Better business

Big business has a bad name. But the growing movement of conscious capitalism proves that there is another way.


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From the mega-profits of the ‘big four’ banks to the Coles and Woolies duopoly, large corporations have a track record of ignoring the interests of suppliers, customers, employees and the greater good. But fear not, because there is positive change afoot.

Rajendra Sisodia’s book, Firms of Endearment, has sparked a new model for business management. One that gives all stakeholders – including the environment – a place at the table. It’s called Conscious Capitalism.

Formed as a not-for-profit organisation in the US, Conscious Capitalism argues that business is inherently good because, as noted in the ‘credo’ on the site, www.consciouscapitalism.org: “It creates value, it is ethical because it is based on voluntary exchange, it is noble because it can elevate our existence and it is heroic because it lifts people out of poverty and creates prosperity.” Conscious Capitalism gives business the tools it needs to become a force for good in the world, while also creating a healthy profit.

A ‘conscious’ business adopts Conscious Capitalism’s four pillars: higher purpose, stakeholder integration, conscious leadership and conscious culture.

Higher purpose is the ‘why’ of doing business. It’s the guiding vision that activates and motivates stakeholders: employees, customers, suppliers and investors. Stakeholder integration acknowledges that businesses should exist not just to maximise profits for shareholders, but also to add value for stakeholders – to foster a culture of mutual benefits for all. Conscious leadership empowers its stakeholders to engage, creating transformative cultures of shared vision and responsibility. A conscious culture is the embodiment of the principles of the business. It fosters care, trust, mutual respect – it’s the supporting structure of the company’s conscious capitalist objectives.

Whole Foods Market, the world’s largest retailer of natural and organic foods, is a Conscious Capitalism business. Its co-founder, John Mackey, co-authored a blueprint for action, Conscious Capitalism, with Sisodia. Both men have been instrumental in the Conscious Capitalism movement in the US, outlining how some of the world’s most successful companies – Google and Amazon among them – create value for all stakeholders. They argue that these companies owe their success in part to this new way of doing business, a way that looks forward, taking everyone along for the ride.

But Conscious Capitalism is no longer just transforming US businesses. Conscious Capitalism Australia launched in May 2012, thanks to Kate Walker and Amy Powell, two keen proponents of the movement. The Australian chapter’s mission is to inspire, connect and support local businesses on their journey. And it seems Australians are keen to get on board.

Intrepid Travel and Red Balloon are two successful Australian businesses subscribing to the Conscious Capitalism credo. Geoff Manchester, co-founder and director of Intrepid Travel, is now also a Conscious Capitalism ambassador.

For Manchester, Conscious Capitalism is about understanding and responding to the changing needs of the market. “Consumers are becoming much savvier about the impact the products they buy have on the planet,” he says. “Consumer decisions are based more and more on what companies do, more so than what they say. As businesses, we need to be aware of this and ensure our house is in order and that we are proud of everything our company does.”

Another benefit of being a Conscious company, Manchester adds, is it helps you to attract, motivate and keep the right staff. “Many people, especially younger people, want to work for a company that behaves appropriately and whose products do not damage the environment or other people.”

Manchester advises business leaders looking to get involved in the movement to find like-minded business leaders for support and to help maintain motivation.

How might you bring a Conscious culture into your workplace? Carolyn Tate, community leader for Conscious Capitalism’s Victorian chapter, advises that the most important way to get started is by educating yourself: “Read the books, check out the websites.” It is crucial that the leadership team is on board, she adds. Enlist the support of external consultants, attend Conscious Capitalism events, network, share and learn. There are several case studies that crunch the benefits for all stakeholders – including investors – to help them start visualising the business in this new light. “It’s not easy,” adds Tate, “but companies that don’t embrace these business principles won’t exist in this new world. The average lifespan of a company is 60 years – how is your business going to be placed in the future if you don’t make this positive change?”