In June of 2015, I had the pleasure of attending a new and unique business conference called The Love Summit. The one-day TED-style event took place in the stunning downtown Portland, Oregon, offices of Wieden + Kennedy, the ad agency best known for its work with Nike and Coca-Cola. In this prestigious building, surrounded by unique northwest art, a few hundred people came together to hear 15 people talk about business and, surprisingly, love.
Business as a Force for Positive Change
The intention of the Love Summit was to encourage businesses to pursue environmental responsibility and economic justice in order to create a more sustainable, peaceful, and just world for future generations. The path to these noble goals? Love, of course.
The conference organizer, Samantha Thomas of DreamChange, a nonprofit dedicated to raising consciousness and inspiring new ways of living, said that she received quite a bit of push-back about the name Love Summit from some of the male advisors and speakers.
“Can’t we call it something else?” asked Dan Wieden, co-founder of Wieden + Kennedy.
But Thomas held her ground. She and her partner at DreamChange, John Perkins, believe strongly that love is the missing link between business and sustainable economies, peaceful and happy communities, and a healthy, protected environment. Thomas explained that while there are a lot of conferences and workshops about sustainability and economic development, without changing the way we relate to people and the planet — without coming at things from a place of love — those efforts fall flat.
Freddy Ehlers, Ecuador’s Minister of Well-being, was the conference’s keynote speaker. Although Ehlers’ job title sounds like something out of a modern novel, he holds a key governmental position in Ecuador, a country with the world’s first constitution to include the rights of nature, and where the president has stated that the government’s goal is for its people to “live well, justly, and healthfully.”
“You must have peace and silence inside to have happiness.”
— Freddy Ehlers
Ehlers speaks in a way that is both calming and energizing. Refusing to use a microphone, but instead asking the audience to listen more intently, he said things most Americans have never heard from a government official.
“We are made of love,” and “beauty is the physical representation of love,” Ehlers told the crowd. He wrapped up by telling us: “you must have peace and silence inside to have happiness.”
Despite his calm demeanor, Ehlers works fiercely and passionately to change the way both people and governments measure success. He participates in an international think tank, developing matrices that are being implemented by the United Nations to measure a country’s wealth not just by its GDP, but also by the level of its people’s well-being.
“It’s time that we think about wealth in a whole new way,” Ehlers said.
Questions to Ask Yourself While Walking in the Woods
• What is your company’s purpose beyond profit?
• How can your company affect change in the world?
• Are your business practices in line with your personal values?
• If you didn’t already own it, would you want to work for your company?
Stakeholders vs. Shareholders
One of the common themes among the presenters was the difference between stakeholders and shareholders. Whereas shareholders are those individuals and groups who have a financial interest in the company, stakeholders are interested in the performance and viability of a company beyond the profit margin. They might be employees, customers, the local community, and suppliers. The growing movement toward corporate social responsibility encourages businesses to take into consideration the interests of the stakeholders, not just the shareholders, in their decision-making processes.
A Walk in the Woods
Many of the presenters at the Love Summit described a moment of clarity while in nature that represented a turning point in their personal and business lives. For Dan Price, the owner of Gravity Payments, that moment came during a walk in the forest while he was reflecting on a conversation with one of his employees who accused Price of “ripping him off” by paying him a $35,000 salary. “You don’t pay me enough to live a decent life!” the employee exploded.
The exchange left Price rattled and sleepless for days. He was angry, but also conflicted because on some level he felt his employee was right. During a hike near his home in Seattle, Price said he became calm and was able to see through his emotions to a solution that felt right. At that moment he came up with the now infamous idea of paying everyone in the company $70,000. Despite advice to the contrary, pushback from shareholders, and a huge adjustment to his own pay and lifestyle, Price implemented the policy and hasn’t looked back. The 31-year-old said that the publicity surrounding his decision has given him an opportunity to be a leader in the income equality movement but, he admitted, “I don’t really know how, and I’m still learning where that will go.”
Conference organizer, John Perkins, was alone on vacation in the Virgin Islands in the 1990s when he had an epiphany about his career as the chief economist for a consulting firm that advised businesses and the World Bank. Perkins described taking a boat out among the islands, rowing to shore, and hiking a mountain overlooking an old sugar plantation. After drinking a beer and enjoying the beauty of the scenery, Perkins says he began reflecting on the origins of the plantation and how the whole surrounding area was built on the backs of slaves.
“At that moment, I admitted to myself that I was the modern equivalent of a slaver,” he says.
Soon after, Perkins quit his job and went on to write his popular book, “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.”
Darcy Winslow worked in a variety of senior management positions at Nike for years, slowly learning about sustainability, but not making any significant policy changes at the company. After a personal journey that included five days alone on a boat, Winslow says she came back with new determination and a vision for Nike’s Sustainable Business Strategies Team, which has gone on to become a core part of the company’s business operations.
One of the strongest messages to come out of the Love Summit is the idea that if businesses want to be effective change agents, we all have to change the way we think. John Perkins feels strongly that we have been living in a “death economy” based on greed and war.
“It’s unjust and it’s destroying the earth,” he says. “We need to start shifting to a life economy based on love.”
Darcy Winslow and Sarah Severn argue that there are really only two emotions — love and fear and everything else is just a variation of the two.
“You need to constantly ask yourself whether you are making a decision based on love or based on fear,” Severn says.
Dan Wieden, one of the most influential marketers in the world, said about business: “It’s not about what it’s about. It’s really about the emotional thread that connects us. It’s about the relationships and loving one another.”
Interested in learning more? The DreamChange website hosts a seven-minute synopsis video of the Love Summit, and has information about the speakers. Plans are underway for The Love Summit 2016.
Benefit Corporations and B Corp Certification
For company leaders who are ready and willing to publicly declare their commitment to social and environmental responsibility, there are a couple of widely recognized and increasingly meaningful options, including Benefit Corporations and B Corp Certification:
A benefit corporation or benefit company is a new legal class of corporation that is recognized and available in a growing number of states. Each state must pass its own legislation so requirements vary but, in general, a company must do the following to become a benefit corporation:
- Include a benefit corporation statement in its articles of organization.
- Adopt a third-party standard for self-assessing positive impact.
- Prepare and distribute a publicly available benefit report.
- Pay a modest, fixed filing-fee with your state.
B Corp Certification
“B Lab is a nonprofit organization that serves a global movement of people using business as a force for goodTM. Its vision is that one day all companies compete not only to be the best in the world, but the Best for the World® and as a result society will enjoy a more shared and durable prosperity.”
To qualify for B Corp Certification, a company must:
- Meet performance requirements by taking the B Impact Assessment. You must score an 80 or above out of 200 by comparing your company to best practices on dozens of employee, community, and environmental issues.
- Meet the legal requirements. If your company is already a benefit corporation, then you have met the requirements. If your state doesn’t recognize benefit corporations and you are a corporation or LLC then you have to include certain language in your governing documents.
- Sign the B Corp Declaration of Interdependence and Term Sheet.
- Pay a sliding-scale annual fee to B Lab, based on your company’s annual sales. The fee for businesses with annual sales under $499,000 is $500.
Although either process will require time, effort, and money, there are many benefits for companies that are working to affect positive change:
- By including your employee, community and environmental goals in your operating agreement, you are better able to justify decisions that aren’t purely profit-driven to your shareholders.
- You can attract conscious consumers who support businesses with values aligned with their own.
- You can attract employees who want their work to be meaningful.
- You can establish your company as a leader in the global movement for socially and environmentally responsible business.
- The legal, transparency, and accountability requirements of both benefit corporations and B Corps make your business more attractive to investors.