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Let’s start by clearly communicating an intention: this is more of a call to action than an article. Urgent action is needed if we are to navigate through an immediate U-turn to reverse the effects of unconscious business. Most of the challenge and chaos being experienced on Earth today is a result of unconscious living. Business is an enormous contributor to this; indeed, it is the primary contributor. But this is not a message of disparity—it is a message of aspiration and hope. There is an opportunity to heal the discord by embracing conscious living. I believe this is the change that we are being invited to make, individually and collectively. If we are to create effective and lasting change, business must come to the front and lead. Business must become conscious.
I’ve just returned from a program for spiritual activists called Crestone Convergence in Colorado. About 50 leaders were present—most from the United States, but some from other parts of the world. A hot topic was global capitalism. I had come with a presentation on this topic, but an emotional discussion surfaced days before I was to speak. Spontaneously, from different sides of the venue, people stood to share grave concerns about the direction of global business. One shared that our global economy is sick and addicted to growth at any cost. Another stated that unbridled capitalism is a cancer. From another side of the room, someone said gross domestic product is a horrific economic measurement system that doesn’t have any qualitative value.
I was excited to hear the uncoordinated discussion. In private meetings and public events, I’ve again and again witnessed deeply personal accounts of the damage unconscious business is doing to our communities and global environment. It is a powerful affirmation that real change is on the horizon. When a topic begins to surface regularly, emotionally, and spontaneously, it is confirmation that an evolutionary tornado has landed. The Civil Rights Movement in the United States and the Movement for Independence in India are two examples of evolutionary tornadoes. Evolutionary tornadoes beckon change; they are disruptive and stubbornly resist premature closure. They always take civil society to a new destination, though the course may be halting, right and left, more than straight ahead.
A movie called The Big Short talked about the role of the financial services industry during the great recession of 2007-2009. No-money-down home loans were artfully sold to an unsuspecting public and then repackaged and sold to investors. The fossil fuels industry and GMO and animal farming industries are notorious for the damage they inflict on the environment and on humankind. Other major areas of concern are cross-industry practices such as lack of economic, social, and ecological transparency in business and overharvesting of natural resources—to say nothing of restorative practices that are often lightly implemented or left out altogether.
In Humanity’s Team, dysfunctional business was on our minds in 2014 when we reached out to partner NGO’s about creating a Conscious Business Alliance. During this time, we studied progressive business models such as B Corps, Conscious Capitalism, Natural Capitalism, and other models to understand what role they might play in curbing business abuse and creating conscious business systems that support a flourishing world. We determined that while these business models were valuable and pointed business in more healthy directions, they ignored real conscious business or stopped short of defining conscious business in a manner that can be uniformly manifested worldwide.
Chris Laszlo of the Fowler Center for Business as an Agent of Public Benefit out of Case Western Reserve University says that conscious business must include both inner transformation and outer transformation dimensions. B Lab and many other progressive organizations focus just on outer transformation—people, planet, and profit, for example. They share that business must focus on the welfare of people and planet, not just profit. In Humanity’s Team, we agree and, as Chris points out, inner transformation is also critically important if we are to bring flourishing to business. Inner transformation focuses on practices like mindfulness, but it goes beyond to a deeper place where we commune with Source. There are many equally valid and compelling channels people individually hold in communing with Source, ranging from spiritual beliefs and practices rooted in a belief in the Divine to a deep resonance with the principles of quantum physics, which unambiguously establish that life is interrelated, interconnected, and interdependent. Everything is part of a single reality. We are all emanations of One thing.
In 2011, during Global Oneness Day on October 24th, we began referring to a 4 P model: people, planet, presence, and profit. Presence brings in wholeness, unity, and awakened consciousness. It looks out at the world and sees a deeply spiritual or interconnected ecology. As we know, when we become conscious, everything changes. Many then see the likeness and image of God in ourselves, each other, and the world around us. Others experience a resonate connection with Source in less spiritual terms, perhaps as an unambiguous, uplifting energy that threads through all things, connecting all life forms.
Chris Laszlo shares that business models focusing just on outer transformation help businesses to do less harm, but these businesses cannot go all the way to flourishing. A flourishing business is partly a product of inner transformation where interior process comes into play. The inner journey embraces an experience of love, beauty, goodness, and truth. It is a soulful experience. It shapes how we see ourselves and what we see when we look out on the world. We become anchored in this new reality. Life is sacred and we place our lives in service to the sacred.
Over the years, a few leaders have confided in me that they were conflicted about whether to act upon spiritual or scientific perspectives in business. Specifically, they’ve questioned if it was appropriate to bring their own perspectives to a business setting and, even if it made sense, isn’t it likely that diverse religious and social sensibilities would create conflict in the work environment? These are interesting questions. In response, I’ve shared my own truth, that it is only a matter of time before these perspectives find their way into the workplace. Mindfulness, for instance, is already coming in strong. Furthermore, I’ve emphasized that it’s critically important that leaders facilitate the business dialogue in a wholly inclusive manner, avoiding prescriptive statements about a singular ideology or path. The great religions of the world honor Divine inspiration and connection with Source. And science is increasingly confirming that all of the cosmos is connected. We are part of a natural and social web of life that nurtures and sustains us. Certainly, we can say that spirituality, religion, and leading scientific thought support a focus on inner transformation. Since this is true, it is true in all contexts, not just in a context that partitions it to certain social environments. Addressing business specifically, if the core values and culture of the company are open and inclusive, honoring diverse spiritual, religious, and scientific perspectives, things will fall together beautifully (Humanity’s Team is a case study). Conscious business creates the opportunity for integration of deeply held values. Unconscious business mostly ignores these values, focusing almost exclusively on financial gain. This is precisely why we stand in a social and economic quagmire today.
Ken Wilber, one of the most important philosophers of our time, says an overfocus on the outer world creates a ‘flatland’ where consciousness is caught in a mundane experience of routines and living that don’t nourish or inspire the whole person or whole organization. “Gone was mind and soul and spirit, and in their place, as far as the eye could see, the unending dreariness of a world of its: a dull affair, soundless, scentless, colorless; merely the hurrying of material, endlessly, meaninglessly.” [Dr. Roger Prentice, September 26, 2007 in Sunwalked] The flatland experience is one of the most challenging and pressing problems in the world today.
The enormity of the problem caused Humanity’s Team and three other NGO’s to come together in 2014 to create a Conscious Business Alliance. We were joined by The Club of Budapest (Europe), The Goi Peace Foundation (Japan), and The Fowler Center for Business as an Agent for Public Benefit (Case Western Reserve University). Our first task was to create a Conscious Business Declaration that describes the role conscious business can play in creating a flourishing world. It took over a year to create the preamble and short declaration. We wanted the Declaration to be comprehensive, brief, and global in its description so businesses could easily grasp it and conform business models across intercontinental operations.
As a global community of business leaders, we are committed to developing the awareness and skills needed to consciously evolve our organizations in alignment with these principles:
If you align with the Declaration, we invite you to sign it. Please invite your friends and co-workers to sign it as well. It can be found at ConsciousBusinessDeclaration.org. We believe that the Declaration brings the fullness of consciousness to business. A conscious business determines how it can meaningfully contribute first and then focuses on financial gain. Michael Bernard Beckwith shares that a conscious business is a mission with a business, not a business with a mission.
We are grateful to business leaders and other thought leaders who have extended their support by becoming founding signatories. Paul Polman, the CEO of Unilever; Lance Secretan, the former CEO of Manpower; Marilyn Tam, the former CEO of Aveda and President of Reebok; and Hannah Strong, who together with her husband, Maurice, supported spirituality at the United Nations and were initiating supporters of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. These people are among those who have endorsed and offered their support for the Conscious Business Declaration.
A Conscious Business Declaration is valuable but alone doesn’t accomplish very much. In Humanity’s Team, we were concerned that a declaration without activation vehicles would not go very far, so we laid out a vision for training, consulting, and certification services that will manifest conscious business globally. We call our umbrella of services the Conscious Business INterprise.
Our first step was to create a Conscious Business Training and Certification program. It utilizes a structured methodology to teach people how to become Conscious Business Change Agents. Once enrollees complete training and a certification project, they have the tools needed to transform a business. Our program guides people through the entire process to certification.
The faculty rotates each year so there is variation. Important leaders include Ken Wilber, who teaches an Integral Model as a Framework for a Conscious Business course; Elizabet Sahtouris, who teaches a Biology of Business course; and Michael Bernard Beckwith, who teaches an Embracing Your True Purpose and Articulating Your Vision course.
People who sign the Declaration and attend the training have the opportunity to join a vibrant community of business transformation practitioners. The Conscious Business Community of Practice promotes conscious activism in business. Members participate in specialized forums to share knowledge, form partnerships, and gain access to exclusive training programs with leading experts in business transformation.
A consulting practice is the next major unit that we will collaboratively birth under the umbrella of Conscious Business INterprise services. The consulting practice will include a number of solutions available to businesses over time, but the initial implementation will focus on a very basic 1-2-3 methodology to help a business determine where it currently falls on the path of consciousness.
The 1-2-3 methodology integrates these steps:
1. Use the Conscious Business Assessment Tool we are developing to baseline an organization against criteria distilled from the Conscious Business Declaration.
2. Develop a profile for the organization that highlights strengths and opportunities for improvement, then present the profile and discuss findings with the client.
3. Review a proposed roadmap with the client that remedies gaps and brings the organization into alignment across all Declaration measurements. Subsequently, the roadmap can form the basis for follow-on work with the client organization.
We’ve engaged with Conscious Business Change Agents to discuss the way forward to launch the consulting practice. A leadership team that includes Kristin Vesa, Craig Elkins, Kevin Farrell, and me recently met to continue refining the assessment tool and the go-to-market approach. We all feel a sense of excitement around the flurry of activity underway on this initiative.
The Conscious Business INterprise is young but is producing real change in the world. Conscious Business Change Agents are out transforming businesses in the world. They are coaches, consultants, trainers, entrepreneurs, and intrapreneurs, and their work is diverse. The community is global, so their reach extends around the world. Here is a small sampling of their activity: Laura Young is helping solo entrepreneurs thrive in the European Union. Andreas DuBois is introducing conscious business to a state-owned enterprise in China. Lou Hamburger is coaching awakened CEO’s in Switzerland. Tomislav Bozek has created mindfulness programs in the Croatian Ministry of Social Care. Paul Ward is enhancing mental health in local business in Palm Beach County, Florida.
We all have skin in this critical game in the sense that we all gain or suffer from the effects of unconscious business. The environmental and economic challenges we face are daunting and, without prompt and aggressive remediation, will only get worse: toxic agricultural technologies, irrevocable loss of plant and animal species and biodiversity, large-scale water and air pollution, global climate change, dependence on toxic and non-renewable energy fossil fuel sources, deforestation, and growing wage inequality. Can any of us afford for this to continue? Is this a world we would expect our children to thrive in?
Are you willing to engage? Will you join the emerging conscious business movement so we may course-correct and create a world that works for humankind, for the Earth, and for future generations?
As consumers, there are powerful things we can do. We can focus on becoming conscious consumers. This creates economic prosperity while contributing to a healthy environment and improving human wellbeing. In our households, let’s become more discerning about the brands we place into our shopping carts. Vast droves of information are only a click away; we can quickly and easily become educated. Do our consumer brands nourish life, or are they toxic? Let’s look carefully at the products, containers, and packaging we buy. Are products built for longevity?
Are they easily recycled or disposable with zero waste? Do our consumer brands focus on going beyond sustainability to restoring the self-renewing integrity of the earth? Do we see regenerative practices when we look inside the companies we buy from? Do the companies we buy from operate with a conscious culture that supports the needs and desires of their employee base and all the stakeholders? Do suppliers respect human rights and are employees honored, respected, and paid fairly? Do the companies we buy from share accounting, social, and ecological information transparently? These are some of the things we can focus on as conscious consumers.
It is time we vote with our pocketbooks. We will not become educated overnight. It will take time to interrupt old buying patterns, but let’s get started. In starting down this path, we are aligning our values with our buying decisions. Conscious consumer brands will benefit and our families will become an expression of our values through the products and services we acquire.
This is a purposeful journey. It involves creating new behaviors, so it will be challenging at times. If we are to create a conscious world we must stretch, gain new understanding, acquire wisdom, express our values through our buying decisions, and then stretch again to progress conscious business and a conscious world. Imagine a world where only conscious business is present and where conscious practices are supporting our families and communities. This has been our dream since time immemorial. Let’s devote ourselves to manifesting this dream together. Let’s focus on this as though our life depends on it. Indeed, it does!
As noted at the beginning, this is a call to action, not an article written to casually entertain the reader. What is stirring inside you as a result of spending the last few minutes perusing my account? Are you prepared to join our journey? What is your very next actionable step?
Steve Farrell is the Worldwide Executive Director for Humanity’s Team. Humanity’s Team is part of the Conscious Business Alliance that also includes the Club of Budapest, The Goi Peace Foundation and The Fowler Center for Business as an Agent of Public Benefit out of Case Western Reserve University. You can read and sign the Conscious […]
Fall | Winter 2017