Four guiding principles to assess if a company is serving life

A simplified approach to Matereality

B. Lorraine Smith
4 min readJan 10


Partial view of a pencil sketch called “Cleaving Archer” (by me, 2021).

Companies say a lot about their sustainability goals and performance. And there are oodles of frameworks and methodologies to rate and rank their efforts. I appreciate all this activity, but I have come to see it as missing the one thing that matters most: clarifying if the company is working in service of life.

To address that gap, I created Matereality. This is about comparing what a company says it does with how it actually earns revenue. And then comparing that with what the world needs in order for us to be well within a healthy biosphere.

I have been prototyping the approach over the past year.

Because global companies are hugely complex, and because they are scrutinized and celebrated from many angles, it’s easy to compile all kinds of stuff. But the world does not need another rambling rant against Big Bad Business, nor does it need another award ceremony extolling corporate virtue. It needs industrial activity that makes us and our home healthy.

So as I undertake another round of Matereality assessments, I am gathering up the simple principles that steer me towards that industrial activity — “Industrial Healing” as I call it. I share the basic principles below in an effort to clarify what I’m up to and, as ever, to invite feedback.

Here are the four guiding principles that keep me on the rails as I seek to understand companies by assessing Matereality:

1. Stay with the intention: to inform decisions

The purpose of Matereality is to inform decisions that lead to an economy in service of life. If I get this right, a board member or executive (or staff member, or you) can apply ideas from the assessment. The company may be quite far from what is proposed, but nonetheless this is not a “gotcha” exercise. Rather it is a gesture towards where we need to be.

As I sort through the data, and as themes emerge about the company’s impacts, I must continually ask questions that can inform decisions, such as: what about these impacts serves (or undermines) life? Why do I (and/or other stakeholders) think this? What needs to be true



B. Lorraine Smith

Recovering ESG "expert"; yarn spinner; distance runner; magical realist. Sensing a path to an economy serving life. also at