Conscious Capitalism. Some still say it’s an oxymoron. But those who’ve been paying attention will know that it is a business philosophy whose time has come — and one with a bright future. But how did we get here? And more importantly: What is the state of the movement on this fifth anniversary of publishing the highly influential book of the same name?
A Bit of History
The term “socially conscious capitalist enterprise” was first used by Muhammad Yunus in 1995. In an article in The Atlantic, the Grameen Bank founder rightfully predicted the success of his company’s novel approach to microcredit and microfinance by expanding the benefits of capitalism to those who needed it the most in developing nations.
Patricia Aburdene’s 2007 exploration of more and more people turning inward to determine where their true values lie was titled “Megatrends 2010: The Rise of Conscious Capitalism.” In the book, she spotlighted business leaders who, by placing social and environmental values ahead of the bottom line, were boosting profits.
Preceding both was the founding of Social Venture Network (SVN) by Josh Mailman and Wayne Silby. In 1987, the two created a nonprofit membership organization composed of socially responsible business leaders who were committed to creating a more just and sustainable world. Similarly, the subsequent efforts of organizations such as Great Place to Work and B Lab (the nonprofit that certifies B Corporations) would bring innovative thinking and viable solutions to the cause.
These are for certain among some of the earliest pioneers of the overall conscious business movement. They will forever be recognized for their roles in opening the eyes of business people around the world to the potential that a more conscious approach to capitalism could have toward elevating humanity.
“Conscious Capitalism” Serves as a Catalyst
In January of 2013, Harvard Business Review published the first edition of a book that helped accelerate a nascent movement aimed at proving business as a force for good: “Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business.” The book’s aspirational title was based on its central premise that, while free-enterprise capitalism is the most powerful system for social cooperation and human progress ever conceived, the potential for business to lift even more people out of poverty and create even more prosperity around the world was indeed within our reach — if we could aspire to a higher level of consciousness about the interconnectedness of all stakeholders impacted by our businesses.
“Conscious Capitalism” was co-authored by John Mackey, co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market, and Raj Sisodia, then a Bentley University professor, now the FW Olin distinguished professor of Global Business and Whole Foods Market Research Scholar in Conscious Capitalism at Babson College. A few years prior, Sisodia had co-authored a look at the superior financial performance of companies practicing conscious business principles called “Firms of Endearment: How World-class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose.” Meanwhile, Mackey had set the stage for the premise of “Conscious Capitalism” through his groundbreaking “Rethinking the Social Responsibility of Business” debate in 2005 with Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman. Mackey’s central argument was that Friedman’s take woefully undersells the humanitarian dimension of capitalism.
Within its first year, “Conscious Capitalism” became a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller. It garnered favorable reviews from notable business celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and legendary Harvard Business School management professor Bill George. And it spurred increases in attendance at the conferences hosted by Conscious Capitalism International, the nonprofit organization founded in 2010 by Mackey, Sisodia, and other like-minded leaders of notable conscious businesses.
The State of Conscious Capitalism is Good
So where does this part of the movement dedicated to elevating humanity through business stand five years after the publishing of its namesake book?
For starters, we couldn’t be more thrilled to kick-off 2018 than by celebrating a major milestone for the organization: Conscious Capitalism International now supports more than 40 chapters around the world. Recently activated chapters in the United States (like the great folks in Atlanta pictured here), Colombia, Denmark, and South Africa now advocate for Conscious Capitalism in 14 countries on six continents.
Secondly, we are very excited to be gearing up for our 10th Annual Conscious Capitalism Conference (April 30 – May 2, 2018). Over the years, we’ve been honored to feature some of the movement’s most revered leaders at our annual conference, including: Great Place to Work’s Michael C. Bush; REI’s Jerry Stritzke; The Container Store’s Melissa Reiff; Greyston Bakery’s Mike Brady; Vanguard Group’s Jack Bogle; “Start With Why” author Simon Sinek; Lifeway’s Julie Smolyansky; The Energy Project’s Tony Schwartz; KIND’s Daniel Lubetzky; THINX’s Miki Agrawal; The Motley Fool’s Tom Gardner; Dansko’s Mandy Cabot; Barry-Wehmiller’s Bob Chapman, and many more. This year will be our largest gathering yet.
Thirdly, we are eagerly awaiting the March 2018 publication of “Conscious Capitalism Field Guide: Tools for Transforming Your Organization.” Also published by Harvard Business Review, this follow-up book now provides exercises, assessments, and checklists to help implement the tenets of Conscious Capitalism. It will feature examples of how companies like Whole Foods Market, Southwest Airlines, Life is Good, The Container Store, Barry-Wehmiller, Zappos, and many others have established conscious leadership principles in their companies.
Finally, ware so thankful for a robust and synergistic sandbox of like-minded organizations. From Conscious Company Media and 3BL Media/TriplePundit — who have given a much-needed editorial voice to business leaders pursuing purposes beyond just profit — to membership organizations such as SOCAP (Social Capital Markets) and the aforementioned B Lab and Social Venture Network. The saying “it takes a village” is applicable to our shared cause, and we look forward to an ever-growing strong bond of friendship and support with these groups in the coming years.
A Better World Awaits Us
Today, we face what may often seem like unsurmountable challenges in our efforts to overcome instability, division, and poverty. Yet, on this fifth anniversary of the publication of “Conscious Capitalism,” we can’t help but be optimistic in seeing so much interest in and support for business elevating humanity.
Together, we can change both the practice and perception of “business as usual.” Conscious Capitalism’s true potential will only be realized when all business leaders are driven not solely by profit but rather by service to the company’s purpose, all the people the business touches, and the planet we all share together. Let’s make 2018 the year we convince even the most skeptical in our professional and personal circles that consciousness is indeed the key to unlocking humanity’s greatest potential.
Dan Dement is the director of communications for Conscious Capitalism Inc, a non-profit organization dedicated to cultivating the theory and practice of Conscious Capitalism through events, presentations, publications and social media.