What is a Socially Conscious Business?

With Meghan French Dunbar

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What’s your favorite company? It’s safe to say that most people have a few go-to brands they come back to time and time again. Would you be surprised to learn that most people’s favorite companies are socially conscious businesses?

These businesses take ownership over the impact they have on the planet and are built around better-for-the-world values that guide business leaders and employees to make positive change in their field. So, maybe it’s not too much of a surprise these companies are performing ten times better than their competitors.

Customers have the power to vote with each dollar spent, and their votes are driving more and more businesses to be truly socially responsible. And, in fact, 66% of consumers are willing to pay more for a product if the company supports a social or environmental cause, and 70% of millennial consumers will stop supporting businesses that don’t align with their personal beliefs.

On the Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation podcast, Cory interviewed our first ever returning guest, Meghan French Dunbar. You may remember her from our episode on Conscious Company Media. She’s now flying solo and using her extensive background in conscious business to help entrepreneurs, especially women, build companies that are impactful in creating positive change in our communities.

What is a “Conscious Business?” A Definition

What is a “Conscious Business?” A DefinitionAt its core, a conscious business is one that intends to have a positive impact on the world for both people and the planet. To accomplish this, Meghan narrowed it down to three key components that are essential when analyzing truly conscious businesses

Leadership development

A conscious business is led by someone who embodies and executes the mission for the company in a sustainable manner, with transparency. In the business world, leadership has to be empathetic, possess emotional mastery, and have unflinching integrity in the face of opposition. Leadership development and a willingness to learn at the C-Suite level is a crucial element for a conscious business to thrive.

Stakeholder consideration

As conscious businesses grow, they are able to expand their environmental goals and make an increasingly positive impact on the planet. To achieve this growth, conscious businesses must perform not only for their shareholders, but for their community, environment, and employees. Each of these essential stakeholders must play a role to keep businesses aware of how they affect the world around them, strategically directed toward positive impact at each step, and committed to offsetting and eliminating any harm they cause.

Strong team building

Any human resources professional can explain that it’s harder to recruit talented people for companies with poor employee retention rates. So, how do you build that retention? Well, employees (and customers for that matter) are more likely to support companies aligned with their own ethos. Employees who are treated well and have a higher mission beyond a paycheck perform better in the workplace, are generally more engaged, and tend to stay with the same company longer. These employees value authentic communication and transparent business leaders who utilize constructive negotiation. This is a core tenet of conscious business.

Embedded within each facet of a conscious business is the shared belief that there is a higher purpose than profit. While we know for-profit businesses need profit to exist, the way profit is critical to the social responsibility of a business.

Before even approaching product development or marketing, founders need to ask, what is the purpose of this business? Will this business retain the solidarity of its community? Will the practice of business in this field be beneficial to all parties?

Another concept you might hear in this space is “conscious capitalism.” This is the basic belief that acknowledges the evolution of capitalism and the potential for business to elevate humanity through well-executed practices. Instead of redefining what capitalism is and substantially changing it, conscious capitalism builds on what is successful about capitalism and simply incorporates elements like higher purpose, stakeholder orientation, conscious leadership, and conscious culture—all practices that benefit human beings and the planet we live on.

Conscious Businesses 

As concern for the environment grows and companies are being pushed to be more sustainable in their industries, the number of social entrepreneurs and conscious businesses are growing. To name a few: Badger is one of the many companies fighting climate change, while Jeremy Lang at Pela invented entirely new, eco-friendly materials for plastic electronic accessories (like their compostable phone case). Bodhi Surf & Yoga built a business around responsible tourism, strengthening the fight to save our oceans with each guest who visits them. If you want more, check out the B Corp community, leading the movement to use business as a force for good.

Supporting conscious businesses has a ripple effect of benefits. By purchasing these products as a consumer, you’re feeding a system in which conscious businesses can effectively compete in their respective industries. You’re also ensuring that they can continue to do the incredible work they’re doing to benefit workers and the environment.

Building and running a conscious business requires more conscientious decision making and an uncompromising commitment to the mission for good, and the reward is the creation of a movement. The largest corporations we can all list off have benefitted from a capitalist system that rewarded unconscious business: the effects of which we are seeing throughout the world. Unconscious businesses put profits first, and environment and community are left as an afterthought, if considered at all. Mega-brands like these have had exceptional performance and growth that comes at the expense of the planet and people that allow them to get where they are.

Fortunately for all of us, conscious businesses are showing us that it is possible for business to operate without causing the destruction of the world around it—even that the expectation should be that businesses should have a positive impact, not just not a negative one! Building the community of conscious businesses is the only way to retain the dignity of each person affected by operations and reshape the typical model into one that is truly sustainable.

Meghan French Dunbar

Meghan French DunbarFormer co-founder and CEO of the first publications on conscious business, Conscious Company Media, Meghan French Dunbar has a history of inspiring others to have a meaningful impact through business.

Meghan most recently went solo and developed a venture that encapsulates all she has to offer the business sector, especially as it impacts women. Her new company, meganfrenchdunbar.com, offers courses and resources for social entrepreneurs looking to reinvigorate their businesses or create a business that focuses on the triple bottom line: people, planet, profit.

Meghan draws on her experience from the nonprofit sector, being a CEO, and working with thousands of impact-driven entrepreneurs to encourage purposeful business decisions. Her passion and unwavering commitment to building opportunities for conscious businesses to thrive is unmatched in the industry.

“It’s about how to maximize the potential of your business. How to really spur innovation, how to set your business up for success.”

Getting Started with Building a Socially Conscious Business 

Meghan had a few recommendations on how to maximize your business’s potential for socially conscious practices that prioritize all stakeholders. 

  • Do the B Corp Impact Assessment. This free tool will set you up with a baseline to understand exactly where you need to be with responsible practices. To answer all your questions prior to starting, check out our post on the B Impact Assessment based on our experience going through the process. 
  • Immerse yourself in the world of conscious businesses by reading books, listening to podcasts, and viewing examples of conscious businesses that are in the space. If you need a place to start, here’s our social entrepreneurship book list. Of course, the guests on our Social Entrepreneurship & Innovation Podcast always leave us with insight and updates worth checking up on as well. 
  • For some guiding principles and assistance in your company’s journey to conscious business, check out Meghan’s Conscious Business 101 Workshop. This four-part series explores everything you need to know about launching a business that addresses all elements of responsibility.

Closing: Tangible Takeaways and Asking Tough Questions 

Conscious businesses and businesses led by purpose aren’t beneficial just for consumers, they also create enriching environments for workers, yield high profits, and add value to the world. In any form, better-for-the-world business practices can enhance your company and widen your customer base.

Conscious businesses touch every industry from conscious coffee companies, to marketing services, wealth management services, tourism, and everything in between. Next time you need a new product, take a beat to double check your expectations. You can choose to support companies on board with the new purpose of business: to support and engage the environment and humanity.

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