Conscious Capitalism, John Mackey’s and Raj Sisodia’s triple-bottom-line bible, has orbited the social entrepreneurship sector for over a year and a half. That’s about how long it has taken me to read, as I keep putting the book down and picking it back up, wondering how a manual on keeping businesses value-driven really applies to me as someone on the consumption side. But as it turns out, the conscious capitalism concept applies to us all.
So, after a year and a half, what drew me back under the Conscious Capitalism spell? The answer is the book’s focus on the consumer category. As a recent graduate making her own buying decisions, I now occupy the position of the valued and potentially long-term customer, not necessarily just a consumer of variable goods. It is now my decision to choose companies and brands that align with my own values, without sacrificing my love for the free market.
Capitalism itself is a tough word to digest, as Mackey and Sisodia point out. Although assumed by some to be evil and others to be flawless, the authors are pragmatic, defining capitalism as the ability to increase the size of the pie for everyone and therefore a way to generate wealth through “artfully combining resources, labor, and innovation.” Yes, there can be a lot of conflict when growing this pie, especially when no profit equals no progress. However, when conscious businesses keep stakeholder and shareholder values as their highest concern, we can attempt to outweigh the bad.
Reading Conscious Capitalism in tandem with Naomi Klein’s 2014 This Changes Everything might not be helping my attempt to understand the capitalism and consciousness dilemma; it’s a lot to handle. While Klein suggests that shifting away from fossil fuels for a more sustainable economy means, “visionary long-term planning, tough regulation of business… changing everything about how we think about the economy,” Mackey is more optimistic that a total paradigm shift isn’t necessarily needed. A shift in perspective is challenging, but not impossible. While the heroic spirit can be dormant in some businesses, it is not dead.
While Conscious Capitalism continues on as a guidebook for operating businesses with a caring culture in mind, the most interesting excerpt is the chart differentiating conscious capitalism from CSR. Simply put, conscious capitalism maintains a holistic and higher-purpose order to business as opposed to, unfortunately sometimes, shareholder sacrifice. With environmental news sites like Grist and Groundswell publishing articles on socially responsible companies daily, we can’t help but wonder if such practices are actually making real changes or if companies are only after PR hits.
Still, if value to customers is so important, what does Mackey have to say about higher prices for conscious brands (i.e. Patagonia, Starbucks)? When contemplating the ivory tower-essence of conscious “luxury” goods—what Mackey even points out as a misconception of conscious capitalism—it does seem too good to be true. Mackey assures that companies can appeal to customers at a lower point in the price spectrum through effective efficiency—or spending money where it makes a real difference to customers and preserving resources.
However, a year and a half later, Conscious Capitalism has maintained an institute-like presence by hosting various events across the country to promote their four tenants. Events are reserved for CEOs and presidents, of course; I can’t see paying a $35 non-member price for a talk is for someone in the trenches. The book—and concept—therefore raises a lot of questions as to whether the everyday consumer will support the initiative.