24th April 2018 0 Comments Purpose

Conscious Capitalism in the Age of Amazon

Whole Foods market storefrontIn 2017, Amazon bought Wholefoods in an unprecedented acquisition for the tech giant. The impact this has had on our buying habits shouldn’t be underestimated. 100% recycled paper towels and organic riced cauliflower are no longer the preserve of the metropolitan elite. A nuclear family in the midwest can enjoy organic thin crust pizza for dinner, just like singletons of Brooklyn or Venice Beach. Amazon saw the value in this and wanted in. A cool £13.7 bn changed hands. To put that figure into perspective, that’s roughly the GDP of the West African nation of Togo. How does this square with the Conscious Capitalism movement founded by John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods.

According to Mackey, “conscious capitalism” is a combination of higher ideals that inspire action and in turn produce businesses that are “good, ethical, noble and heroic”. This philosophy informs the moral compass that guides businesses to elevate the human condition. And, as the theory goes, the success in the free market awaits. “By embracing the idea that their primary, even sole purpose is to make money, businesses sacrifice the great power that comes from having a higher purpose,” says Mackey “Worthy, transcendent goals,” he continues “elicit greater levels of creativity, collaboration, diligence, loyalty, and passion from all stakeholders.”

The conscious capitalism paradox

Smiling Amazon warehouse worker

Cynics will see Mackey’s sale of Wholefoods — the ultimate ‘conscious business’ to Amazon of  as acutely paradoxical, bordering on hypocrisy. Especially as Amazon seems diametrically opposed to the pillars of conscious capitalism. You just have to look at the company’s warehouse and distribution practices, tax dodging, environmental impact and negative effects on the economy  While Mackey’s journey with Wholefoods may be a case of the fallen hero, there are businesses that live and breathe their higher purpose without the complexities of a business deal that appears so deeply incongruous.

Amazon saw the value in this and a cool £13.7 bn changed hands. To put that figure into perspective, that’s roughly the GDP of the West African nation of Togo.

Electric car manufacturer Tesla, began with a mission to “accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy”. A worthy, transcendental goal particularly in the face of climate change. Tesla has shown the auto industry that the luxury market is ready to move beyond petrol cars. Shortly after Tesla unveiled the Model T in 2017, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) and General Motors both followed suit. They announced a move toward hybrid or electric engines by 2020.

A positive workplace

Tesla has stayed true to its higher purpose whilst enjoying market success. However, the company still has some work to do in terms of employee engagement. There has been criticism for the way they treat their employees, and while a few disgruntled employees might seem inconsequential, an holistic approach to reaching those ideals is preferable. Mackey spells this out in Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business. The secret to Whole Foods Market’s success is simple. They created a workplace based on love and care and that is also fun. “This releases far more creativity and innovation, enabling our company to improve and evolve rapidly” says Mackey. Conscious capitalism is multi-faceted and it isn’t just about market success. It is also about providing a positive workplace so that achieving success is a journey that everyone can embrace.

“Worthy, transcendent goals elicit greater levels of creativity, collaboration, diligence, loyalty, and passion from all stakeholders.”

JLR has seen success in being one of the best places to work. The company’s core values identify integrity and understanding as important to the way the business functions. At the time of writing, the company reported a profit with increased sales in China and North America.The automotive giant just unveiled their new electric SUV that is set to compete with Tesla in the luxury market.

Conscious capitalism still has a place in the world. This is  especially true for a well-rounded approach where the higher ideals of a company capture the imagination of industry and its employees. In the age of behemoths like Amazon, companies that can demonstrate authenticity both in market and with their own people are leaps ahead of companies that don’t seem to care.