What an infuriating film. This snappy promo for "conscious capitalism" comes very unstuck somewhere between its profiles of small, community-minded (and Vancouver-based) businesses like Save On Meats, and its larger and possibly demented Utopian vision of a world snatched from the brink of catastrophe by the very system that brought us here.
Besides providing libertarian nutcase and Whole Foods founder John Mackey with the title to his 2013 book, “conscious capitalism” proposes that social value and profit needn’t be exclusive. And on a purely humane level, it’s hard to fault the work of something like the Potluck Café Society, "a charity that owns and operates a business" in the words of executive director Heather O’Hara, interviewed here. The Society employs and trains people in the Downtown Eastside, serves between 15-30 thousand free meals annually, and makes “about a million bucks a year.”
Equally, the film gives us of examples of companies that have sacrificed profit for ethics. Mountain Equipment Co-op ate “six figures worth of product” after discovering that its China-based supplier didn’t meet workers rights standards. Boardroom Eco Apparel CEO Mark Trotzuk is seen traveling through Bangladesh and other far-flung locations on his mission to ensure the righteousness of his “lower-impact” product. "You're like a pirate on the high seas of capitalism,” says Lunapads cofounder Madeline Shaw. “This makes more sense than grass roots organizing. This will finance the revolution that I want to see."
It doesn’t sound like much of a revolution. It sounds like what it is—more capitalism. "I want a legacy of giving to the future,” opines Joel Solomon of venture capital fund Renewal. “Billionaire of good deeds! Billionaire of impact!" If that isn’t nauseating enough, how about Mike Rowlands of consultancy firm Junxion Strategy lionizing Richard Branson and Steve Jobs as “great exemplars” of those who meshed profits with their "great purpose"?
Maybe it’s me, but I’d prefer to see Richard Branson’s head on a stick, and I don’t believe that 750 “ethically”-run and certified B-Corporations (with six billion in annual revenues!) is going to change dick in the boardrooms of Walmart, ExxonMobil, Halliburton, Koch, Coca Cola, Nestle, Monsanto—you name it. Solomon optimistically predicts that it’ll take 50 years for this kinder version of the market to take hold. It’s cute that he thinks we even have 50 years.
I realize I’m not coming up with any solutions here, but neither are these people. Vancouver-based “business accelerator” Institute B is credited as the executive producer of the film, meaning that Not Business as Usual is a commercial. Viewer beware.
Not Business as Usual screens at Your Kontinent on Friday (July 25)