Conscious Capitalism: From Social Responsibility to the “Experience Economy”

Consious capitalism and the meaning based economy“We’re now hip deep, if not drowning, in the ‘experience economy’.”

I recently attended Part 2 of the Commonwealth Club’s panel discussion Conscious Capitalism (part 1 of the discussion was held last January and is available online at Fora.TV – Part 2 should be available there soon).

Panel members included:

Conscious capitalists all… 

Uh huh, and what does that mean?


A Meaning Based Economy

What comes to mind for many when they consider the concept of Conscious Capitalism is social responsibility, supply chains, environmental footprints, and providing a rewarding workplace with a fair wage for employees. All important fundamental elements of course, but only part of the wider significance of conscious capitalism. This also served as the springboard for the evening’s discussion.

Starting with Steve Diller, a former film producer, whose initial point was to distinguish social responsibility from offering products that “affect consciousness”, adding “we  craft experiences for our customers”. Diller illustrated the point through his work in the film industry: whether good, bad, inspiring, or inane, a film is nothing more than an experience crafted for the consumer.

The idea of creating meaning and crafting experience as a core element of business carried as a common theme throughout the discussion.

But when you start to add “meaning” and “crafting experience” to the already overloaded ‘green’ and ‘sustainability’ marketing claims, you run into what Nathan Shedroff calls ‘meaning-washing’ as the next evolution of greenwashing. “We’re probably about 12 months out from that”, he told a chuckling crowd. 

Behind the humor there is a serious point. With the growing cacophony of businesses touting ‘green’ this and ‘sustainable’ that, adding the more nebulous idea of ’meaning’ to the marketing mix will inevitably only lead to more confusion with consumers and customers – especially if a company doesn’t really mean it.

Which brings us to authenticity, the core of any endeavor for a conscious capitalist. This seems obvious, but for the consumer it may be more like a breath of fresh air. As Lisa Ganasky said, many consumers are looking for a way to “turn down the volume on the fog machine of confusion”. A source of much of the confusion in the marketplace is through a lack of authenticity in the mission and marketing message of many companies – greenwashing (and the coming meaning-washing) are prime symptoms of the disease.

Not only are many companies “hopelessly out of touch” with their customers, says Steve Diller, they’ve “lost touch with themselves, stopped talking to each other”. Such organizations are like “vertical silos” in which each department or “silo” no longer talks to the other. So marketing has lost touch with product development and neither really have a grasp on what the customer really wants or what the mission or meaning of the company is – except to sell stuff and make money, mostly through marketing messages that lack authenticity, feed on false feelings of need, and create unrealistic expectations. There is no meaning beyond making the sale. Whatever ‘experience” the customer derives from the sale is often a disappointment and short-lived. 

In a meaning based economy, that is the death knell of a sustainable business.

Authenticity requires integrity – integration, a holistic approach. Creating integrity in business requires an authentic vision that defines the founding principals of the business, and that starts at the top. That defining vision must percolate down throughout the organization or it is “doomed to fail”, says Diller, “you’re on the road to meaning-washing”.

A Conscious Connection with Employees

Michael Dapatie, CEO of the Kimpton Hotel group, says that one of his jobs is to help his 7000 employees “connect with themselves”. Caring for his employees creates a “chain of caring” that runs down throughout the organization and makes a stay at one of Kimpton’s boutique hotels a “transformative experience” for customers. “If you grow the people you’ll grow the organization” says Dapatie. 

Employees at Kimpton are surveyed to help determine their strengths and weaknesses, and “personality style”. By allowing employees to pursue their passions and interests within the framework of their jobs, the “caring” is expressed in loyalty to the company, an uncommon and highly acclaimed experience for the customer, and an organic, employee-driven effort to embrace core tenets of conscious capitalism: social responsibility, sustainability and environmental awareness.

Kimpton’s Earthcare program is supported by self-described “greenies” who become the “Eco-Champion” (pdf) for a particular hotel. They take their role seriously and help integrate the ‘meaning’ of the customer ‘experience’. Core corporate values match the core values of the employees, and the authentic message of Kimpton embraced by the customer.

When “Green” is No Longer an Issue 

What entrepreneurs and business leaders like Dapatie and his colleagues on the panel hope for is a true transformation in business – a “conscious awakening” of the meaning and experience of how business can change society for the better. As the meaning and experience-based economy evolves, “green and sustainability will no longer be an issue” says Nathan Shedroff, “in ten years it will become integrated in the economy”.

Business for the conscious capitalist is based on an economy where greenwashing has no place, where social responsibility, innovation, and sustainability are integrated into the market and a core mission to craft “meaningful experience for the consumer” lies at the heart of doing business.







Tom is the founder, editor, and publisher of and the TDS Environmental Media Network. He has been a contributor for Triple Pundit since 2007. Tom has also written for Slate, Earth911, the Pepsico Foundation, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, and many other sustainability-focused publications. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists

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