Big Idea: Corporations and consumers must behave more ethically, but is business the ideal institution for social good?
Marketing superstar Alex Bogusky is behind FearlessRevolution, an organization promising to make the world a better place through conscious capitalism.
Here is what their website says:
Something is definitely happening in our culture. We think it’s a new consumer revolution.
The fact is we all consume to live. The food we put in our bodies, the clothes we put on our backs, the devices we use to do our jobs, and the energy that goes into everything we touch. Together we consume A LOT. Yet our expectations are too low. We think we have to accept the bad that comes with the good. The pollution that comes with the energy. The unsafe working conditions that come with low prices. The toxic materials that come with convenient packaging.
We can do better. Wanting stuff isn’t going to change. So maybe it’s time to want more – more from ourselves and more from the people who make our stuff.
The duties of citizen and consumer are colliding.
To be a concerned citizen requires that we become concerned consumers because the reality is, corporations will impact our future as much as governments will. Voting beyond the ballot box with our purchasing power is rapidly becoming a powerful individual tool in the democratic experience.
Here is a SlideShare presentation introducing the brand Fearless Revolution brand, Common.
Is this the future of Capitalism?
While companies like Kickstarter and Kiva are proving that corporations can do good, I am still not convinced that ‘business’ is the best avenue for social change. Taking profits under the guise of making the world a better place still reeks of opportunism to me. It is not that companies shouldn’t strive to behave more ethically and try to create more good, it is just that profits cloud judgement. If you really want to make a difference in the world, why not start a non-profit organization where all proceeds go to the cause?
Do Businesses Maximize Profits or Social Good?
Businesses are about maximizing profits. Non-profits are out to maximize social good. While I definitely understand the business value of appearing environmentally friendly or ethical, it comes off as more of a marketing gimmick rather than a real contribution to humanity. I would like to see more people dedicating their lives to non-profit organizations. Bill Gates made is fortune in the business world, then he jumped over to the philanthropy to give back to the planet. Shouldn’t business and non-profits be separated like this?
Selling branded T-shirts or products might make consumers feel better about their consumerism, but it masks the fundamental problem; We are consuming way too much. It seems counter-intuitive that consumption is the way out of our consumption problem.
In a previous post, Is an Ethical Corporation an Oxymoron?, I wrote about how Pepsi is investing millions into socially beneficial initiatives. This fact might make consumers feel better about chugging down more empty calories but it ignores the fact that Pepsi sells billions of dollars of nutritionally devoid sugared water around the world. While it is great that Pepsi is dedicating a small portion of its profits to social good, how much damage have they done to global health and the environment by encouraging us to consume an unhealthy beverage served in resource depleting cans and bottles, that are transported by polluting vehicles? Pepsi will never make up for the full negative value it is created in society, unless it completely stops selling Pepsi.
That is precisely what is wrong with looking to corporations to solve our problems. The complete negative externalities of the products we consume will never be fully factored into prices.
In my same blog post I mentioned above, I link to a video estimating the health and environmental costs of a 50 cent hamburger to be as high as $200. Would you pay $200 for a hamburger? The only fully responsible course of action is to stop making those burgers, which unfortunately, is unlikely to happen any time soon. As consumers, we have the power to stop buying those hamburgers, or to buy more environmentally friendly burgers, but ultimately it is the consumption of those burgers that are the problem.
I want companies to behave more ethically and I want consumers to purchase more ethically. However, I can’t help feeling that the real solution to our environmental problems is a drastic curtailing of consumption, not consuming more ethically good products.
One of my favorite business thinkers, Umair Haque, promotes this ethical capitalism in his new book, The New Capitalist Manifesto: Building a Disruptively Better Business.
Ethical Capital Is Capitalism’s New Cornerstone on Harvard Business Review.