Your Kontinent 2014: Not Business as Usual is totally business as usual

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      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)


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      Zach V.

      Jul 26, 2014 at 12:56pm

      A friend of mine worked on this film and shared this negative review, calling it exciting to be getting feedback. So I read the review, watched the trailer, and subsequently had to watch the whole film. In the end, I agree and disagree.

      Initially I was confused by your frustration with the companies and organizations featured in the film, who are obviously trying to make a deliberate shift towards more "responsible" and "economic" practices -a much better alternative to the current "status quo".

      I then realized your point -the system we have (that has brought us to the brink of catastrophe) is not in need of refining and improvement, but a complete reform. The solution to our environmental and social problems is a near abolishment of the current practices. However, I believe that to be completely unrealistic.

      I think capitalism has a rightful place in this world. For those to develop a product or service in good faith and distribute to his fellow kind, be it a local or global scale. Though the philosophy behind capitalism may leave room for flaw, (money in - money out = profits, leading to short cuts and unethical behaviour to maximize profits) the manufacturer and consumer have an equal responsibility to uphold high standards.

      While I admit the movement of responsible capitalism isn't the end all solution, it is certainly much better than the current practice for a number of obvious reasons, and may buy us some time for solutions down the road. Those obvious reasons (environmental, fair trade, organic, work standards, human rights, waste treatment.... etc), are creating the social stir of ethical responsibility and making people reconsider systems.

      As Mark Brand excellently put it (47:23 in the film), old school capitalists need to move money around and create platforms for young intelligent entrepreneurs to figure out unconventional ways to fix the problems this system unintentionally introduced.

      Corporations are here to stay. People want their hoodies, their skateboards, their MacBook Pro's, and need tampons, food, clothes to keep them warm. This system of producer / consumer is not leaving anytime soon, unless the public takes everything into their own hands once again (making an interesting loop in history).

      I strongly believe if you are not part of the solution, you are 100% part of the problem, whether one is aware or willing to admit that.