BOOK REVIEW: ‘Conscious Capitalism’

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By John Mackey and Raj Sisodia
Harvard Business Review Press, $26, 368 pages

What do Starbucks, Nordstrom, Southwest Airlines,, UPS, Whole Foods Market and Costco have in common? They all practice “conscious capitalism.”

“Conscious capitalism is an evolving paradigm for business that simultaneously creates multiple kinds of value and well-being for all stakeholders: financial, intellectual, physical, ecological, social, cultural, emotional, ethical and even spiritual. This new operating system for business is in far greater harmony with the ethos of our times and the essence of our evolving beings,” according to John Mackey, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, and Raj Sisodia, marketing professor at Bentley University, in their book, “Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business.”

I was inspired to read and review “Conscious Capitalism” when I heard Mr. Mackey’s recent radio discussion with Sean Hannity on the virtues of consciously practiced capitalism. Mr. Mackey’s relaxed, thoughtful diction in a talk-radio world that is so often confrontational was impressive.

Although apparently affable, Mr. Mackey, as revealed in “Conscious Capitalism,” is a smart, no-nonsense, yet authentically caring entrepreneur who sees the bottom-line as not just profitability, but enrichment of all the business’ major stakeholders. Such stakeholders include team members, customers, vendors and suppliers, investors, society-at-large and the environment.

“Conscious Capitalism” promotes a business culture that embodies “trust, accountability, caring, transparency, integrity, loyalty and egalitarianism.” The management ideal of “Conscious Capitalism” contains four key elements of “decentralization, empowerment, innovation and collaboration.” Above all, this exemplary form of business practice relies on careful attention to four tenets: higher purpose and core values, stakeholder integration, conscious leadership and conscious culture and management.

Although I am a lifelong environmental scientist by profession, not a businessman, I believe in the inherent virtues of capitalism, especially a capitalism practiced with the enrichment of stakeholders as a top goal. Under stakeholder integration, the second tenet of conscious capitalism, one of the stakeholders identified is the environment. Here the authors give a refreshing, positive perspective on the condition, challenges, and solutions to major environmental issues.

For instance, at the conclusion of a section titled “A Conscious Approach to the Environment,” the authors reasonably state: “We need to address key environmental issues creatively and in an integrated way. While global warming or climate change gets a lot of attention, we have collectively focused on it so strongly in recent years that it has taken attention away from other important environmental challenges. These include critical concerns such as freshwater availability, air purity, seafood sustainability, environmental livestock impacts and welfare, deforestation, and desertification.”

The related concern of “poverty” also has a substantial overall negative environmental impact. The authors observe that “[t]he experience around the planet is that as countries become more prosperous, environmental conditions improve people with higher living standards expect and demand a cleaner environment, and this generally is accomplished.”

Practicing conscious capitalism, Mr. Mackey’s Whole Foods Market Inc. has been able and eager to help alleviate world poverty through one of its ambitious nonprofits, Whole Planet Foundation. The charitable action of Whole Planet Foundation involves participation in microlending programs in more than 50 countries and has funded more than 200,000 microcredit loans, providing more than $35 million in capital.

The optimistic expectation of the authors is that eventually, for the betterment of society and the environment, the major business model will incorporate the principles and practices of “Conscious Capitalism.” Hard data shows that, in the long run, conscious businesses outperform traditionally run companies by a wide margin. In fact, through all the practical advice and insight proffered from successful and compassionate entrepreneurs and businessmen, “Conscious Capitalism” demonstrates conclusively that in business, nice guys don’t always finish last. They may finish first.

Harley-Davidson, Google, the Container Store, Pedigree, Medtronic, Trader Joe’s, Panera Bread — yes, they practice conscious capitalism, too.

Anthony J. Sadar is the author of “In Global Warming We Trust: A Heretic’s Guide to Climate Science” (Telescope Books, 2012).

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