Conscious-Business.org.uk

A home for the Conscious Business community in the UK


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So what's it all for?

I heard someone ask me today what all this conscious business stuff is about. So here goes.

Business is great. It’s a very powerful force. It’s great at harnessing creativity and innovation, but mainly it’s good at getting things done. While governments and non-governmental agencies alike plan and develop policy, business has usually finished the first activity and is on to the next one.

And we are in a hurry. We have a lot of problems in the world. Poverty. Hunger. Disease. Climate change. Loss of bio-diversity. Desertification. War. Nuclear proliferation.

All of these threats are coming closer. And many are getting worse as, for example, population grows.

Business can’t solve all those problems but it can contribute to solutions for many. Especially when we need new, radical solutions that haven’t been tried before, the unique structure of business allows their creation and rapid deployment on a large scale.

Even small business can seed changes elsewhere, by setting an example or by being a catalyst.

The problem with business is that for too long the people running it have had the wrong goals. If your goal is financial, and you work at it hard enough, and diligently enough, you are likely to achieve a financial goal. While neglecting other more useful goals – such as addressing the threats listed above.

So, the question is: “How do we get at least some of the people running business to adopt other, more beneficial goals?”

Forcing them won’t work. These are very independent-minded people.

Luckily, however,  I believe people evolved with a set of values that are constructive not destructive. The natural state for people is to select goals that will put back good things into the world, for all of humanity.

All that has to happen is for us all to become more conscious.

More conscious of more than just our material drives – in fact, conscious of what drives us mind, body and soul. As we become more conscious of our deeper values, then we will start to work towards them.

More conscious of our individual contribution to the results we create.

Many of us don’t believe that we have much influence on what happens in the world. So then it’s rational to let it just go to hell. But we all do have that influence, and once we realise that then the sky’s the limit.

Many of us believe that others need to be told what to do. And we don’t understand that this approach itself creates unsustainable solutions. Nothing that is enforced will last. The only things that last are those that are created together by those who benefit.

And more conscious of what holds us back and limits our influence. Many of us are ‘hungry ghosts’ – we carry around past emotional pain that makes us greedy, envious, jealous, addicted, obsessed, and compulsive.

Becoming more conscious of this pain, while usually a painful process in itself, is a good way to reduce or even remove its power.

So, as we become more conscious, we do more of the right things, more often. And that’s what all of us need. Now in and in the future.

Simple as that really.

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Begin at the bottom

Lewes, where I live, is a Transition Town. The Transition movement led by Rob Hopkins and Ben Brangwyn and based in Totnes in the UK  is a very interesting movement.

It’s different from some environmentally focussed groups in that it’s not a protest group – it’s not against anything. Rather it’s focussed on creating positive solutions in response to climate change and “peak oil“.

It’s different because it’s local too, and is really more about community, and community resilience, rather than looking at the world top-down or from a global perspective. Instead, it’s a truly bottom-up way of looking at the world.

In fact, I’d argue it operates from the real bottom – me. My perspective and my behaviours as a member are the first and most important place where things can change.

I also like the way the Transition network is structured. It is a network not a hierarchical organisation. Each Transition Town, Village or City can choose how it operates locally, as long as it at least considers following the network’s broad principles.

Being involved leads to some interesting local debates, which I believe have resonance with the broader world too.

Firstly, we have debated whether it’s better to take a positive or negative view of global trends, particularly climate change and peak oil. Is changing our lives as a result of these things bad or good? I, for one, think a world with less oil where we care for the planet more could be a lot better, and in lots of ways.

Secondly, there’s an argument about resilience in the face of change. Who is more resilient, us in wealthy surburban Britain? Or people in developing countries who haven’t forgotten how to live simply. I realise there are shades of grey in this debate, but still can’t help wondering what all the real fuss is about for us more wealthy folk.

Thirdly, there is an argument about hysteria, about getting people into a state of panic. Plenty of the rich world’s population appear the opposite – almost frozen and immobile – in the face of the things that are happening to us. Ecosystems in collapse, species (including our own) under threat, and we continue to shop, drive and so on. As if there was no tomorrow.

I am sure there is a place for hysteria in getting people to sit up and take notice. For jogging people out of their comfort zones. But ultimately I think, as the story of the boy who cried wolf suggests, it’s really not constructive.

The world is simply too unpredictable. Anyone who uses hysteria to garner action risks becoming simply unbelievable.

So, what other strategies might there be to shake people from their immobility? A psychologist, and friend of mine,  Ben Fletcher, has a suggestion: Do Something Different.

Ben’s suggestion is that people stay the same largely because of habits. Because of habits people behave incongruently with what they believe. For example, we know we should recycle more but we don’t because it’s not our habit.

So randomly and consistently breaking habits should allow us to behave more congruently.

Then all the publicity and knowledge and “facts” which fly around about the environment should properly drive us to take corrective action.

Does it work? Yes, I think so, from having tried one of the DSD programmes. It seems to have the same kind of results as behavioural disputing – where our actions can prove that thoughts we hold to very dearly aren’t actually correct.

Changing our thoughts, beliefs and attitudes allows us to move on – to change our behaviour and create the world anew. That’s a bottom-up change. Something transition is all about.


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What IS a sustainable business?

So what is a sustainable business exactly? Surely we must know by now.

  • Is it a green business?
  • Is it a business that is good at environmental management? That follows an ISO standard?
  • Is it a business that’s good at CSR? At accountability? With a good human rights record?

I have a more simple definition. A sustainable business is one that lasts for ever.

OK, you’ll jump on me now and say that simply lasting for ever isn’t the right definition. Some of the companies on the list of the oldest companies in the world aren’t really green and they may not be specifically concerned about their impact on human rights.

And they almost certainly don’t conform to ISO 14001.

But I believe that lasting for ever is an excellent aspiration for a business. No business (and no human) will ever achieve it. But it’s a really good goal.

It’s a good goal because to achieve it a business has to become really good at a number of things:

  • Being a learning organisation. Fancy words that mean that a company develops and grows – not necessarily in size, but like a person, becoming wiser with age. Stronger perhaps, but stronger with compassion, not violence.
  • Caring for the environment. If a business doesn’t care for the environment, then eventually the environment will hit back. Whether it’s fuel prices or raw materials – any business that is ultimately dependent on depleting these resources will eventually run out of them – or find itself  uncompetitive.
  • Caring for the people it employs. Businesses are people. Businesses can’t learn but people can. And if people aren’t cared for then ultimately they will walk or give less than they can.
  • Caring for human rights more generally. If a business breaks this rule, sooner or later people including customers and investors will figure it out. Ignoring human rights is a violation so huge that most people will eventually, when faced by the facts, turn away. Without customers and investors no business can survive.
  • Really understanding and fitting into the market. The market is all these things: customers, investors, people, resources. It’s more than that too – it’s the complex interactions between these things, the system that makes up the world we all live in.  It’s the connections, the inter-dependencies, the limits, and the whole.

Understanding the market means understanding our world and our place in it.  Understanding that if our goal is human sustainability then we need to address all the complex issues of poverty, war, greed, species destruction, resource depletion, climate change and so on. And find a way to really fit in.

Unless a business gets really good at these things it simply won’t last.

And neither will we.


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Roll up, roll up

What a great time to enrol people in the business of doing something about social and environmental issues.

Gordon Gecko was wrong, greed is not good. As some of the financial fat cats get their comeuppance surely we’ll see  an acceleration towards a world where more people use their working lives to do something worthwhile.

But what might stop this happening?

Firstly, I suppose, especially in an economic downturn, people might claim poverty. But as fellow JustMeans blogger Osbert Lancaster wrote in “Responsible business in a time of turmoil?” – one good strategy is to remember we in the West are rich. Wildly rich compared to many of the people in the developing world.

Selfishness isn’t a bad strategy in my view. If you don’t look after yourself, what chance do you have of looking after others? The trick is probably to try to sort oneself out, in every way, then start to see what you can do for others.

Secondly, many people seem to argue there’s no point. The world’s going to hell in a handcart anyway, so why bother. Well is it? It seems to me that our biggest hope is the very presence of sites like JustMeans, and all the thousands (millions?) of people signing up to similar initiatives. If together we create a critical mass, then surely there’s some hope?

Thirdly, some people seem to feel they aren’t able to do anything. Maybe we haven’t got  the skills. Or maybe we don’t have any choice.

That’s something that took me some years to fully understand. That really everything we do is our own choice. We may tell ourselves that we have no choice but it’s simply not true. No one cooerces us. Or very rarely anyway.

Anything else? People like me, preaching? Personally, I hate being told what to do. And I do worry that many of our social and environmental organisations are too exclusive, run by “professionals” and “experts”. People who “know” the answers. (Hopefully that’ll trigger a response!)

I like the message that came across from Paul Hawken’s Blessed Unrest video – that this movement is wide and deep, broad and inclusive. Everyone, literally everyone, has something to contribute.

So dive in.


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New ways to consume

Another solution to over-consumption is simply that we stop consuming so fast! Slowing down makes a lot of sense to me, especially when it leads to a better experience as in the Slow Food movement. Yum.

And another is to create a rental business.

One example that has been around a really long time is video rental. Why does everyone have to buy a video, causing one to be manufactured, when a perfectly good business model exists for renting them? As we have seen the model does work well – it’s stood the test of time and evolved from shops into postal rental services like DvdsOnTap which became Lovefilm and so on. Maybe it will be replaced by electronic downloads, but so far I am surprised by how resilient the model seems. Maybe there’s more to these services than just selling the same physical item over and over again?

Another more recent example are the car clubs popping up everywhere (Streetcar, WhizzGo, CityCarClub to name just a few). It’s the same business model – buy one car and let many people use it.

I wonder what other goods could be provided in this way?

If you do go down this route, of course, differentiating yourself becomes more interesting. It has little to do with the product itself – differentiation comes from the way the service is offered. It’s good therefore to see more and more consultancies emerging specialising in this area – I came across the Engine Group just today.


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Close the loop

On Saturday I saw again the great little animated film The Story of Stuff – “a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns” according to the blurb.

One of the solutions proposed in the film is closed-loop manufacturing, an idea pioneered by William McDonough and Michael Braungart in the early 1990s. Essentially closed-loop manufacturing does what it says on the tin, and you can find out more about their version of it, “cradle-to-cradle” or C2C Design on their website.

Well worth a look.


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Solar power – no thanks

I’ve asked the question before. Just what are these business opportunities? And do we need an innovation strategy to define them?

Not always – sometimes you can just look. And sometimes a little idle speculation helps. I like the idle bit especially.

It’s been raining a lot in the last few days. I have been looking out of my office window at the rain. I looked and looked. And looked again. The view from my office Window

Where does all that rain go I wondered?

The answer is a whole slew of new rainwater harvesting businesses – such as www.clearwell-rainpiper.co.uk. Offering rainwater collection services for businesses and consumers alike. As their blurb says, not only does collecting rainwater save a lot of money for a bigger business that is greening itself. But it also saves energy and can prevent flooding.

What could be more appropriate. In a rainy country like ours.