Conscious Capitalism -- Can Companies Care in the Downturn?

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I read a fascinating article in the Dallas Morning News this week about why the corporate values of The Container Store and Whole Foods Market are similar. The founders of the two companies, Kip Tindell and John Mackey, apparently shared a house with a few other roomies while attending the University of Texas. 

Both emerged from these formative years to start companies that went on to major success based in part on their groundbreaking philosophy that all stakeholders matter -- employees, customers and the community as well as investors. That more profits come from caring than from naked greed.

But do these high-minded values still work for entrepreneurs trying to keep their businesses alive in the recession-plauged 21st Century?

Tindell and Mackey hope they do. They're still out there, preaching the conscious-business word. The two business leaders went on to co-found the nonprofit Conscious Capitalism Alliance, which will hold its third annual summit in Lake Arrowhead in October. 

Besides Tindell and Mackey, speakers are slated to include former Trader Joe's president Doug Rauch, Seventh Generation co-founder Jeffrey Hollender, and Moral Markets author Paul Zak. Their theme is Exploring the Edges of Conscious Leadership.This invitation-only confab is limited to 130 participants and costs nearly $4,000 a head. 

Is it me, or does the format of that summit seem sort of contrary to the whole idea of conscious capitalism, and caring about the community? Why not let 1,000 people hear the gospel of triple bottom-line values? Sounds sort of contrary to the philosophy of caring about the community.

This made me wonder about the state of forward-thinking business in the downturn. There hasn't been as much talk in the business community about doing well by doing good in the past couple of years as there was prior, in my estimation. 

When the economy tanks, do high-minded values go out the window? Or is it possible to thrive by continuing to care as much about worker treatment, customer experience, and giving back as you do about the bottom line?

I wonder how many business owners have sat in their offices late at night the past couple years, making decisions to cut corners. To pay workers less, or cut back on customer service, or eliminate their corporate giving program, to stay alive.

Do you think conscious capitalism has been threatened by the recession? Or do bad times make the drive to build a moral company stronger? I think for many, higher goals may have taken a back seat the past couple years.

Have you changed how you run your company since 2008? Leave a comment and let us know.

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