In a world that seems to be fraying at the seams, or depending on your point of view, moving through chaos to a level of higher order, good news is emerging in the domain of business: the higher values of consciousness, social and environmental, are increasing in the corporation.
The message has not only gotten out but is seriously taking root that the values most of us hold dear to our hearts of big-hearted, high-minded human values, ethical treatment of people, non-exploitive, sustainable relationship to the planet and the brilliant concept of multiple bottom lines is permeating the corporate ‘top-and-bottom-lines’.
As I’ve said for decades:
Through the lack of ethics, lack of respect for the Earth, human beings and all sentient life for centuries, treating all as cogs in a wheel grinding toward short-term profits at any expense, business has brought us to the very brink of disaster. And interestingly, with heart-and-mind aligned consciousness infused into business, it will be the very thing that brings us back.
The exciting, generative power of business drives people, inspires them and drives economies.
It is the integration of human values into the corporation, the respect for life, the willingness to allow the quantum field to be alive in leadership, that will likely be the motive force for moving us toward an increasingly non-polluting, vastly reduced fossil-fuel-consuming, zero-waste, recyclable, greenhouse gas-reducing, kinder, more compassionate, moderate-profit-based, sustainable society. This is “evolution in action”.
A wee bit of history on the early iterations of business so we can see where we are coming from. What we know of indigenous economies, they were rooted in what we could call sacred exchange: needed goods and services for needed good and services. Sometimes it was barter, sometimes the use of wampum, an independent currency of exchange. In all cases, transactions were to be done with an attitude of respect, integrity, equity and generosity. A quote from the American Indian Quarterly on the subject:
Profit to non-Natives means money. Profit to Natives means a good life derived from the land and sea, that’s what we are all about, that’s what this land claims was all about. The land we hold in trust is our wealth. It is the only wealth we could possibly pass on to our children. Good old Mother Earth with all of Her bounty and rich culture we have adopted from her treasures is our wealth. Without our homelands, we become true paupers.
Profit-only-as-money, defined so narrowly is ironically and paradoxically, impoverished. A much broader, richer, multi-dimensional definition of profit is needed to create a sustainable, cyclical, bio-mimetic economy that serves all.
While slash-and-burn did exist among indigenous people, there was still an attitude of respect for Mother Earth and an understanding of the cycles of Nature, that gratitude was primal energy that permeates all life and lets it thrive, come and go in the highest order and dimension. Gratitude for all things, all exchange, was part of transactions. What a different feeling!
When land became a commodity, something to own because it could produce food and hops, and that these could be traded for nice sums in the marketplace, that land was a means of control—of others and of economies—attitudes toward everything, people and planet, began to change.
I would say that attitudes and behaviors of greed permeated the ancient, including Biblical, morphogenetic field such that it became embedded in the human psyche, possibly even the DNA, and has not yet been uprooted to attain a truly civil society which I believe it has to be.
Add to this the field generated like a dark cloud over the Western World initiated by what is known as the Sin of Adam, indulging in a bite of an apple, and what is further embedded through the Christian idea of Original Sin. If the Catholic Church wants to talk about miracles, it should consider it a miracle that Western Civilization survived that curse from birth.
While centuries passed and land and people were abused, with the Industrial Revolution, this worsened. The air was so polluted, people could hardly breathe, the water contaminated, immune systems weakened, and plagues thrived with little defense against them.
New levels of oppression and slavery emerged, harsher treatment of humans, all colors, mainly black, and in Europe, especially England, women and children treated as so much chattel. All that mattered was productivity and profit, and anything was permissible to those ends. Charles Dickens has helped us all see the tyranny of those times.
Moving into the 20th century, there was still virtually no regard for people or planet and it was certainly not only but largely President Teddy Roosevelt who began to bring public awareness to the importance and preciousness of Mother Nature, of the environment, and to his great credit, helped to start a Conservationist Movement. Part of that was the initiative of starting the National Park Service. Needless to say, these were the values and ways of the Native People all along, whose culture had been crushed by the invading Europeans.
The oil industry was so powerful; it forced the hand of Congress to move toward national highways and away from public transportation. It pushed aside the use of electric vehicles which Henry Ford had originally developed before a gas-guzzling one.
They pushed away from the use of alcohol and derivatives (ethanol) as fuel which was also beginning to be used which, some say, was underlying Prohibition, perhaps in addition to the effort to reduce corruption and crazy behavior associated with unrestrained alcohol consumption. I don’t know the answer here but it has logical merit as reasonable speculation. When contemplating the power of the Rockefellers at the time and ambition to promote fossil fuels at any cost, the idea certainly isn’t illogical.
Thankfully, all along, there were conservationists that emerged from Thoreau to John Muir to Rachel Carson who riveted the world’s attention on what was rapidly becoming a highly-polluted and toxic planet. But altogether few listened. Certainly not big business.
So with this as a very brief sketch of a backdrop, human beings fought to the death to defend their lands, fiefdoms, realms, kingdoms, sometimes cast as defending ideologies (Crusades, etc.), and land was held sacred, not because it was God-and-Mother Earth-given, and was to be respected and shared with love, but on a basis of I-against-Thou, a basis of profit, control and turf wars. This is the archetype of the Patriarch that reigned for millennia.
This quick sketch of the world before the 1960’s where oil was the basis of geo-politics, the basis of the USD as the reserve currency for all oil transactions worldwide can act as a measure of how the idea of social entrepreneurship and socially responsible investing has since grown.
In the 1960’s emerged a breakthrough mindset. Whether it was due to “the Moon in the 7th House and Jupiter aligning with Mars” or other variables like exasperation and disgust with the destructive “business-as-usual” model, social movements prominently ticked up, e.g., the Civil Rights Movement, the Environmental Movement and many more.
So did the beginning of the idea of Socially Responsible Investing (SRI). From here, a whole new consciousness emerged, leading to socially-conscious mutual funds (e.g., Calvert Fund, etc.) and a fresh perspective percolated upward of how to bring social consciousness and environmental awareness into the marketplace.
This matured into what became known as the ESG space which stands for Environmental, Social and Governance, more or less replacing the phrase “green and socially- responsible, socially-conscious investing”.
Green economist, futurist, and one of the original proponents of a renewable energy-based economy and “a love economy” Hazel Henderson, founder and President of media organization Ethical Markets, has also been one of the major voices to bring socially responsible investing (SRI) to the forefront of public attention back in the early 1970’s. With her invention of the Green Transition Scoreboard, she has pioneered and led the way for the transition to a more ethically-based, eco-friendly, sustainable economy in business and finance.
According to Frank Dixon, former managing director of research for the largest ESG research company (Innovest) and sustainability, there is another vitally important level which takes companies beyond ESG. He sees business addressing global warming and socially unjust practices as just addressing the symptoms of flawed systems, and it is the underlying systems which need “global systemic change”.
In a recent article, Dixon stated:
SCI [System Change Investing] rating is more complex than ESG because the context or frame of reference is much broader. The frame of reference for ESG largely is mitigating negative corporate impacts. The SCI frame of reference ultimately is the whole Earth system and its sub-element human society.
Let us de-mystify all of this. Corporations are governed first by a corporate charter. These frequently state that the boards of directors and management have a fiduciary obligation to return to the shareholders a maximum return on investment, in effect, in the shortest period of time, more money irrespective of the damage to people or environment, which they treat on their spreadsheets as ‘externalities’, costs they in effect, pass on to the public, we taxpayers.
With this proviso, Boards are locked in by contract to perform according to standards that do not necessarily include ethical practices or policies that are environmentally or socially sensitive, but typically to the contrary. The largest companies dump chemicals into the waterways with impunity. It opens the door to any kind of activity that serves the single purpose of generating more money for investors, in effect, at any cost to people or planet.
For years, I have been advocating for “charter change”, that deletes the obligation cited above and replaces it with something ethical, humane and protecting the Earth, of this ilk:
It is the obligation of the board of directors and management to assure the safety, health, well-being and sustainability of people and planet prior to considerations of profit. It is understood by all investors that there are multiple forms of profit, which result from said protections, including but not exclusively financial. All charters are to abide by the age-old proviso “Do no harm.
The Green Party’s proviso pertains: “People and planet before profit.”
In sum, the legal obligation of boards of companies needs to be modified to include a much broader definition of what is profit, not limited to the narrow definition of simply “money”.
If people are safer, healthier, in greater harmony with each other and their environment, if the environment cannot be dumped upon with waste or extracted from wantonly, these healthcare costs, environmental clean-up, etc. no longer redound to society at large because they’re not incurred in the first place.
The entire cost of doing business—to the corporation and to the tax-paying society in which is thrives—becomes vastly reduced. One emerges still with a healthy profit, healthy people being treated respectfully, and a clean, unpolluted environment.
The other irony, as spoken of in Paul Hawken’s The Ecology of Commerce, when a company abides by ethical standards in respect to people and planet, productivity increases, penalties decrease, healthcare and environmental costs decrease and the company is much more profitable while the well-being of all soars.
A branch of this understanding challenges the base survival idea that “more is better”, when affluent society over time has been ironically teaching us that “less is better”.
This broader understanding of profit and what the role of a corporation can press our evolutionary tendencies upward, quite literally, from the base, reptilian brain, toward the further development of the neo-cortex and “heart-brain”, which promotes a kinder, more compassionate, gentler and more loving, generous society. If a corporation is legally deemed “a person”, a bit of a strange concept, then it also has consciousness and the ability to evolve that consciousness.
I spoke of the outer story of the corporation, ruled by a charter. The inner story that writes the charters we have known is the fear-based, reptilian brain which fuels greed, is a symptom of fear. It exemplifies symptoms of the fear of “not having enough”, which ultimately, I suggest, is an existential fear of “not being enough”.
When one cuts to the core of what drives people, I suggest it is this existential dread of simply not being enough, not measuring up, and not being “lovable enough”. It may sound reductionist. However, when we cut down deep enough to what drives people to engage in destructive, disrespectful, inhumane behavior, there is something irrational at play at the base.
This lack of psychological and emotional development, expressed through and running parallel with brain development, is what, I suggest, has caused business to have driven us to the edge of eco-systemic and near species collapse.
When awareness of this phenomenon “kicks in”, it allows for and organically promotes a whole different kind of business tenor and social evolution. It then allows us to drive business instead of being driven by the above subconscious fears. We become the author of the story, writing it as we see fit, not just a puppet of our own despair and identity crisis.
There is such a good turn happening among some business leaders that an increasing number of them are recognizing the good business practice is, in effect, nothing short of a spiritual discipline. It requires balance, focus, heart, and as Buddhist psychology refers to “Right Action, Right Livelihood”.
Business regarded this way allows for a valuable integration of what is typically viewed as distinct realms of a person’s life: their ‘business life” on one hand and their “spiritual life” on another. And if they were fused? If Spiritual life and its inherently humane, eco-sensitive nature influenced the tenor, attitude, and dynamics of business? Business becomes a path of self-transformation, releasing the fear and building purpose, vision and meaning.
In the book, Quantum Leadership: New Consciousness in Business by Chris Laszlo and Frederick Chavalit Tsao, this idea is thoroughly fleshed out and made not just plausible but practical. Quoted from the book:
There Is a growing body of clinical, neurophysiological evidence that demonstrates the power of practices of connectedness for business leaders. The evidence suggests that such practices strengthen a leader’s ability to deal with situational complexity, increased empathy and a sense of human connectedness.
I always wondered how people went to church on Sundays, or synagogues on Saturdays, prayed their hearts out, aligned with the highest human values on the planet express love and respect for all life through the teachings and the prayers, sought forgiveness.
They then return to work come Monday, go back into business and aggressively exploit workers in developing countries, dump waste surreptitiously into rivers, spew toxic fumes in the air, cause people serious respiratory and other illnesses all to increase profits and shave off a few expenses.
Then the following weekend they return to their religious institutions as though they heard and learned nothing from the week before and habitually continue with these harmful and destructive practices once back to business. That polarity and gap are being narrowed, heading toward dissolution but sadly still very much remains “business-as-usual”. What’s this about?!
Now, a new generation of people in business, what I like to call “Visionary Entrepreneurs”, have a very different mindset. Spirituality’s higher values are no longer something to revive on weekends outside the business environment, but to be an integral part of that environment.
In fact, their values can and should lead inside the business, corporate environment, where money is no longer king but a multiple bottom lines aligns monetary profit with humane and ecological well-being and sustainability.
On a more personal level, as a result of such advanced thinking, for people who are well enough off to have every little chotchke money can buy, cluttering up their homes with, as George Carlin does a great skit on, “Stuff”, social scientist, activist, environmentalist and author Duane Elgin, started a movement in the 1970’s called Voluntary Simplicity.
It called for people to review their relationship to ‘things’, to consumption, overall, to the material world, and where they could, scale back. Find enjoyment and vitality in simplicity, in Nature, in love. Simplify to basics. It was a movement that gathered momentum for quite some time, with some proponents still practicing and promoting its extremely sensible and relevant tenets.
In short, we see that the tides are turning. And none too soon, as the clock is ticking on Global Warming, melting ice caps, dying coral reefs, profound energy waste, extraction practices harming rainforests and indigenous habitats, and Climate Refugees increasing across the planet.
The shift in business that we see is beautiful, welcomed, overall still nascent, but truly growing.