Elevating Humanity … The four principles of conscious capitalism

May 15, 2018

8 years ago, I wrote the book “People Planet Profit: How to embrace sustainability  for innovation and business growth“.

It was at a time when the topic had entered everyone’s consciousness. We were slowly emerging from a global economic crisis, largely caused by unregulated excesses of capitalism. We were watching polar bears floating on melting ice caps. We were seeing every more extreme temperatures causing huge migration in Africa. And ever great inequality in our world, despite the rising wealth and escape from poverty of many.

The UN subsequently launched their 18 Global Goals for sustainability, the world’s leaders signed the Paris Climate agreement to reduce carbon emissions, we all started recycling and reducing plastics, and living healthier too.

But then it became less fashionable. Although many aspects became more normal. Less of a competitive differentiator, more of a basic expectation. However at the same time we got lazy, and less our zeal for reduction at a time when carbon emissions and global temperatures continue to rise. The ridiculous withdrawal by Trump from the global climate agreement was shocking and irresponsible, but he was also playing to the blinkered priorities of his voters.

But challenges live on … as does the need for sustainability, and responsibility.

This is the credo of “Conscious Capitalism”, a network of experts and companies that continue to embrace to promote the essential cause:

We believe that business is good because 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. Free enterprise capitalism is the most powerful system for social cooperation and human progress ever conceived. It is one of the most compelling ideas we humans have ever had. But we can aspire to even more.”

Conscious Capitalism identifies 4 components to being “conscious” in the way you do business. None of them are new, however by seeing them as a bigger picture, we can potential do more:

Higher Purpose

In the words of University of Virginia Darden School of Business professor and Conscious Capitalism, Inc. trustee R. Edward Freeman,

“We need red blood cells to live (the same way a business needs profits to live), but the purpose of life is more than to make red blood cells (the same way the purpose of business is more than simply to generate profits).”

While making money is essential for the vitality and sustainability of a business, it is not the only or even the most important reason a business exists. Conscious businesses focus on their purpose beyond profit.

We all need meaning and purpose in our lives. It is one of the things that separates us from other animals. Purpose activates us and motivates us. It moves us to get up in the morning, sustains us when times get tough and serves as a guiding star when we stray off course. Conscious Businesses provide us with this sense of meaning and purpose.

By focusing on its deeper Purpose, a conscious business inspires, engages and energizes its stakeholders. Employees, customers and others trust and even love companies that have an inspiring purpose.

Stakeholder Orientation

Pioneering naturalist John Muir observed that, “When you tug at a single thing in nature, you find it attached to the rest of the world.” Such is the case with business, which is an intricate and interconnected web of relationships.

Unlike some businesses that believe they only exist to maximize return on investment for their shareholders, Conscious Businesses focus on their whole business ecosystem, creating and optimizing value for all of their stakeholders, understanding that strong and engaged stakeholders lead to a healthy, sustainable, resilient business.

They recognize that, without employees, customers, suppliers, funders, supportive communities and a life-sustaining ecosystem, there is no business. Conscious Business is a win-win-win proposition, which includes a healthy return to shareholders.

Conscious Leadership

Robert Greenleaf, author of Servant Leadership observed that “Good leaders must first become good servants.”

Conscious Leaders focus on “we,” rather than “me.” They inspire, foster transformation and bring out the best in those around them.

They understand that their role is to serve the purpose of the organization, to support the people within the organization and to create value for the all of the organization’s stakeholders. They recognize the integral role of culture and purposefully cultivate a Conscious Culture of trust and care.

Conscious Culture

“Culture eats strategy for lunch.” Famed management guru Peter Drucker didn’t mince words, and he knew how to identify and articulate the keys to success in business.

Culture is the embodied values, principles and practices underlying the social fabric of a business, which permeate its actions and connects the stakeholders to each other and to the company’s purpose, people and processes.

A Conscious Culture fosters love, care, and inclusiveness and builds trust amongst the company’s team members and all its other stakeholders. Conscious Culture is an energizing and unifying force, that truly brings a Conscious Business to life.

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