Thought leaders convene at TSSS to discuss a better form of Capitalism (Event Summary Dec. 5, 2012)

On December 5th TSSS held its first event in a new exploration of ideas under the theme of Capitalism 2.0. A sold out audience of 110 (and another 100 virtually) converged at the offices of Bennett Jones in Toronto to hear from two sustainability innovators and to share their own ideas on the future of capitalism.

Esther Speck, Director of Sustainability and Community at Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), Canada’s largest member owned co-operative (10% of Canadians are members) and Terry Kellogg, CEO of 1% For the Planet, a global movement of more than 1000 companies that donate 1% of their sales to a network of more than 3000 environmental organizations, shared the story of the synergy that exists between their organizations.  They discussed the need for new business models that are more sensitive to environmental and social impacts.  The audience then divided into small breakout groups to discuss their own ideas about Capitalism 2.0. 

These small group breakout sessions were led by expert facilitators from organizations including PwC, Delphi Group, BMW, Earthshine Solutions, Eco-Ethonomics and CSRwire.  The insights offered by Kellogg and Speck, combined with the ideas generated in these animated breakout sessions will serve as the foundation for a TSSS Discussion Paper about the future of capitalism to be released in the new year.  Click here to join the TSSS email list and be notified when the Discussion Paper is released.

What is Capitalism 2.0?  Is it about increasing shareholder returns?  Is it about recognizing diverse stakeholders affected by business activities?  Is it about recognizing the environmental and social context in which we both work and live? Is it about accepting that the resources of our planet are finite?  Is it about understanding that business must accept responsibility for both its upstream and downstream impacts?  Is it about moving forward on a journey of success and prosperity that accepts, rather than denies, our current political, economic, social and environmental reality?  Yes to all of those questions and so much more.

As Australian sustainability advocate Paul Gilding explains, “The earth is full. It’s full of us, it’s full of our stuff.”  In his recent TEDtalk, he discusses the worldwide research that clearly demonstrates our current economy to be unsustainable and he asks us to imagine our world when the “carbon bubble bursts.”  Gilding explains: “We cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet.  The system is breaking down right before our eyes and it’s starting to have economic damage.  We can’t bend the rules of physics to suit our needs.  We need to act like our future depends on it.  We can solve this problem – the only obstacle that stands before us is the way we think.”

As an introduction to this event, Joyce Sou from MaRS Centre for Impact Investing explained to the TSSS audience about B Corporations.  Certified B Corporations are committed to a new way of thinking, a fundamental change in how we do business.  These corporations are based on a new model, one which uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.  The vision of B Corps is, “simple yet ambitious: to redefine success in business.”  Capitalism 2.0 is about a ‘reboot’ in the way we do business and certified B Corps are striving to be leaders in this new business era.  TSSS is proud to be currently undergoing the B Corp certification process.

1% FTP has used creative advertising campaigns to reach people and engage them in a new way of thinking for a new economic era.  1% FTP recognizes that the current crisis requires thinking outside the box and beyond the ‘old’ ways of environmental struggle.  New strategies are needed to preserve and protect our world.  For example, one of their ads reads, “You could chain yourself to a tree.  But you might get eaten by a bear.” Another ad shows a traditional bank building with the sign “Bank of the Ice Caps: We Prosper when the Earth Does.”  Underneath the photo, there is the tag line signed by 1% FTP stating, “Because this doesn’t exist, we do.”

These types of ads draw people’s interest, and engage their curiosity in understanding the mission of 1% FTP, to build and support an alliance of businesses financially committed to creating a healthy planet. Member organizations donate1% of sales to environmental causes that have been vetted by 1% FTP.  This gives their growing alliance of companies the opportunity to see not only their self-worth rise, but their net worth climb as well.  1% FTP recognizes that its reach goes far beyond their member companies and the donations they make – it is actively engaged in a broader vision of public awareness of important environmental causes, and recognizes its potential to grow partnerships and promote collective action, such as when they worked to protect the Colorado River.  Kellogg spoke of the idea of businesses coming together in the “spirit of partnership, putting forward opportunities to align for mutual benefit”, the need to reach out and change hearts and minds, the importance of meeting people where they are, the value of harnessing existing energy and the urgency of supporting movements of abundance rather than scarcity.

MEC is well recognized in the Canadian business community as a company with a focus on environmental stewardship. Speck spoke of how MEC strives to live its values and recognize that everything it does has impact.  The alliance with 1% FTP is a great fit for MEC’s core values and principles.  In fact, sustainability principles are actively incorporated into MEC’s charters, policies and business strategy.  It is committed to transparency in its own operations, transparency in its supply chain, strong and committed leadership and engagement with all stakeholders. MEC recognizes that sustainability is a journey and is not afraid to take some risks and be willing to fail. As an example of an idea that didn’t meet with great success, Speck described their in-store polyester takeback recycling program which seemed a great idea until the final tally of polyester collected, once all inappropriate or contaminated items were removed from the collected garments, proved to be only about 100 lbs.

MEC’s involvement with 1% FTP came about when MEC chose to include Patagonia products in its retail offerings. Patagonia influenced MEC to ally with 1% FTP – a great example of business influencing business and its importance for Capitalism 2.0.

Business can not only exert its influence on other businesses but also upon other parts of society such as citizens and governments.  MEC has long taken an active role in advocacy through such programs as its “Big Wild” initiative for wilderness protection.

One of the ways in which MEC has truly embraced Capitalism 2.0 is by adopting an internal ‘cost of carbon’ into its decision making processes.  With this cost actively being considered, it changes ways of thinking, and makes such things as alternative power economically feasible.  MEC has placed significant focus on Product Integrity, but recognizes that it is not a retail behemoth such as WalMart and thus must collaborate and cooperate with others in order to truly influence such things as its supply chain.  An example of this type of initiative would be how MEC was able to join with others in the outdoor industry (including Patagonia, North Face and REI) to convince their textile mill suppliers to get “bluesign®” certified (bluesign® is the independent industry textile standard).  MEC is now able to source 50% of its MEC brand apparel using bluesign® textiles, and continues to strive towards 100%.

The presentations by Esther Speck and Terry Kellogg got everyone in the room thinking about a new economic model, a model of capitalism in which business thrives as it solves, rather than creates, social and environmental problems.  Capitalism 2.0 isn’t simply a better way of doing business; it’s the only way of doing business if we hope to survive on this finite planet we call home.

to learn more about how to define and put into practice the principles of Capitalism 2.0, be sure to watch for the release of our TSSS 2013 Discussion Paperclick here to join the TSSS email list and be notified when the Discussion Paper is released.

If you haven’t yet read our 2012 TSSS Discussion Paper, Objection Handling: A Professional’s Guide to Overcoming Objections to Sustainability Adoption and Implementation, click here.

To view the event twitterchat summary – please click here
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Toronto Sustainability Speaker Series (TSSS)
is widely recognized as Canada’s premiere forum for dialogue and problem solving among sustainability professionals.  Each year over 1000 sustainability change agents attend TSSS events to exchange ideas, to network and to be inspired by leading companies that have integrated sustainability into their business practices. Please click here to learn more.

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