Can you imagine if the role of businesses was to provide goods and services in the least disruptive way, promoting economic, environmental and social harmony, and being one of the main drivers of climate action?
What might this reimagined role look like for existing businesses?
First, businesses would be sustainable by default, and those that were not would be called out specifically as ‘unsustainable businesses’, which naturally would deter consumers from consuming from them.
Businesses would re-evaluate their existing operating models and see if they are compatible with the core values of their customers, employees, cultures and regions in which they operate. They would look beyond their factory and office walls and truly integrate themselves with the communities around them. They would know exactly where each piece in their products came from and where it went, understanding the entire impact (both, positive and negative) that it had along the way.
What does this reimagined role mean for startups? Instead of just making a ‘great’ product and finding a market for it, they will start with building relationships: deeply understanding the customer and their wants and needs. They will cater to these wants and needs in the best way possible. Best not just for the business or the customers, but for society as a whole. This will entail a shift from a profit maximisation focus, to a delivery of the most value with the least disruption focus. Right from the extraction of elements from nature, to transportation, to manufacturing, to sales, to consumption, and finally to the end of lifecycle, each person and environment that is involved in the process will be thought out and consulted.
Moving beyond business, in the traditional sense, the Re-Imagined business would aim to create self-reliance instead of dependence (and addiction), using local materials and developing locally relevant products. Really, business as usual, would be flipped on its head, where producing and selling less would be honored, as would diversity, and collaboration across sectors and cultures, where each unique ‘gift’ of a given community is honored.
Japan’s ‘One Village One Product’ movement, which later influenced Thailand’s ‘One Tambon One Product’ initiative, are good examples of this, where each unique village’s ‘gift’ is honored and shared with other villages, on a national level.
Businesses would be taxed according to the life-affirming qualities of their products. Thus, healthy, organic foods would be taxed less, and unhealthy, processed, foods would be taxed more. Advertising would be encouraging less consumption of unhealthy goods, and more consumption of healthy ones.
Just think of advertising with cigarettes throughout the past century. The ‘Marlboro Man’ started in the USA in 1954, then eventually advertising for cigarettes was banned, so the tobacco companies increased their advertising in ‘developing countries’ to increase their sales. This too is shifting. In Indonesia (search smoking children in Indonesia to get a glimpse), the place where advertising was perhaps most targeted and aggressive with tobacco , now is even cutting back on advertising tobacco.
Cigarettes are a very tangible example. But this same line of thinking applies to all the unhealthy ‘stuff’ we are encouraged, and manipulated through advertisements, to consume. They even started putting the insides of ‘tarred lungs’ or images of ‘esophageal cancer’ on cigarette packets.
What if when buying a soda, or bag of doritos, there was an image of an overly obese person. Or when buying a ‘cheap plastic toy’ for your child, there was a picture of a turtle stuck in plastic. Personally, I do not think that I would like that. Perhaps, at the core of this is education, or lack thereof.
Specifically the education of the consumer. Do we REALLY need to see a picture of tarred lungs to know that cigarettes are harmful to our lungs? What about the other stuff we consume? What will it take to change the behavior of the consumer, for the better?
Perhaps the vision Gandhi Ji paints in Village Swaraj, for localization, de-mechanization and cottage industries, will become the future of business?
“We are inhabitants of a country
where there is no sorrow and no suffering,
Where there is no illusion nor anguish, no delusion nor desire,
Where flows the Ganges of love
and the whole creation is full of joy,
Where all minds flow in one direction,
and where there is no occasion for sense of time,
All have their wants satisfied;
Here all barter is just,
Here all are cast in the same mould, Here is no lack nor care,
No selfishness in any shape or form, No high no low, no master no slave; All is light, yet no burning heat, That country is within you —
It is Swaraj, Swadeshi, The home within you —
Victory! Victory! Victory! He realizes it who longs for it.”
(excerpted from Village Swaraj, page 22, a song translated by Gandhi Ji, which served as the introduction to the chapter ‘The Ideal Society’)
Lead Author: Jai Warrier (first 5 paragraphs)
Jai Warrier is the cofounder of the Initiative for Climate Action (ICA), based out of Bangalore, India. ICA’s vision is to make transformative systems change for and through climate action. It is doing this by curating climate action knowledge (solutions and stories) that is actionable and contextualised locally, disseminating it to relevant stakeholders (individuals, communities, organisations, and governments), and transforming them into climate leaders who are empowered and enabled to build resilience and thrive in the face of the climate crisis. He was previously a consultant in the social impact sector. He has also studied sociology and applies that lens in everything he does. Outside of work, Jai enjoys traveling and spending time in nature.
Anchor Author: Daniel Rudolph
Daniel Rudolph is interested in exploring alternative, experiential learning opportunities for people of all ages. He is passionate about forming community, and building public spaces for meaningful, transformational gathering. Currently he is spending a lot of his time learning juggling and facilitating gatherings. He also enjoys writing and sharing poetry.
Dan, and a small team, are in the process of publishing a series of articles titled ‘Live Human Signposts’ that showcases individuals that have taken alternative paths to higher education and/or are pursuing regenerative livelihoods, which is being commissioned by the Ecoversities Alliance. In March, Dan will begin an apprenticeship in Vermont at the MAPLE Monastic Academy.