Are Sustainable Businesses Roadblocks To Change? - By Olivia Khalili
Olivia works with companies to identify, create, market and evaluate socially rooted business models. Her approach stems from cross-sector experience with businesses, non-profits, international development organizations and technology start-ups. She write
Slovenian philosopher and theorist Slavoj Žižek swings a sledge hammer at the knees of ‘cultural capitalism’ in this 10-minute video. And I admit, my knees buckled for some moments as I listened to his critique of Starbucks for its fair trade coffee, of philanthropist George Soros and of ‘charity businesses’ like TOMS Shoes.
Žižek argues that cultural capitalism (i.e., cause marketing, point-of-sale donations, fair trade and buy-one-give-one) is innocuous and naive. That this type of charitable giving leads both companies and consumers to undeservedly feel they’ve done something useful. That if we all truly cared, we would focus on system changes to eradicate poverty and leave our African-made recycled shopping bags at home.
It’s easy to take this as an argument against sustainable business–I did for a solid ninety seconds, until I thought about what it means to be a truly socially driven business. It’s not about charity. It’s about creating an environment, mechanisms and behavioral influencers that lead to sustainable change. This takes all forms: employee enfranchisement, ethical labor practices, community investment, waste reduction, environmentally sound supply chains, social investments, etc.