Z3: Conscious Capitalism and (Bright) Green Business

(Crossposted from zBlog:~C4Chaos)

This post is the sixth in a series on the topic of Eco Business and Conscious Capitalism. I’d like to thank Julian Walker for putting this Zymposium together
and to all those who joined this conversation in the past few days.
Before I express my own thoughts on this topic, allow me to recap the
different perspectives covered by my fellow participants.

Siona kicked it off with a powerful meditation
on first person perspective of Conscious Capitalism: a sense of
responsibility, or “taking ownership of my position in the world.”
Brian followed up with the two roles we play in the conscious capitalism equation: conscious consumer, and conscious earner. Christiana dug deep and wide by asking a few important questions and differentiating the different aspects of Conscious Capitalism and Green Business. Jeff continued with his personal reflection by sharing an overview of the history of capitalism and then opening the “case” for Conscious Capitalism. And finally, Tommy Rosen (of Eco Gift Shop) shared a dilemma that he faces as an entrepreneur in the field of “green” business–the dilemma of not being “ECO” or “green” enough.

In this post, I’ll share my views on Conscious Capitalism and its important role in the proliferation of “green” business.

The Driving Force Behind Conscious Capitalism

The participants touched on different perspectives and definitions of a
big umbrella term that is Conscious Capitalism. A common thread I
noticed is that Conscious Capitalism boils down to Capitalism infused
with right intention. And what is the driving force behind this “right intention”? Patricia Aburdene, author of Megatrends 2010: The Rise of Conscious Capitalism, put it succinctly,

to the Dawn of Conscious Capitalism–a popular, decentralized,
broad-based crusade to heal the excesses of capitalism with transcendent human values.”

Transcendent human values–such us fairness, love, integrity, caring,
humility, and compassion–are the forces that drive this right intention.

To put it another way, whereas the major mode of thinking in Capitalism is “objective” (i.e. profit at all costs, creation of a consumer culture),
in Conscious Capitalism, the major mode of thinking is driven by
“subjective” (i.e. sense of purpose) and “intersubjective” (i.e. high
standard of morals and ethics).

If Capitalism is like an operating software then its long due for an upgrade. In the book, Capitalism 3.0, author Peter Barnes, described the two versions of Capitalism and a proposed solution:

Capitalism 1.0, or shortage capitalism, wherein people want more goods than the economy can provide; Demand exceeded supply.

Capitalism 2.0, or surplus
capitalism, wherein there’s no limit to what corporations can produce;
their problem is finding buyers. This version created the excesses that
we see today which result in three tragic flaws: “it devours nature,
widens inequality, and fails to make us happier in the end.”

Capitalism 3.0, re-inventing the commons, wherein the essence is to “fix capitalism’s operating system by adding a commons sector
to balance the corporate sector. The new sector would supply virtuous
feedback loops and proxies for unrepresented stakeholders: future
generations, pollutees, and nonhuman species.” Note that although it
doesn’t use the word “conscious” or require changing the profit motive
and human nature, Capitalism 3.0 is a manifesto coming from a more
embracing world view, sense of purpose, and ethics (i.e. it includes
future generations and has compassion for non human species).

Conscious Capitalism and (Bright) Green Business

If Conscious Capitalism is capitalism infused with transcendent human
values, then green business (or eco business) is its natural offshoot.
Caring and compassion are transcendent human values that are behind the
idea of sustainability
(caring for the environment and nature, and compassion for culture and
future generations, including nonhuman species). Sustainability in turn
is the hallmark of a green business.

However, although green businesses are devoted to sustainability and that big corporations are now paying homage to being green,
we still often see environmentalism, anti-capitalism, and capitalism
clashing with one another. In their loud clashing, although the
extremes on all camps raise our collective awareness of the limitations
on each of those camps, I think that the more sustainable solution(s)
lie somewhere in the middle. When it comes to capitalism and
environmental concerns I firmly believe that the solutions lie
somewhere in the brighter shade of the “green” spectrum – a shade of green which embraces technology, ecology, economics, politics, consciousness and ethics, and in the process, raises the consciousness of capitalism.

Case in point: In the green issue of What is Enlightenment: Ecology, Politics & Consciousness, Ross Robertson praised the book, Worldchanging: A Users Guide for the 21st Century. Worldchanging is comprised of ”bright greens“–“those
who harness the engines of capitalism, high technology, and human
ingenuity to jump-start the manufacture of a dramatically sustainable
future”– in contrast to “dark green” (old-school environmentalism which
is anti-this, anti-that, while wallowing in their own romanticism).

green environmentalism is less about the problems and limitations we
need to overcome than the “tools, models, and ideas” that already exist
for overcoming them. It forgoes the bleakness of protest and dissent
for the energizing confidence of constructive solutions.”

As Jeff Klein and Michael Strong would say, “criticize by creating.”
Their motto echoes that of the bright greens. And bright greens are as
ambitious as they are practical. Here’s what Alex Steffen (co-founder
of Worldchanging) has to say:

don’t need more recycling, we need a completely different system of
closed-loop manufacturing, and no matter how many cans I crush my
personal actions at the consumer level are of very little
importance in getting us there. Even millions more eco-consumers will
not get us what we need. What we need instead, it seems to me, is a
global movement of smart people who understand the systems in which
we’re embedded, are actively pursuing better models which could replace
them, and are clever as heck about communicating visions for doing so
to their fellow citizens.”

Bright greens seek to
understand technology, ecology, economics, design principles and
capitalism, and leverage them for solutions instead of tearing down the
systems in which we’re embedded. By this definition, my views are very
compatible with the bright greens. However, as Robertson pointed out in
the WIE magazine, the bright greens are somewhat anti-spiritual:

to Sterling at least, the bright green paradigm will be one that is
completely free of spiritual or mystical overtones…. ‘If it doesn’t
pass muster over at the Skeptical Inquirer magazine, we don’t want to
know about it. It’s not that we’re going to pick big public fights with
spiritually motivated Greens and other illuminated hippie types. This
is useless and a waste of time. like beating up Quakers and Amish.
We’re simply going to serenely ignore them, the way everyone else

I have no problem with this. After all,
computers, nanotechnology, nuclear, solar and wind power were created
without spiritual or mystical overtones. I’m not saying that we have to
deny the spiritual or the mystical impulse, but I think that, at this
point in time, the spiritual and mystical language should stay in the
background or on a different domain so as not to cause more confusion
and stigma in the business world. Similar to a separation of church and
state. We can honor the transcendent human values and reconcile them
with the task at hand. But I see no need to be too “spiritual” and
“religious” about it.

To sum it up, Conscious capitalism is
the tree, green businesses are branches and leaves, we (consumers,
entrepreneurs) are the agents of  growth and change. Awareness starts
with the individual and spreads like wild fire.