Americans often talk about business like a mild disease or condition. You can hear college kids screaming:
Big business is bad.
Capitalism and money are the roots of all evil.
The man is keeping us down.
The Dickensenian view of Ebenezer Scrooge’s counting house seems to still exist in 2017. Our current President Donald Trump does no favors to the view of the business community. But is big business bad? I grew up studying economics. I never considered assigning human emotional values to inanimate objects. Others have though but on both perspectives.
The bright side of capitalism is a group like Conscious Capitalism. The San Francisco 501c3 nonprofit, that recognizes we can elevate humanity through business. This runs counter to the usual narrative. Can business exist for a higher purpose?
This week more than 350 Conscious Capitalists convened in Philadelphia. Their charge: to share their experiences as they try to change both the practice and perception of business. Presenters at the organization’s annual spring conference included leadership from national brands. They include Whole Foods Market, The Container Store, REI, Greyston Bakery, Vanguard, and others. Their message to conference participants? It’s up to us to change the narrative about capitalism. And to do that businesses need to commit to a purpose beyond profit. Other goals included recruiting and rewarding Conscious Leadership and fostering a Conscious Culture in the workplace.
Businesses can create value for consumers in products that meet their needs. Social conscious examples are easy to locate. When many look at Waste Management they think trash services. Meanwhile, WM is moving towards a natural resources company whose focus is recycling.
Companies like Back To The Roots, whose co-founder Alejandro Velez spoke at Conscious Capitalism 2017, have developed products to feed and educate children. Their biodegradable packages are in classrooms across the country. They teach children the beauty of growing your own food. They teach this opportunity is a socially conscious way. The company has several cereal products. Those products have four or fewer ingredients which are natural, without preservatives.
As people grow up though they have children. Like humans, Conscious Capitalism has grown up. The Philadelphia conference included a student business group competition. Teams from across the country and three continents submitted business plans.
One group from Stanford University is re-creating alchemy. They are creating water from thin air. The process of taking water via condensation isn’t new. These students developed a plan to deliver clear water to villages across Africa.
The United Nations notes 319 million people do not have access to clean water. At least 23 million in Tanzania alone have no choice but to drink water from unsafe sources. While there is a clear human side to this issue, these students know there is an economic incentive also.
For every one dollar spent on water, you can expect a four dollar increase in productivity. This is an amazing opportunity. It provides a socially conscious answer to a public health emergency. It also adds a bottom line profit margin for innovative twenty-year-olds.
This is next generation thinking, but important for America too. Donald Trump proposes eliminating basic program funding for school lunches. There are businesses willing to step up and fill these gaps so all business is not bad.
In the next few years, our business model may move from share value. The Conscious Capitalism model is the framework to make humanity better through business. When that happens Charles Dickens will be right closing his holiday story with a blessing for every one of us.