In previous blog entries, we have made a consistent effort at providing doable examples of small lifestyle changes that every single one of us can implement to improve our physical and emotional wellbeing. The upside is that they also contribute to making this world a better place for all. Yeah, we know. A bit idealistic perhaps; but life is better when you have dreams to fulfil. The changes we normally speak of do not only impact individual people’s lives but also the lives of their inner circle –close friends and family, and through them other people too. And this is undoubtedly a good place to start.
But when thinking about our ability to effect change and improve the lives and the world of the people we care for, the reality is blatant: there is no one else with a greater capacity for influencing and affecting people’s lives and the livelihood of our planet than (large) businesses and corporations. And so, in today’s entry, we examine the impact that mid- and large-sized enterprises have on our lives, and outline the qualities that a truly ‘conscious business’ model should encompass to foster positive change both in business and in life.
Though it may sound simplistic to say it, any business out there has the ability to affect people’s lives in two main ways: directly and indirectly.
Companies are made of people. They employ people and make what we call ‘business’ thanks to both the people working for them and the people consuming whatever product they generate. This is basic math. This means that every single company in the world is responsible, at least, for the livelihood of the people working for it; which essentially translates into guaranteeing the ability of their employees to afford the basics of life, and ensuring their wellbeing beyond income –for instance, by providing a safe work space and healthy work standards, the ability for employees to further grow with (or even beyond) their current position, etc.
At the same time, businesses are also responsible for whatever products and services they produce. And so, to some extent, every company is also accountable for the use that we as consumers eventually make of their products, and for the wellbeing of their consumers as the ones enabling them to keep making ‘business as usual.’ This may seem a bit more far-fetched, but can mean something as simple as ensuring that the products produced are sustainable, for example, or even, contributing to the local economy in healthy, and yet profitable, ways.
Still, in the last four decades or so, the world of enterprise (indeed, the world in general) has taken a surprising turn. We use the word ‘surprising,’ though perhaps it comes as no surprise to most of you. This turn has, in many ways, slowly detached companies from the realities of the contexts, and thus, the lives of the people they often have the ability to change the most.
With the progressive move of business ownership away from households and families and into the hands of multi-headed shareholders, ‘business’ has become more and more about money-money-money. And once your attachment to the realities of the people, the place, and background your business is rooted into is weakened, it is much easier to make decisions about profit maximization, business relocation, or complete obliteration.
With the turn away from local business and into global business –a trend that is of late being slowly reversed– there have been some progressive but important changes happening. We went from working with family and friends –people you actually knew or even cared for– to working with complete and total strangers in jobs you were selected for mainly according to what your ‘education’ says about you. This would not necessarily be a problem, were it not often also accompanied by a loosening of the social and emotional networks essential for any sense of community to sprout. And we have said it before: much of our stress and distress nowadays comes from a sense of loss of attachment, loss of community, we can’t even often express.
Even after years of working together, many of our colleagues remain total strangers –our realities separated by the impression that, in the workplace, each person is her own island. This loosening of the emotional (and empathic) fabric uniting people at work (and beyond) makes business for businesses much easier.
But there have been other consequences too. The depletion of natural resources, the exploitation of entire regions, the pollution of formerly pristine areas, or the dislocation of entire communities around the globe being just a few. That people desire to have clean air, fresh drinking water, and naturally unpolluted sources of nutrition seems almost self-evident. And yet, the reality is that all three of these are slowly but surely turning into our next world crisis. Mind us. We don’t really mean to be negative here, but facts are facts.
Still, most of us –and this goes for business tycoons and stakeholders too– do like to feel that we are actually ‘not that bad,’ and that we care about the people we love and the places we live in. Some of us even do something to remedy or counter all of this. So why is it so hard for companies out there making so much money to espouse a model where profitability still exists, yet it does not endanger the livelihood of everyone and everything they are actually working for?
Perhaps, finding a clear and satisfying answer to the question above is actually harder than finding an alternative to our actual model. And certainly, in the last few years, a big amount of entrepreneurs and small business owners have jump-started the trend of conscious and sustainable businesses. A trend that is, in many ways, a throwback to whatever was good and wholesome about doing business before global neoliberalism became a thing.
There is perhaps a bit of a nostalgic reminiscing also involved in this often hipsterized conscious business thing. But the keywords of conscious business, nostalgic or not, are hard to beat, even when most businesses may not embrace all:
Sustainability versus profitability, while still profitable
Local versus global, while allowing for growth
Family-like feel versus alienation at work, while still professional
Natural versus artificial, while still durable
Responsible versus reckless
Durability versus programmed obsolescence
In 2014, Mark Bittman of the New York Times made an attempt at calculating the true cost of a hamburger today ('The true cost of a burger'). He wanted to find out how much does a hamburger really cost when every single piece of the hamburger-puzzle is properly computed. The results were, of course, alarming. Because, despite their normally incredibly cheap price, the true retail price of a hamburger today should be twice as high as it currently is. What this shows is that everything in the production process of a commodity comes at a price. And the actual choice for us, and thus, for business as well, is what is the price we are willing to pay for our very lives.