Last Friday, responsible investors and sustainability experts came together to co-create principles of public value and sharpen their arguments to convince business to address the needs of people and the planet.

The objective of the inaugural Berlin Public Value Lab was to together formulate principles that corporations and investors can refer to when considering the best way their business and capital can positively impact society and generate inclusive growth — a Public Value Compass.

Public Value is not a new idea but one outlined by Professor Dr. Timo Meynhardt and brought to life by the NGO Your Public Value. Simply said, Public Value is positive environmental or societal value created by business, governments and the civil sector through action that considers all affected stakeholders, including the environment — not just shareholders in business or close partners.

Why Public Value for business?

After a formal welcome and a panel featuring speakers from the garment, philanthropy, energy, investing and financial services sectors, the participants took to team collaboration to answer the question “Why Public Value for business?”.

Their converging ideas were later combined into the following draft group statement:

Why Public Value for business?

Humanity is at crisis point, suffering from the impacts of climate change, conflicts, corruption, environmental degradation and inequality. The economy must urgently shift to existing business solutions that positively impact society and the environment, and the Public Value approach allows companies to do this, thus also ensuring their own future resilience and licence to operate.

Public Value-driven business leaders can drive this change by looking beyond shareholder profit to their own human compassion and vulnerability, embedding these values in corporate culture and thus ensuring that this remains a long-term vision shared with employees and customers.

A Public Value approach to ethical business can lead to a competitive advantage or reduced risk, but only through change that rejects greenwashing and whitewashing, and enables success as the outcome of authentic, fully-transparent work in the name of the common good. 

Communicating this approach and bringing the public into the conversation can create a common narrative amplifying the impact and success of Public Value businesses.

Impact is complex, so Public Value defines accountability and principles for inclusive growth, to serve as a framework for how business can have positive long-term impacts on society.  This is defined in the Public Value Principles.

Public Value Principles

Having explored the question of Public Value together, the afternoon was devoted to co-creating these Public Value Principles, divided into three sectors: Human Rights & Business; Environment, Ecosystems and Climate Change; and Good Governance, Transparency and Participation.

The ten draft Public Value principles were:

1. We choose renewable resources and circular design; in other cases, we disclose why not & show what we have done

2. We implement the sustainable use of ecosystems as a core of product design and current operations

3. We protect and promote access to fresh water, nutrition, health care and energy

4. We strive for end-to-end transparency to establish trust

5. We align our value proposition with the interests of our stakeholders

6. We walk the talk — measure, audit, share

7. We acknowledge, consider and engage with groups that are affected by the decision-making process

8. We commit to prioritising, safe, just and dignified working conditions (including zero child labour) by following ILO labour standards and paying living wages

9. We build the capacity for all stakeholders to be active participants on related impacting matters.

10. We ensure that access to remedy is in place, in the event of adverse human rights impacts.

Moving it forward

After an intense but rewarding day of co-creation, the international gathering of participants swapped business 0cards and departed for home — but not before Your Public Value extended the invitation for all participants to join an informal network driving the conversation on Public Value forward.

And where to next?

An updated version of this will be published alongside Your Public Value research in time for the Paris Responsible Investment Week, so stay tuned for the white paper and the evolution of these principles.

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