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What Is Conscious Business & How Can We Cultivate It?

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Jill TaylorBy Jill Taylor, CEO & Co-founder of The HuPerson Project

To have a conscience in business, and to be a conscious business leader, are seemingly similar terms. Yet are they? Somehow, we have collapsed the distinction between conscience and conscious, eclipsing an important difference. Investigating how these terms are different is crucial in developing a leader whose awareness becomes more inclusive, more flexible, and more responsive to the rapidly changing needs of business today.

Conscience V Conscious

The etymology of the word “conscience” is an interesting one. Around c.1200 it is called “the faculty of knowing what is right,” related particularly to Christian ethics. Example: “It went against her conscience to eat meat.” The word, “conscious,” likewise points to awareness, but in a more general sense. “She was conscious of the problem.”  Exploring the difference between these terms in a business context features conscious business in an important way.

An Indian proverb holds, “In a person’s justice, partiality and error are found, for their conscience is overshadowed by their self.” Linked to the ego, a person’s conscience can be unreliable. As the ego softens and a person becomes more empathetic, the conscience develops, yet while a highly developed conscience can point to a moral person, conscience alone is not enough.  

To be conscious means something different: to expand the periphery of what you are aware of, experiencing that which transpires behind that which appears. It means looking at the awareness of the mind itself and of the world. Here, the very ideals toward which one’s conscience is pointing — one’s idea of the right thing to do — come under scrutiny. How often in history do we encounter people who sincerely uphold their conscience, yet become the guiding force for wrong-headed actions?

A Distinction With A Difference

Imagine a business that contributes to the general welfare by offering products or funds. We all applaud that. This charitable contribution is an act of conscience, responding to the needs of others. And yet, is this offering enough? Is it conscious business? Could this charitable act be an ad hoc reaction to our world without a developed awareness at the back of it? To face the large challenges of our time, we need an awareness of the interconnectedness of the whole system, not just one particular problem.

Companies who collapse this distinction between conscience and conscious may well practice “corporate greenwashing,” seeking the accolades of conscious business without earning it. It’s possible to make a positive contribution, and yet without taking a full, conscious look at the activities a business is engaged in, by attempting to solve one problem, we can actually create new problems. If we are only acting from our business conscience, we miss the opportunity to develop a larger, deeper awareness, which would generate decisions with greater and more lasting consequences and thereby become a conscious business.

How To Move To Being A Conscious Business?

How do you start to move your company towards conscious business? First, look at the industry your company is a part of. What are some of the problems in the way business is done now in your area?

Eileen Fisher, a woman’s clothing brand, for example, is situated in the world of textiles. The manufacture of textiles is costly for the environment, coming in third in planetary water consumption, just after wheat and rice. On their website, Eileen Fisher expresses their commitment to “circular design,” in which “resale, remanufacturing and repair all stand together as equal parts of our work.” Eileen Fisher accepts recycled clothes in good condition, giving a $5.00 rebate, thereby reducing the manufacture of new clothes. They also make donations to non-profits supporting girls, women and the environment.

By looking at their work in this way, using design awareness, Eileen Fisher opens up a new structure of mind, able to create strategies which do address the impact of their business in a larger, more comprehensive way. The company strives to do no harm, or to at least address and minimise harm, while also giving back to the community. This is the realm of business with conscious design, developing awareness while also making charitable contributions to their community.

A second way of developing conscious awareness is to explore the limits of your conscience. Choose a belief you have about what’s right.  Now, ask yourself, “What’s the opposite of what I believe that may also be true?” This will enlarge your awareness by moving beyond polarities. Next, explore a too often overlooked question: “What are the consequences of what I believe my conscience is telling me to do?” Cultivating awareness creates a larger parameter of awareness, from which the leader can pivot in new ways to meet the pressing needs of our time.

Conclusion

Cultivating conscious business involves fostering a developed awareness of both your business model and your assumptions behind it. Rather than asking how we can be charitable, for example, the CEO of utility giant Ørsted, Henrik Poulsen and his team, asked themselves, according to CEO Excellence, “What does the world need, and where does the company excel?” 

To truly answer those questions, we ferret out the assumptions that lie behind business as usual, an inquiry that enlarges our perspective, giving us a wider purview and an extended awareness. We can then go further into other possibilities, which can then lead to unexpected and greater financial success. As a result of his developed awareness, Poulsen took a big risk, successfully moving his company away from fossil fuels. Conscious business can be the hallmark of the future, combining profit and stewardship in a transformative way.

Jill Taylor, (RN, MN)

Co-founder / CEO

https://thehupersonproject.com/

Co-founder and CEO of three businesses, Jill Taylor has devoted her career to fostering unique methods of transformation for individuals, teams and companies. She co-founded The Taylor Group with her mother, Carolyn Taylor, at the forefront of wellness and leadership, helping clients understand the nature of the changes confronting them and how to become new inside those changes. Then as CEO of Burgerville, Jill helped the company navigate COVID with strategic flexibility while strengthening local economies by working with local farmers to the benefit of all. Together with Shelly Cooper and Daniel Goodenough, in 2023, Jill co-founded the HuPerson Project to transform a leader’s awareness and presence, and to open a new structure of thinking needed to navigate the world emerging. Jill’s changemaker spirit was recently recognised as one of Portland, Oregon’s most influential women by the Portland Business Journal.

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