Business Doesn’t Have To Be Bad

Untitled-1As a businessperson, a long time retailer, and now a retail commentator and journalist, one of the most difficult things for me to reconcile is my involvement in the promotion of consumerism.

That’s at odds with my more recent conviction that we can’t continue to squander the world’s finite resources on WANTS, whilst ignoring the NEEDS of most of the planet’s population.

The Green Party might be seen by some as an anti-capitalist movement. We are however a broad church with many facets. I was encouraged to become a candidate BECAUSE of my business experience rather than in spite of it, and I saw that as an encouraging aspect.

I’ve run large companies, and I now run a small one. I’m probably something of a gamekeeper turned poacher. But I’ve seen both sides of this debate and come to realise that the idea of continual economic growth is indeed a myth. And one we have to stop believing before we run out of road.

I was at the launch of a new book by Naomi Klein a few months ago.  She makes some interesting points about the connections between environmental issues and the global economy.  The basic tenet is that when resources and commodities are monetised on the kinds of scale they are now, the result is economic and environmental catastrophe. And we’re just getting a taste of that.

The direct impacts are of course climate change, which if you ascribe to that view, is starting to bring with it the kinds of drastic changes in weather patterns that we’ve seen in recent years.

These are all things we’re having to come to terms with now and they’re all traceable to global economic activity. They affect all our lives, not just personally, but in broader human and economic terms.

I’m a vocal advocate of social enterprise, and believe that there are many big businesses out there that can be made to take a more ethical and responsible stance if we create the right conditions to encourage it.  And happily for me there is already a growing movement within the more enlightened areas of the business world towards ethical business and sustainable capitalism.

That might sound like some thing of an oxymoron, but in many sectors of business now there’s a realisation dawning that if we continue to squeeze the pips of the economy, we’ll eventually run out of juice.

Amidst calls from some people for a revolution against rampant capitalism, I see the future as more of an evolution towards a business ethos that views social justice and connection with local and national communities as an asset, rather than an inconvenience.  I’m certainly not anti-capitalist, but I am anti-unfettered capitalism. I agree that the market should be allowed to decide some things. But I believe the state has the job of holding us all to account for our actions and tempering the excesses of marketisation to prevent it working against the common good.

And it’s not just us greeny types taking up this mantra. Many key economists and business commentators are now having similar epiphanies about how business and consumption needs to be managed in a sustainable, responsible and accountable way, if we’re all going to avoid a backlash against the kinds of excesses and irresponsible business practices that became prevalent over the past 20 or 30 years.

Essentially businesses need to grow up and take responsibility for the societies we’ve helped to create.

I’ve recently become very interested in something now being called the circular economy, where consumption itself is fed back into the creation of new resources and products.  This doesn’t just encompass recycling, but also upcycling and renewable energy as part of the manufacturing process, along with emergent technologies, social media, and the fourth economy, comprising enterprises that not only make a profit for business owners, but also put something back into the social economy.

That might all sound a bit hippy and tree-huggy, but it’s something that’s being taken very seriously now by many key figures in the business world. Most notably Bill Gates and Richard Branson. And with good reason.

If you can make money with clean conscience, look after your employees, business partners, suppliers, and most importantly the planet AND enjoy what you’re doing, what’s not to like?

You also get to sleep pretty well at night too

So I hope I can convince you that there is scope within a Green World for enterprise and innovation. Without the need for a constantly growing economy and an ever greater consumption of the worlds finite resources.

With the potential for over a million green jobs out there, and an ethical economy that has only scratched the surface of an emerging market, there are plenty of opportunities for business leaders and entrepreneurs in a future Green and pleasant land.

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About Ian Middleton

Ian writes a regular column for Retail Week Magazine and also writes for Huffington Post, EvolvePolitics.com as well as contributing comment pieces for national newspapers and magazines. He has appeared on BBC TV and local and national radio and was The Green Party Parliamentary candidate for North Oxfordshire in 2015 and 2017. He is an ethical entrepreneur with areas of expertise in retail and social entrepreneurship. But he also writes and comments on music, food, the environment, ethical consumerism, technology, energy production and animal and human rights. Ian is a trained psychologist, musician, runner, hiker, allotmenteer, vegan, humanist and committed atheist.

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