Conscious business enterprises and people (also sometimes referred to under the label conscious capitalism) are those that choose to follow a business strategy, in which they seek to benefit both human beings and the environment. The Conscious Business movement in the US, which emerged from the theory of corporate social responsibility, pushes for "values-based" economic values where values represent social and environmental concerns at both global and local scales. This effort is related to not-just-for-profit business models, conscious consumerism, and socially responsible investing.
There is an alternative way of thinking about Conscious Business emerging in the UK, and perhaps other countries, which tries to avoid reification, regarding it less as a thing or a type of business which can be categorised, and more as an on-going process including awareness, self-awareness, awareness of purpose, practice (social theory) and relationships.
Conscious business criteria
Doing no harm
It is generally agreed upon that the product or service of a conscious business should not be intrinsically harmful to humans or the environment. However, it is possible for such a business to be taking part in the conscious business movement if it is taking conscious steps to be more aware of its social and environmental affects, and to adopt more beneficial social or environmental practices.
Triple Bottom Line Model
This is what distinguishes the entity as a business from the general social enterprise. The degree of understanding or "consciousness" of any conflict of interest between the profit motive and social goods varies widely from the standard sloganeering capital accumulating firm ("don't be evil") to those who seek nothing more than break-even to pay for their operations, are completely employee owned, etc..
A conscious business seeks to benefit both the external livelihood as well as the internal lives of its shareholders and employees. Furthermore, the business seeks to benefit all stakeholders including manufacturers, affected communities, and humanity at large. Some trends in conscious business which have arisen out of these efforts include:
- The forming of wellness affirming workplace cultures
- Improved employee benefit programs
- Use of fair trade materials for manufacture or sale
- Assistance to communities who supply raw materials
- Assistance to communities who manufacture materials
- Local community outreach programs
A conscious business will seek to minimize its impact on the environment, and replenish the environment where it is able. Conscious businesses may choose to benefit the environment in many different ways, some trends include:
- Robust recycling programs
- Building "green" or "zero-impact" workplace facilities
- Using solar or wind energy in the workplace
- Purchasing materials from organic or sustainable farmers
- Purchasing renewable and sustainable materials
- Working with environmentally conscious distributors
- Urging manufacturers and distributors to adopt better environmental practices
- Adopting sustainable product packaging
Above and beyond
Many conscious businesses choose to use their resources to benefit social and environmental programs that are not directly related to the creation or distribution of the product or service. Frequently, a conscious business will donate employee paid time, money, or products towards various non-profit organizations. Sometimes a conscious business will create a foundation, which works with one particular cause. Also, some conscious businesses will become involved with social or political campaigns to protect the environment, animals, or people. Conscious businesses will sometimes use significant amounts of their profit towards these causes. Furthermore, a conscious business will sometimes work closely with suppliers in either a farming or manufacturing community in a developing country, and help to develop the community economically and replenish it environmentally.
Conscious business versus social responsibility
To term a business a conscious business is different from the concept of a socially responsible business: although, of course, a conscious business is likely to be socially responsible. Being a conscious business does not only mean implementing a local community program, or creating a company foundation. A business could implement one of these programs and still not be aware or respond to the fact that the business as a whole is doing more harm than good.
The term conscious business implies that a business will seek to be conscious of its impact on the world in various spheres, and continue this inquiry over time. It is concerned with both its impact on a human’s inner and outer world as well as animal and environmental well-being. Furthermore, a conscious business considers both short-term and long-term effects of its actions or inactions. A conscious business evolves as does the methods that a business can and chooses to be of benefit to the world and to function with awareness. Therefore, though conscious businesses will be socially responsible, the term "conscious business" holds larger connotations for the businesses' actions than does social responsibility.
Conscious businesses movement
Many believe that Anita Roddick pioneered the conscious business movement with her company, The Body Shop in 1976. This company has been an environmental leader, and worked to support various activist causes including putting an end to animal testing, and defending human rights.
An overwhelming amount of conscious businesses can be found in the health food industry as well as the LOHAS (lifestyles of health and sustainability) market. However, today conscious businesses can be found emerging in almost all aspects of the business world.
Whole Foods cofounder, John Mackey, is another pioneer in the movement along with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. Large corporations as well as small boutique agencies and individuals embrace the movement despite pressure to earn money at any cost. They see business based on ethics and social responsibility versus personal gain. Public relations and brand specialist Sarni Jaye based her business on working only with conscious brands to help them grow and achieve their desired mission. USA Today reported about the wave of millennials embracing conscious business. Other businesses cited are Trader Joe's, the Container Store, Nordstrom, and more.
There are various agencies and companies that catalogue the social and environmental practices of businesses for consumer use, as well as companies which consult with businesses to increase their awareness and beneficial practices in the world.
Conscious business is about people who are aware of the impact each of their habits and actions has on their environment (people and planet). It is about people who live their lives based on knowing that everything is interconnected. It is about people, who know who they are:
- who know about their strengths and weaknesses and
- who desire to live and work with joy, creativity and ease instead of fear, power and domination.
Conscious business versus sustainability
There's a huge trend towards more sustainable business practices. Environmental sustainability, however, has little to do with conscious business. Organizations can be highly sustainable, but still run in an unconscious way. A conscious business, however, will not maintain unsustainable business practices.
Some are expressing caution about the way that conscious business might be reduced to a formulaic framework and schema. The concern is that these play down the attention that we give to everyday practices and how people relate to each other.
The alternative view is that the practice of conscious business aims to raise awareness of the hurly-burly of everyday life and help people notice those assumptions that influence our perceptions and practice – to become more aware. From that emerges consciousness of purpose; it also leads to adoption of many of the approaches outlined by Kofman, Mackey and others, and to the outcomes they point to (better long term business performance, for example).
This approach is aligned with a view of business derived from Complexity theory and organizations.
Impact on Professionals
The idea of conscious business as a reflexive approach - through noticing and awareness as we act - suggests that there are practical implications for OD (Organization Development) and HR (Human Resources) professionals. For example, such professionals may find it useful to highlight the importance of noticing group dynamics, power, and other group phenomena. And ultimately to question their own assumptions about the purpose of business.
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