Pamela Wilhelms, an environmental engineer and business consultant, was rounding the corner on the 44th floor of a skyscraper along the San Francisco Bay, when she stopped dead in her tracks.

"I turn to the left and see pictures of the company's landholdings and factories—in the same Central American country I'd seen the night before," says the San Diego native and Denver Seminary graduate. The previous night, she had attended a fundraiser for a nonprofit that digs wells in Central America. There she learned about a village whose water source had been destroyed by an American company upstream—one that looked awfully familiar.

"I didn't realize how complicit I was. By day I was helping leaders and executives go after their economic bottom line, and by night I was on the board of not-for-profits trying to clean up the mess," says Wilhelms.

"We're never going to create a sustainable planet as long as we have a false dichotomy that says nonprofits do good and for-profits make money."

Eight years later, the dichotomy is fading for Wilhelms and others who believe business can make more than profit. Call it the "for-benefit company," a niche but growing field where Wilhelms is applying her organizational consulting experience, service in the White House, and seminary training to get companies pursuing more than the traditional financial bottom line.

The companies that Wilhelms has worked with—including Nike, Unilever, and Seventh Generation—seek a triple bottom line: economic, social, and environmental, so that their products benefit all three cultural arenas.

At first, she says, "People would just laugh at me and say, 'Nobody's ...

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