Sometimes capitalism gets a bad rap — people often associate it with notions of selfishness, immorality, and privilege. But at its core, capitalism has the power to positively change lives and even entire cultures.
That’s one of the main ideas behind a modern movement called Conscious Capitalism, which focuses on putting people first and pushing humanity forward through the heroic entrepreneurial spirit.
What Is Conscious Capitalism?
Conscious Capitalists believe that businesses don’t just exist to create profit, but also, to make a lasting positive impact on the planet. It's not a utopian dream — it's an opportunity to utilize new technology, modern opportunity, and increased social understanding to rise to a new standard of socioeconomic operations.
The philosophy was founded by John Mackey, the co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, and Raj Sisodia, who teamed up to author a book and start a nonprofit called Conscious Capitalism, Inc. They describe this ethical business philosophy using four tenets:
Businesses run by Conscious Capitalists exist for a greater purpose than mere profitability. Profits are necessary for the success of a business, but only as a means to an end. They can assist in a company's mission to achieve its greater social goals, but cannot serve as the ultimate goal of a business.
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Conscious Capitalists are focused on creating win-win scenarios. Businesses are viewed as dynamic ecosystems made up of employees, customers, suppliers, investors, competitors, society, and the environment. Just as in nature, for an ecosystem to thrive, every element must be nurtured. Conscious businesses recognize the value of this ecosystem and foster positive outcomes for all stakeholders involved in their operations.
Leaders are integral to the success of the Conscious Capitalist system. For the system to flourish, leaders must seek to benefit the collective rather than themselves. Conscious leaders inspire their cohorts, stay focused on the higher purpose, and support the diverse ecosystem in which they exist. Culture is at the core of a Conscious Capitalist system, and great leaders set the tone.
Culture is the heartbeat of any successful institution, embodying the values and principles that drive behavior. The Conscious Capitalist culture is grounded in love, care, and trust. Employees demonstrate honesty, loyalty, fairness, and are open to personal growth. To the Conscious Capitalist, how business is done is just as important as what business is done.
What's in It for Businesses?
In a deeply entrenched capitalist society, it can be difficult for some entrepreneurs to imagine a business not based exclusively on profitability. After all, the American dream was built on a shareholder-first mindset — building wealth has always been a pillar of capitalist ideals.
But the idea that shareholders are the only thing that matters is changing. Entrepreneurs are beginning to recognize that considering all business stakeholders has real benefits for the health and longevity of their endeavors.
"To me, Conscious Capitalism is building a business that is healthy for employees, healthy for customers, and all of your stakeholders."
Under the principles of Conscious Capitalism, business operations leave everyone more satisfied, from customers to shareholders. Increased cooperation and understanding between employers and employees leads to more streamlined, equitable, and productive business operations. This, in turn, leads to more loyal and trusting relationships with suppliers, vendors, and investors.
Conscious Capitalism focuses on giving back to communities and improving the surrounding environment. As consumers begin to recognize companies that are truly dedicated to a greater good, they're more willing to support and believe in the products or services being offered.
High employee morale, a more loyal customer base, a better public perception, and committed investors are all possible for companies willing to ground their enterprise in a Conscious Capitalist culture. It's a win-win-win.
Conscious Capitalism in Action
Conscious Capitalism sounds great in theory, but does it actually deliver positive results? Brands like The Container Store, Trader Joe's, and Starbucks think so. For First United Bank in Durant, Oklahoma, a commitment to this philosophy reshaped the way they do business, and it's paying off.
The company's approach to financial wellness may seem counterintuitive for a bank: they don't prioritize money. Instead, they've chosen to build their mission on a higher purpose that centers around the partners and customers in the communities they operate in.
"We put purpose and people before profit, and trust that the profit will follow."
"We put purpose and people before profit, and trust that the profit will follow," Melissa Perrin, the head of culture and communication at First United Bank says. "We came up with this theme of love and impact. Extending love into our communities and making an impact in people's lives. And I think for a bank to be talking about love is pretty unique."
First United Bank's mission is indeed unique, and it's paving the way for the betterment of the entire capitalist system. While using transactions as opportunities to build meaningful relationships, whether with large manufacturers or mom-and-pop shops, the bank treats each client like they're the most important client.
Officially dubbed "Spend life wisely," First United Bank's mission is not only to give customers the tools to make responsible monetary decisions, but to help them reach their highest potential and ultimately, make a positive impact in their communities.
"To me, Conscious Capitalism is building a business that is healthy for employees, healthy for customers, and all of your stakeholders," Perrin says. "I want to look on the other side of my career and say: not only was it successful for me and my family, but I was able to participate in this larger thing that created change in our communities."
At its core, capitalism has the power to positively change lives and even entire cultures.
Embodying the four tenets of Conscious Capitalism helps businesses, like First United Bank, foster an environment that elevates both their brand and humanity's upward march. They've proven that success doesn't just equate to profitability, but having a greater impact in society.