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Conscious Capitalism: Creating an Ethical Business

As more of us demand that businesses are ethical and socially responsible, a new type of capitalism is emerging.

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When we look at the world of business, we can often be struck by the gulf between societal values and corporate values. We can almost all agree that fair wages, environmentally-sound processes or ingredients, and fairly-priced products and services are the best choices for ourselves and our world. In reality, however, it is often profits that drive companies, and not values. Along the chain of production it seems that something is always compromised.

That is slowly changing, however, as an increasing number of entrepreneurs are leading with a strategy built on ethics, and structuring a for-profit business around those ideals. It’s called ‘conscious capitalism.’

Ysanne Spevack is the founder of Conscious Constellation. She took her careers as a composer and musician, and as a food writer and private chef to create three business lines within the umbrella group—the Conscious Composerthe Conscious Cook, and the Conscious Chorus. Within each of her businesses she seeks to use ethical products, work with similarly conscious partners, ensure employees and clients feel valued and respected, and consider the wider impact on the planet.

Values First, Business Second

Ysanne explains that an approach of conscious capitalism differs to a traditional business strategy. “For me, I didn’t start with thinking about creating a for-profit company, or even thinking about a business. Rather I had an idea of what I wanted to create, how I wanted to serve from a pure ‘blue sky’ perspective,” says Ysanne. “In that place possibilities are limitless. What do you wish for the world? What do you love and want to share? How can you combine your proven track record and individual skill sets to create something unique? And naturally within that process I considered how people would be positively impacted by the idea, and how the world may benefit, rather than thinking about the bottom line.”

“We have so much power as consumers and we need to be thoughtful about the products and practices we support.”  – Jessica Hendricks Yee

It’s only after this stage that Ysanne says she began to think about how that idea could be actioned and turned into a business. “We all have to pay the bills after all, so then we can start to think about wrapping ‘capitalism’ around our ideas. But, taking it a step away from than traditional capitalism, we can, still in this ideas phase, consider how we can retain all of the values that form the foundation of the idea itself.” Only once that foundation is laid does Ysanne believe that it’s time to build out a business strategy.

Millennial Appeal

Daina Trout is founder of Health-Ade Kombucha. She says she cannot imagine running her business any other way than consciously, and believes it is the way most successful companies will be run in the near future. “The most sustainably successful businesses will be the ones that build something great and profitable, but also must cultivate an improvement to people,” she says.

Indeed, if companies want to hire young and vibrant talent, they will have to increasingly ensure that they are acting ethically across the whole value chain. According to a study by Deloitte, millennials are less interested in being employed by a company that creates the best product or that is efficient, but instead place priority on firms that look after their employees, and that provide a positive difference in the lives of others.

Similarly, millennials want to be clients of companies that act consciously. The 2015 Cone Communications Millennial CSR Study shows that more than 90 percent of millennials would switch brands to one associated with a cause versus an 85 percent U.S. average.

“We have so much power as consumers and we need to be thoughtful about the products and practices we support. Especially for millennials, supporting companies with dignified production and positive branding has become so important,” says Jessica Hendricks Yee, founder of the Brave Collection. Yee sources jewelry from local artisans in Cambodia paying them above average wages and providing them with healthcare. Ten percent of profits are also donated to fighting human trafficking within the country.

Challenges of Ethics

There are challenges, however, that come from bringing this level of care and ethical attention to running a business. Ysanne points out that it can be more expensive to source ethical products, and to work with ethical partners. It can also require more thought and time. “It’s not about picking the cheapest or quickest ‘fill in the blank’ that can tend to be associated with traditional capitalism,” she says. “There is a lot of consideration involved in devising new ways to add value to all the people you are in connection with—clients, employees, suppliers, service providers.”

Ysanne creates joint experiences from all three businesses under the brand, Yntegrity. That was deliberate she says. “The name helps us stay on point, and challenges me in all my decision making. In every interaction I’m aware I have a high bar to live up to.”

“It’s not about picking the cheapest or quickest ‘fill in the blank’ that can tend to be associated with traditional capitalism.” – Ysanne Spevack

Daina points out that running a conscious business is predominantly about people, and so focus is needed to create an environment that allows people to thrive. She says it isn’t simply a ‘one size fits all’ model. “You need to consider what your employees need to do their best, and offer that to them,” says Daina. The great thing is she points out, “when you ask them, they’ll tell you. It’s not rocket science.”

Because of the extra detail and attention required across the entire value chain, running a conscious business can be more taxing that running one unconsciously where the sole focus is profit. Jessica Hendricks Yee says it’s imperative, therefore, to make time for self-care “that gives space for personal lives, hobbies, travel dreams, and life moments.”

Ysanne says yoga has been key to helping her stay true to her initial vision within her business decisions. Surrounding herself with kind people has also helped. She recruits candidates for the Conscious Chorus based on their kindness as much as their professional skills. The bonus is that “kind people are exactly the people needed to create a sustainable, successful business,” she says.

Helen Avery is a contributing writer for Wanderlust. She is also a journalist, writer, yoga teacher, minister, and full-time dog walker of Millie, residing in Brooklyn, New York. You can find out more about her on her website, Life as Love.