Planet, Profit, or You: Which One to Choose?
In September 2019, more than 7 million people around the globe participated in the Global Climate Strike, possibly the largest environmental strike of our history, demanding:
“…complete phase-out of fossil fuels, the end of burning and deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and Indonesia, and an immediate transition towards just and equitable 100% renewable energy”.
In November, Collins Dictionary named climate strike the word of the year.
Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year is climate emergency, defined as “a situation in which urgent action is required to reduce or halt climate change and avoid potentially irreversible environmental damage resulting from it.”
So, where does it leave us entrepreneurs? Should we join the governments and stand aside, idly watching frustrated children and young people demanding action in the streets?
Is it even rational and realistic for us to care about the environment when doing ‘business’ is already exploiting almost 100% of our mental, physical, and financial resources?
In the end, every person involved in business activities primarily wishes to succeed. Succeed in developing a great product or service. Succeed in satisfying the needs of their customers better than anyone else. Succeed in making money and securing material comfort for themselves and their families.
In this optic, it seems that there is not much capacity left for dealing with the ailments of our planet and woes of our communities. Which is why we need to take a closer look at the difference between the definition of a businessperson and that of an entrepreneur.
A typical businessperson would measure their elemental success by performance in maximizing turnover, winning new markets, fortifying their brand image, or becoming a known leader in the field.
An entrepreneur, on the other hand, acknowledges that shooting for profit and fame alone won’t result in sufficient levels of satisfaction, self-worth, and fulfillment. They aim at improving their own and other people’s lives while being mindful of the environment and all the creatures that inhabit the Earth.
And just as entrepreneurship is not only about raising copious amounts of cash and developing new state-of-the-art apps, mindfulness is not only about sitting lotus style, drinking organic tea, and contemplating the dry leaves falling off a nearby tree.
Being mindful equals to being present, to being aware of what is going on around you. So allow me to stretch the definition even further:
A mindful entrepreneur is one who is conscious of the issues plaguing their own communities.
A mindful entrepreneur is one who understands that their only true home is the blue planet.
Mindfulness also means acceptance, rather than resistance. That’s why mindful entrepreneurs don’t complain, protest, or cry over injustice, unfairness, conflict, or suffering. They see things as they are and they do all in their power — and often more — to contribute to a viable solution.
Mindfulness further means proactiveness, rather than reactiveness. That’s why mindful entrepreneurs don’t let circumstances lead the course of their decisions. They assume control of how they respond to what happens to them, and to those they care about — whether it is their family, friends, neighbors, citizens of their country, or global customers.
HOW EXACTLY CAN IT BE DONE?
The concept of entrepreneurship that combines both for-profit (= make money) and for-purpose (= make an impact) endeavors is not new. Social enterprises focus not only on increasing their bottom line (net profit), but rather adopt the acclaimed triple bottom line framework: PROFIT + PEOPLE + PLANET.
The concept of mindful entrepreneurship adds just one more P and that is PERSONAL GROWTH.
Let’s have a look at what they mean individually.
PROFIT = generating financial returns = ECONOMIC SUSTAINABILITY
At the most rudimentary level, entrepreneurship entails creative and economic activities while assuming the risk of investing own and acquired resources in the hope of financial gains.
PEOPLE = promoting well-being, equity, and diversity = SOCIAL SUSTAINABILITY
The necessity to integrate needs and values of the common population into daily business operations and decision-making processes stems from the concept of responsible leadership. Business leaders may not only be better equipped (expertise + power + influence) than governments to address certain challenges the society is facing, they often earn higher trust from people than the official political representation.
While governments certainly play a key role in the lives of citizens, we’ve recently seen an upsurge of social movements where people are exercising their right to take change into their own hands — starting from Women’s Wall in India (equality), to Yellow Vests in France (economic justice), or Anti-ELAB in Hong Kong (legal autonomy), to name a few.
PLANET = preserving natural resources and minimizing pollution = ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY
Climate change is not the only item on the list of top issues that should make us worry. The key findings of the UN Global Environment Outlook (March 2019) show that:
- air pollution is currently the cause of between 6 and 7 million premature deaths per year
- biodiversity loss is driving a mass extinction of species
- marine plastic litter occurs at all levels of the marine ecosystem, with potential impact on human health
- land degradation hotspots cover approximately 29% of land globally
- 1.4 million people die annually from preventable diseases that are associated with pathogen-polluted drinking water
- antibiotic-resistant infections are projected to become a major cause of death worldwide by 2050
- pesticides, heavy metals, and plastics appear in alarmingly high levels in our food supply
To put it bluntly, if you do business and you don’t care about the environment, it’s as if you were decorating your house while its roof was on fire.
And the argument that “ecological kills profitable” doesn’t stand anymore.
The trend of circular economy, for example, shows that corporations can simultaneously:
a) lower their business costs by extending the life cycle of raw materials
b) mitigate their negative impact on the environment by reducing production of waste
PERSONAL GROWTH = activating the best version of myself = INDIVIDUAL SUSTAINABILITY
When you chose to trade the stability of a 9–5 job for the insecurity of the entrepreneurial lifestyle, you once and for all took charge of your future, which includes:
- Your environment (where you live, the air you breathe, the water you drink…)
- Your relationships (your close ones, your neighbors, colleagues, your community, your customers…)
- YOU (body + mind + spirit)
We all know that in an airplane emergency we must first put on our own oxygen mask before helping others. We simply cannot help our communities and our planet to the best of our ability if we are not the best possible versions of ourselves. That’s why individual sustainability is for a mindful entrepreneur just as important as the economic / environmental / social one.
IS IT REALLY THE RIGHT TIME?
Even though, as we have just seen, the Earth is crying for help more than ever, it’s also the best time to be an entrepreneur.
In the past decade, TECHNOLOGY has been on our side, enabling us to identify needs and problems of our potential customers, generate and validate ideas, and execute sustainable solutions.
Easy-to-use and affordable (often totally free) software tools that streamline communication and facilitate business operations (e.g., social media, marketing, accounting, e-commerce, logistics, recruitment, collaboration, and many many others) make it possible for almost anyone, anywhere in the world, to use their smart devices (computers, tablets, phones) to grow a business without the burden of a great debt.
And not only can you use such software, you can also build it yourself, without even the necessity to learn how to code, for example with a tool like Bubble, whose creators believe that “the average person can create technology, not just consume it.”
As for hardware, the time has come with the popularity of 3D printing, which makes it possible to cost-effectively turn ideas into business and innovation opportunities. Prusa Research, the award-winning manufacturer of 3D printers, recently came with a mini version of their signature product for less than $400. It still costs much more than a 10-dollar app, and it still takes a bit more effort to learn how it works, but just imagine the possibilities.
To give a wonderful example of how you can use 3D printing to make an impact on the world, let’s mention the social platform Enabling the Future, which connects volunteers all around the globe who use their 3D printers to make prosthetic upper limb devices for children and adults in need.
There’s really no tenable excuse for an entrepreneur of 2020 and forward not to use their knowledge, skills, and resources, to develop a sustainable future not just for themselves, but for all of us. And by us, I don’t mean humans exclusively.
Even if you feel that you’re the only one who cares. Even if you are a lone wolf in the midst of an indifferent crowd.
“We did this not because it was our dream, but because we didn’t see anyone else taking action to secure our future.”
～ Greta Thunberg
We’re all afraid of something.
Pain. Loneliness. Loss. Betrayal. Failure.
But what is the scariest of them all?
That our life lacks meaning of any kind. That when we die, we will be utterly forgotten.
“The meaning of life is that it stops.”
～ Franz Kafka
The prospect of death is beautiful in its omnipotent influence on our ability to matter. When we remember that we ultimately cease to exist, we do our best to honor our time to live. When we decide to live, we shift from consuming to creating.
Consumers depend on others to overcome adversity and secure comfort. Creators assume control by generating value both for themselves and others.
It’s ultimately your call.