As Einstein noted, “No problem has been solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Accordingly, “conscious capitalism” is about building better businesses that are integrated and aware of their cultures, supply chains and ripple effects of their actions in the world. With carbon waste passing 400 ppm, global warming and other social issues becoming increasingly pressing, businesses are taking on greater responsibility to help solve the worlds’ problems.
On June 25th, the Bay Area Conscious Capitalism Chapter (BACCC) hosted an event in downtown San Francisco where participants discussed the topic of Purpose and Profit. Four leading conscious capitalists were on the panel, including John Roulac (Nutiva), Brian Burt (Maestro Conference), Monika Rose (Formium), and Vince Siliciano (New Resource Bank), with moderator Margaret Ryan, BACC Chapter Chair and co-founder of WonderWorks Consulting and Holacracy Licensee. The panel discussed:
- What does conscious capitalism mean to you?
For Nutiva, which produces sustainable coconut & shea products, conscious capitalism is about revolutionizing how the food world operates. Nutiva CEO John Roulac noted that in contrast to the quarterly earnings focus of most major public companies, conscious capitalists are focused on the long term ROI.
For marketing & branding agency Formium, it’s about building authentic brands through helping employees be their whole selves at work. Monika Rose CEO, also noted that company’s that pass the consumer sniff test on authenticity, are the company’s that enjoy customer loyalty and low employee turn over.
At New Resource Bank, conscious capitalism is “whole hearted” and “wholesome”, which translates to work with our connections to families, communities, and environment intact, in contrast to “old school” capitalism where people maximize profitability at the office and play the good citizen in their free time.
As New Resource Bank CEO Vince Siciliano noted, “When you’re conscious, you recognize your connections to your stakeholders and the environment around you – there is no such thing as externalities”. Vince also noted the “old” definition of money as a store of value and a medium of exchange, whereas a conscious capitalist sees money as a store of your values and an agent of change.
- How is technology helping to support companies become more authentic?
The panelists agreed that technology eases the conflict between profit and purpose by reaching more people and increasing awareness among consumers of how purchasing power can be used for positive social or environmental good (for example, major food companies like Trader Joe’s and Costco sell organic food at consumer request) and companies can respond more directly to consumers’ concerns. Maestro Conference’s CEO Brian Burt said: “Our values are becoming a filter for information. The information we’re getting is no longer mediated by advertising budgets, but from what we’re all seeing.”
- What is the role of conscious capitalism in making business decisions?
New Resource Bank shared their story - during the economic downturn, the bank’s finances also went south and this forced people to think about how to spend their lives – indeed, it inspired people to think about why they work. As a result, the bank had to reinvent itself, start over, and be clearer about “who we are and where we’re going.” As Vince Siciliano said, “Growth and profitability are essential, but they are the means, not the end.” When the bank reinvented itself, it was a big deal to announce to the stakeholders that “we have no exit strategy.” Vince noted that this message was not well received by everyone, it was clear and set up the organization to align its investors with its values.
In the conscious marketing space, Monika noted that at Formium, her team makes time to talk about issues in a forum where people feel valued. For example, taking on a new client involves making sure that everyone on the team believes in the work they do. Picking clients to work with is not a rules-based decision process; rather, it’s case by case.
- Is it possible to build a supply chain with only sustainability-minded vendors?
Panelists agreed the biggest issues in building a sustainable supply chain were in aggregating small vendors to inspire change in packaging, and finding the right kind of patient capital.
Nutiva’s John Rulac is having to collaborate with multiple companies to finde packaging that meets their specific requirements and is recyclable or compostable, such as compostable cellulose.
In venture capital, the supply chain is mostly closed-end funds that close within 7-10 years and need their investees to sell in that time frame – to “grow and flip” to generate the kind of returns that venture capitals’ limited partners expect. So taking a longer term view is difficult without alternative “patient capital.”
- What are we doing to motivate, inspire, educate the next generation of conscious capitalist leaders?
Monika Rose said ‘Inspiration has to come from the bottom up and top down in a company’. . The more that people demand that companies think in a conscious way, the more employees can build a business case for social or environmental responsibility. Within any company, employees have to negotiate what they care about – and leaders need to listen to everyone’s opinion in an organization – currently the first licensee in the USA, Margaret added that individuals need to feel that their input is trusted, because without trust, you can’t get creativity and innovation from every employee. Thankfully, increasingly, company leaders are recognizing that ideas can come from all levels of an organization and that being conscious capitalists involves listening to all stakeholders.
Other discussion topics addressed examples of companies “doing well by doing good” or “finding profit in purpose.” For more on this, see work by The Global Alliance for Banking on Values, HIP Investor and Catalyst.
The event closed with a discussion on how to raise more “conscious capital.” The consensus in the room was that unless investors are willing to accept lower rates, companies can’t make long term investments in better businesses because quarterly earnings reports are too short a horizon – we need to think 100 years out for a better world for our grandchildren. For example: would you rather have $4M in 100 years, or id="mce_marker",000 today? It depends on whether you value the world your grandchildren will live in more than having more money today for yourself.
New investment models are also needed – such as securitizing revenue streams and creating annuities rather than investment for equity or ownership. Conscious capitalist businesses still need to create value and approach investors as doing the right thing and creating returns. As Vince Siciliano said, “The core of business is bringing value to someone’s life for something that they need; you need to bring both value and values or you won’t stay in business.”
How would you describe yourself as a Conscious Capitalist? Contact Margaret@ywonderworks.com.
By Katharine Bierce
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