. RWA’s CEO, Larry Bingaman, is chartering this chapter to introduce the benefits of conscious capitalism to more companies in the region.

These are only a few of the ways RWA is manifesting its commitment to conscious capitalism by looking upstream to help foster a healthy, vibrant and thriving community in New Haven. From B Corps to Benefit Corporations to the official Conscious Capitalism organization, doing good well is becoming more and more aligned with our consciousness as a society. RWA has found its strengths and encourages you to find yours and turn it into a greater opportunity for all.

If you’d like more information on RWA’s programs in New Haven or if you’d like to join in the founding of the New Haven Conscious Capitalism Chapter, email Larry Bingaman at LBingaman@RWater.com or call 203-562-4020.