Book review: The conscious business – how to achieve purpose with profit

Former Cundall principal Alistair Coulstock wants to change the way the top end of town does business in The conscious business – how to achieve purpose with profit.

There are two core issues responsible for the majority of problems faced in developed countries, Coulstock says – separation from nature and separation from community.

The strategies in the book aim to address both.

“It’s about what entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs can do to be the change we need,” he says.

“We need leaders with authenticity, purpose and passion.”

Coulstock went around the world gathering tools and case studies people can use to change business practices. They include the WELL Building Standard and the Living Future Institute’s JUST certification scheme.

The WELL standard is useful because it focuses on the processes within the building, not just the building, he says.

“These can have a significant impact on depression, which according to the [World Health Organization] will be the biggest impact on our societies and economies by 2030.”

Measuring success

Businesses and organisations are having a significant environmental and social impact on the world, but many have insufficient feedback loops to recognise this impact, Coulstock says.

Many rely solely on shareholder sentiment and profit as a gauge of success. There is a need for benchmarking and metrics that can measure other impacts that are outside the business, including impacts on clients, others in the same industry and up and down the supply chain.

“The big guys in town have a responsibility to create those systems and collect the data. Then they need to hand the tools down to the small and medium size enterprises who have insufficient resources to collect all the data that is required.”

Coulstock says this transfer of knowledge is important as part of achieving broader change, as SMEs struggle to find the time to do things beyond simply running the business. However, there is a benefit of giving back.

“We are social animals and are hardwired to help each other. Sadly, opportunities for giving in a business setting have been reduced to a minimum. It is only when presented with an opportunity for giving back that many of us realise that it actually makes us happy.

“It’s the serotonin hormone in our bodies that gives us this feeling. We need more of this, together with oxytocin, and less dopamine-fuelled KPIs or individualistic hormones, to make a balanced workplace.”

In a chapter on altruism, he looked at how organisations can develop policies and processes that allow staff to engage with causes they relate to in terms of both donating and giving time.

One example is the Benojo platform, a networking/crowd-sourcing platform that helps people connect with others around common causes for giving.

It is definitely not a book that confines itself to any single genre.

Like the systems thinking that is explained in depth, it links together elements as diverse as the physiological impact of daylight, Big Data, how to experience the difference between organic time and clock time, what IEQ is why it matters, and big philosophical questions like, “Is more money really the way to become happier?”

Coulstock also looks at examples, including from his own experiences, of different business models and how they play out both for the financial bottom line and the people working within those businesses.

Woven through is the need for business and the wider society to re-establish a proper relationship with the natural world. This is both on the micro, individual level, and on the macro level of taking a regenerative approach to resources and the products big and small made from them.

The book also outlines tools and tactics readers can use to become part of a wider transition where businesses and the people in them are focused on purpose and co-creating a sustainable future.

As Coulstock writes in the introduction: “I want to change the world – I have a vision of what it can be. A place full of positive intent. A global community with social harmony and people living purposeful lives.”

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