Holistic Business: The Ins and Outs

Holistic Business: The Ins and Outs

One of the great things about being my own boss is that I have full permission to take myself on interesting courses like this one around the holistic business approach.

Of course, I love to learn about careers, how personality insight can support job fit and pick up on trends in the future world of work.

These are the core content pieces that inform our work at Career Matters.

Yet, I’ve also committed to learning more about how to run a good business, a principled business and a business designed with sustainability for myself, my team, the work itself and the planet, in mind.

So I was very excited to spend last week at Schumacher College in Dartington, Devon, Schumacher College defines itself as ‘for adventure’.

The college was founded in 1990 by Satish Kumar and collaborators.

It is set in the beautiful Dartington Estate and offers a range of courses on sustainability and conservation.

The college aims to engage the Heart, the Head and the Hands – and in this way, offers a holistic approach to education.

There were 23 participants from across the world, all of us there to explore and reflect on what holistic business means to us.

They included Sandy, the co-founder of a London based renewable energy law firm, Carlos a charismatic 26-year-old from Madrid engaged in bringing light and power across Colombia, Simon Beckler, a co-founder of the transformation firm The Dive in Berlin, and Annelise, a Norwegian seaweed farmer.

Here are my headline reflections and insights from the week.

What is Holistic Business?

So the title sounds good, but what does this all mean in practice? How can a business measure its success against more than simply a profit motive? All Needs Met?

We began the journey by being introduced to some of the key thinkers in the Holistic Business space.

Kate Raworth is an economist and the creator of the Doughnut Economics model.

At heart, the model examines how we combine the ‘planetary limits’ – that is the earth’s capacity and resilience in the face of humans plundering its resources, alongside human needs such as food, safety, shelter, health and other fundamentals.

Her big idea is that there is a “doughnut” – a buffer zone, between the two, where it is possible to meet the needs of both in a healthy way.

To frame our thinking, we also took some time to focus on the B Corp structure.

This certification, created in three recovering private equity employees in 2006, is designed as a quality mark for conscious, ethical businesses.

It tests your company against such criteria as social and environmental performance and as such, helps companies to focus on the key levers for having their business be a force for good.

Third-party certification from an outside body, whether the Organic Soil Association, Great Place to Work or B Corp, was seen by Seb Pole, co-founder of Pukka and a guest speaker on the programme, as a way to hold oneself to account, discover what more can be done and to build trust.

The consciousness of the system

Planetary boundaries model here.

The planetary boundaries infographic presents a shocking picture.

Biodiversity is being massively impacted by the loss of habitat – caused by human interference and climate change. We are in a phased called the Sixth Great Extinction – where there are huge losses of species taking place worldwide.

From this perspective, holistic businesses are those that are conscious of their existence within a number of different systems, economic, mental, biological, political and social.

These businesses do not regard these elements as ‘externalities’ that are out of scope for discussion, but instead, recognize the integral interdependency and influence that their businesses have on these delicate systems on which our lives depend.

Mac Macartney, the founder of Embercombe, another educational space for sustainability and a frequent speaker at corporate conferences on leadership, helps to bring this alive in his story of the Seven Generations.

He says that in the Native American wisdom, whenever a decision was to be taken, those in charge of the decision would take a pledge around the Children’s Fire.

This pledge was that any decision that they took, should do no harm to the next seven generations of living creatures.

It’s evident, just by hearing this, how far away many businesses are from this very long term view of their responsibilities and impacts.

We’re just too caught up on the short term

We broke out into groups to explore our definition of holistic in more depth.

Udo, one of the participants from Nigeria said that he felt holistic business was the innate ethos of the African village.

That in “the village” a business always needed to be mindful of how it gave back.

That the profits and benefits of a company were in service of the community, not for the individual.

We all were moved by the idea that the global village was a metaphor for us taking care of your space and planet.

The pressures of shareholders, short term reporting and the capitalist model have shortened our sight. It was agreed that companies that remain privately owned seemed to have much more ability to steer the ship in a more conscious direction.

Time to go ‘Teal’

We then turned our attention to the work of Frederic Laloux, an ex-McKinsey thought leader who broke new ground in his book “Reinventing Organisations”.

Laloux describes a new model of organizational design and development, in which decentralized self-organising teams take empowered ownership of their business direction.

These organisations also focus on bringing the ‘whole self’ to work and encouraging an evolutionary purpose – which means that the organisations see themselves as a living organism that matures and evolves over time.

The name Laloux gave to businesses living in this new paradigm is ‘Teal’.

I’ve no idea why, but I do love that colour! 💙

Laloux provides an inspiring set of case studies about where he has seen Teal in action, but his simplification of the complexity of running a holistic business has come under fire too [Read the article here].

What I did like about this approach was the idea of taking inspiration from natural rhythms and ecosystems to design your business and its rituals of practice. As we are from nature and part of nature, this makes good sense to me.

The scale of Holistic Maturity

In her talk, Kate Raworth described our levels of maturity and engagement as businesses as on a scale from

> Do nothing… to

> Do your share (offsetting targets, etc)… to

> Mission Zero (no plastic packaging)… all the way to

> Being Generative

The latter means that instead of a business stripping or removing resources, they are in fact, putting things back in.

This is sometimes known as The Circular Economy

Examples of this would be businesses that turn used coffee grounds into fuel, potato peelings into beer or who use recycled and reclaimed fabrics and take ownership for recycling their products after their use has elapsed with the customer (E.g. Houdini).

We’ve also seen the rise of the sharing economy recently – in which we recognize that we have resources we could pool and share rather than possess on an individual basis.

You see this in housing (E.g. Collective), car sharing (E.g ZipCar), tool share (E.g Ditto) and even dogs (E.g WalkMyDog)

The Consumer Business Case

The popularity of these sharing platforms, sustainable businesses and ethical businesses such as Tom’s shoes, shows us that the consumer is changing. Given the opportunity to make an ethical choice, we are choosing, in ever-rising numbers, to do so.

Take the internal combustion engine

Nigel Topping CEO of The We Mean Business Coalition and an environmental activist came to speak to us about starting movements.

He said he placed a bet on The Long Now that the fossil fuel-fired motor car would be obsolete in the near future.

He described the response of laughter and derision.

Yet in 2017, sales of electric cars captured 1.6% of the market.

In 2018, 3.2%.

Nigel pointed out that once consumers realize their ethical choice can be convenient and an easy switch, you can expect exponential growth.

The automobile manufacturers that did not invest in electric tech are now at least 5 years behind the completion in this growing new category.

Gregg Lucas from IKEA’s sustainability team offered us some other key insights on the shift in consumer consciousness about waste.

In 2016 research by Zero Waste Scotland revealed that the percentage of people surveyed who bought second-hand furniture had increased from a modest 12% in 2008 to 61% by 2016.

Interest in recycling, upcycling and reselling of clothing, furniture and other consumer goods is definitely on the rise.

As is the conscious of what goes into our food, beauty products and cleaning products.

And at last, single-use plastics are this year firmly on the agenda for change.

Karen Creaven who created Active Wellbeing in Birmingham as a spin-out from the City Council and whose work on healthy lifestyles has resulted in over a million interactions with health initiatives reminded us that behaviour is changed by people feeling done with, not done to.

Her work, bringing healthy activities such as biking, running and keep fit to the 408,000 Birmingham residents who live below the poverty line, demonstrated that change is possible.

Not only that, but changing consumer behaviour can lead to huge Governmental savings – in her case, £1 spent on Active Wellbeing in Birmingham saves £21 to the public sector with £17 of this going to improved health outcomes and £8 cashable within 5 years.

This exciting finding shows us that holistic business can result in savings as well as gains.

How to begin your holistic journey

I left the workshop energized and refreshed by the insights I had received from the speakers and from my fellow travellers.

It was clear that there was an appetite for “But how would I take these and make them meaningful in my own business?”.

Well, for starters, here are the headings under which you and I can begin to conduct our own review.

Rate your firm from 1-10 on these – with 1 being low and 10 being high.

★ Purpose – How clear are you on your reason for existence? How far do you go in creating value beyond financial value? Does what you offer and the way you offer it protect the 7 Generations? Why not?

★ Governance – How are you measured, managed and held accountable? What third-party organisations could offer you an audit of your thinking, supply chain, culture and behaviour that might enhance a sustainable model?

★ Networks – Where do you see your business sitting in the wider ecosystem of the planet? What networks, relationships, partnerships and considerations influence your sense of ownership as a stakeholder for the planet?

★ Ownership – How is your business owned? Does this ownership support or hinder a sustainability agenda?

★ Finance – Where does your money come from? Where does it go to? Might an initiative like 1% for the planet or B1G1 enable you to tithe turnover or profit to a social conscious goal?

★ People – In your engagement with your team and your people, how well do you currently honour their individuality and create an environment in which everyone can thrive? What more could you do on the organizational design or day to day level to bring people together?

★ Practice – What are your practices and rituals as a business? How do they support a wider lens on success and value?

Seb Pole, joint founder of Pukka Tea shared with us how, having accidentally turned into a substantial business, Pukka needed to articulate the values that sat at the heart of what they did.

He coined the term – The Wisdom Seeds to articulate these.

He said the Seeds helped the business to anchor themselves when there were tough decisions to make and kept them accountable. His Four Seeds were represented in every meeting by four objects.

> Truth – Medicine Buddha

> Respect – An image of folded hands

> Purity – A piece of rose quartz

> Effort – An imitation Olympic Gold medal

Each meeting at Pukka begins with one-minute silence. To gather to arrive and to reflect consciously on the values that influence the meeting and the company as a whole.

I rather liked that.

Pukka recently sold to Unilever. There was some division in our class about whether we thought this was a good idea. Seb’s view was that a company must continue to grow and evolve and that a marriage with a firm with the infrastructure and logistics to support this growth was a good thing. He did share that the same divisions and anxiety had entered Pukka and that a great deal of time and attention was focussed on helping everyone in the business really get behind the new structure.

So what will Career Matters do as a result of this course?

I will be investigating the added value of becoming a B-Corp. We know that a third party observation of what we are up to can help us find our blind spots and accelerate our thought processes.

We will continue our partnership with B1G1 – making positive giving impacts in small increments every time our clients choose to interact with us.

I’ll also be looking into the amazing learning journey programme run by The Argonauts, a Belgian innovation company co-founded by Xavier, one of my co-participants.

These learning journeys give you real experiences and practical inspiration through visiting firms that have transformed their approach to fashion, food and furniture.

How about you?

What are the levers you might like to pull to make your business more holistic, conscious, sustainable and a net contributor to the Seven Generations? What are the business benefits to your consumers, bottom line, people and ecosystem?

Like this subject? Here are some good books that I think will make your day: 

Conscious Business by Fred Kaufman

Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight by Tom Hoffman

The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward

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