July 24, 2019

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Capitalism: What’s Compassion Got To Do With It?

Is it ethical to focus on how to profit off of restoring balance to the planet and its populace? Should it even be part of the equation?


by Danielle Lanyard

As it turns out, everything. 

Imagine a world where CEOs looked at people who purchased their products the same way they looked at a newborn baby or their favorite grandparent. Imagine a business world where, regardless of religion, both founders and customers and all the people in between, looked at each other as if they were each other’s keeper.

Imagine a world where companies possessed deep compassion for their customers, their competition and themselves.

I can see this world on the distant horizon, and I actually know what the special sauce is to get us there: you. Yes, it is you. You, as a consumer, changing consumption behaviors based on company track record. You, as a founder, creating businesses that will change the game towards a more balanced and socially just world. You, the spiritual being having a human experience on planet earth, whose soul purpose could be self-actualization and service, and even happiness.

Change We Can Believe In

Across social enterprise, triple bottom line startups, CSR and impact investing are making the business case for the shift towards social and environmental sustainability. It's a powerful shift and while I am a strong advocate for these initiatives,  as well as any endeavor to merge science into business, and to introduce life principles into entrepreneurship and investing.

That is change I can believe in.

Yet, when I shift my focus from beyond the trees to the greater forest, I question our obsession with making the business case to validate the need for business to switch to socially and environmentally friendly practices. Maximizing shareholder benefit, be it to investors or foundation grant makers, remains the number one carrot driving every investment model, including the ‘good’ ones. But should it be, and could we do better?

Is Profiting from CSR Ethical?

Is it ethical to focus on how to profit off of restoring balance to the planet and its populace? Should it business case for sustainabilityeven be part of the equation? And what would things look like if love were the driver, instead of profit?

The new paradigm I see on the horizon goes beyond theory, the data and the science, and goes straight for the jugular. The emotional jugular. Making the business case for the green economy, has been effectively achieved by powerhouses like Hazel Henderson and the Green Transition Scorecard. I now wonder what my own life, this beautiful world and the big bad beast of capitalism, could look like if it is was led by our heartstrings. 

Before you stop reading and dismiss me as an ideologist, let me set the record straight. I’m hardly the first person to deduce that love is at the heart of consciousness, civil action and business pursuits. From the Beatles’ Love is all you Need to bell hooks’ all about love, the precedent for love in social and environmental justice is strong and has a long history. I am simply looking to integrate this with making the ecological case for a whole system human paradigm shift, where we change the world for the better because we love it and now must take action.

And not out of fear, or greed, or ego or profit margins, but out of love for this beautiful universe.

What’s the ROI for that? Joy. Equanimity. Balance. That, needs no global reporting initiative.

The Dangers of Accepting Status Quo

The case for making this monumental, planetary and personal shift is simple, yet obfuscated by those business case for a green economywho stand to lose the most profit from this shift occurring. There is more evidence today, for example, than ever before that climate change is at unprecedented levels. Yet, in ‘exceptional’ places like America, we are leading the way in denying climate change.

The reality of maintaining the status quo is just not acceptable any more. We know what the world looks like when we don’t have compassion for each other, when we regard people as merely customers and legally define corporations as people. We know it because we all live in it now. And the outgrowth of this new normal, of the global corporatization of resources at the expense of everything, is having measurable impact.

As an example, let's examine agriculture giant Monsanto, the theft of seed biodiversity and subsequent farmer suicides in India. There were no farmer suicides before Monsanto came to town. In the last 20 years, over 200,000 Indian farmers have perished.

Look at Foxconn, the high tech hardware firm that manufactures devices such as the iPhone. The working conditions in their facilities are so bright and chipper that suicide is rampant. Foxconn chose to install nets to prevent suicides, rather than grieve the loss of their employees and rectify the root problem: its harsh work policies and inhumane working conditions.

Compassionate Consumption: Cigarettes vs. Smartphones

Where is our compassion for the farmers in India and the factory workers in China even after biohazardcompanies were granted corporate personhood? Where is our compassion as consumers in a global society? If your purchase of a smartphone included a picture of a child e-waste picker in Ghana dying of lead poisoning on the box, just like the warnings now on cigarette boxes, would you ‘consciously’ consume this product?

Will it take the true cost of the whole industrialized complex to be dumped in our proverbial backyards to spark enough compassion to truly change things?

To be honest, I have no idea. Despite all my best efforts at driving sustainable development and financial inclusion through a peer to peer resource sharing model with Green Breakfast Club, I know in my heart that this is not about money. It is about our common, shared, and beautifully divine humanity. In a word, it is all about love.

Now if only we were compassionate enough to realize it.


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