“It’s all about you, baby.”
In the context of Conscious Capitalism (CC)–that intriguing notion that we can use the market economy to repair the social and environmental havoc we’ve wreaked using it in the first place — that statement seems a wee crass. After all, CC is supposed to be redirecting the consumption traffic away from the self-centered purchasing mentality of yesteryear and toward one of the collective good instead.
The traffic is increasing overall and we need to get more people into the sustainability lane more quickly, and then keep them there. To do so, I think we need to face up to the reality that people buy things because it is useful, desirable, affordable, accessible, or convenient. For some folks, the collective good figures strongly as part of one or all of those categories. But even those people are purchasing (or not) because of a strongly held personal “value.”
It seems to me that the popular three-pronged model of sustainable development that links “environment,” “society” and “economy” needs to be retooled to “Self,” “Society,” and “Environment.” Economy is a variable informing and structuring each of these. Capitalism is the water in which we swim in the U.S. and elsewhere. Why generate economy as if it were a separate concern? Believe me, I wish it were, but it’s not.
The self–the body, mind and spirit–is where sustainability awareness and behavior take root. It is at the very micro site of the individual where information is first absorbed or rejected, sorted and classified, adopted and adapted. We humans are inherently self interested, and self interested is not the same thing as selfish.
By focusing on the Self in sustainability efforts, we bring into sharp focus the need to make our sustainability projects applicable and appealing to the individual, by making sustainability reflective of his or her values–the signposts to right and wrong. If we want more people on board the sustainability train, then we need to show them exactly how sustainable goods and practices serve their best interests and that is not by harping at them about morality, social responsibility, and abstract theories that are difficult at best to envision. People need to be shown the specifics of sustainability–how to do it, why it affects them, how their actions affect others, how they are contributing to the solution, and more. Sustainability has to be convenient, accessible, reasonable, logical, and useful to them, as individuals, and for many.
Sustainable development: Self, Society and Environment. How do they link up? Again, we need to talk to people on their semiotic turf–the symbolic landscapes where they work and play.