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What is a Conscious Company?

CCM Staff May 10, 2020

There’s a change happening in business. Can you feel it? It’s there, in the organic soymilk you can now buy at Walmart. It’s buzzing through the handmade artisanal jewelry your niece found on Etsy. It’s ringing through the halls of Next Jump, a $2 billion e-commerce company that works as hard at helping its employees become better versions of themselves as it does on its products and revenue. We even caught an echo of it in the 2017 Super Bowl ads by major corporations that focused not primarily on their products but rather on social issues such as immigration and equal pay for women.

The change has been building for a long time. And now the hum has become a roar, spurred on by the thousands — maybe millions — of people who have seen the true price of “profits at all costs” and said, “Enough! We want something more in life, in business, in companies, in work, in the world. We want meaning. Purpose. Joy. Of course money matters. But money isn’t everything. We know there can be more.”

Since 2014, we’ve been building this magazine and media company to help document and accelerate this change in business culture: from viewing profit as an end to a new normal where profit is seen merely as a means. And after several years at the helm of Conscious Company Media, after interviewing dozens of CEOs, meeting hundreds of social entrepreneurs, and participating in this new way of doing business, we’re confident this isn’t just a fringe movement or an idealistic trend. This shift is real, permanent, and growing. It’s driven partly by the demands, needs, and values of the Millennial generation raised on the hangover of the over-consumptive 1980s, partly by Baby Boomers starting to wonder seriously about their legacy, and partly by Generation X, which found that the singular pursuit of profit didn’t lead to a promised land. Thank goodness. Because this shift is our planet’s best hope.

What is a Mission-Driven Business?

People often ask us how we define a “conscious company.” While there’s no single answer that fits for-profit businesses across all sectors, we’ve settled on some overarching guidelines: a conscious company takes all stakeholders into account in its operations, decisions, and strategies, and has a higher purpose beyond profit. These mission- and purpose-driven companies consider, measure, and value the people, communities, and environment that their operations impact. And their goals go beyond “doing less bad,” such as reducing pollution or energy use — though of course that’s important. These companies seek to actively create a positive impact on the world around them in as many ways as possible.

One key difference between business and other pathways to achieving a mission — say, politics or philanthropy — is that business generates wealth along the way. The challenge is designing and building businesses that can generate that wealth without the negative externalities and harmful side effects that inevitably come from focusing on profit alone, or above all else.

Of course, simply having a mission doesn’t guarantee having a strong business model. Businesses must be profitable in order to sustain themselves. But conscious companies don’t see the drive for profit as being in conflict with their mission; in fact, the more successful a business is, the easier it becomes to achieve the mission or to “give back.” Money and profits become the fuel that powers the mission engine.

We’ve heard the naysayers: “Too good to be true.” “Nice idea if you don’t actually care about success.” “Idealistic pish posh.” But this isn’t just theory, and this isn’t just for independently wealthy do-gooders who can afford to throw cash away. There are billion-dollar companies operating by these principles right now, today. Companies like Organic Valley, which has thrived for 30 years without compromising its mission to take care of family farmers. Companies like Patagonia, one of the most successful and well-respected brands in the outdoor industry, which sees protecting the natural places where its customers play as being fundamental to ensuring its continued success. Companies like Natura, the Brazilian cosmetics manufacturer that creates jobs and protects the Amazon rainforest while reaching millions of consumers in seven countries.

See also: What’s the Difference Between a B Corp and a Benefit Corporation?

The Millennial Mindset

These old-guard conscious companies spent decades forging their own paths amid a business landscape that didn’t always understand what they were up to. But a new generation of workers and consumers is coming into power, spreading a mindset that no business of any kind can afford to ignore much longer. The examples above prove that mission is compatible with success. But everything we know about the Millennial mindset and shifting consumer and worker values has us convinced that in the not-too-distant-future, mission will actually become a requirement for thriving in the business world. Modern workers are no longer satisfied with punching a clock at the same company for life, making as much money as possible with the hope of giving back to charity and finding meaning upon retirement. They want purpose, now. Evidence is starting to mount that they have the numbers, means, and drive to shift the fundamental nature of how business is done.

So what does that mean for you? This site is full of information about what the conscious business movement is about, why it makes sense, who’s leading the way, and how to start implementing or deepening these practices for yourself.  The good news is that you’re already on the path. By getting curious about the possibility of a different relationship between business and work on the one hand, and the rest of our lives on the other, you’re already helping ensure that we’re not just on autopilot toward repeating the same old practices of the past.   

As more and more companies, CEOs, leaders, and workers get on board with conscious business ideas, we can look forward to a better world, where business helps rather than hurts the environment, where work leaves people fulfilled, and where justice, freedom, and equality thrive not in spite of the companies in our midst, but because of them. That’s a world we’re willing to work for. Will you join us?

Stakeholder Capitalism
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