I have always had the ability to find the unique, the new and the curious- whether this be starting snowboarding in 1986, having a traveling, internet based (pre-youtube) vegan cooking show in 1999, or being a founding Canadian B-Corp in 2010 – much of where I have found excitement, fun, and adventure has been on the edge of newness.
Sometimes this has been the leading edge and for the most part has been on the bleeding edge.
What I like about the discovery of these new microcosms is the richness, purity, and how I get to put my own lens and voice on (and in) the scene. (And if I am being 100% honest, I also do like the discovery of this newness.) I feel like a modern explorer constantly vetting and filtering what I see, hear, and taste through all the experiences of my almost 50-years on this planet.
As many of you know, the organization I founded in 2006, Conscious Brands, has also been on the edge of discovery. When we first started we were one of the few organizations doing carbon accounting – we launched the first onpack carbon label in North America for a brand called Guayaki. We used carbon as a gateway to sustainability, setting us on the path to become the 5th B-Corp in Canada (there are now over 3000 B-Corps worldwide). We were early adopters of the Holocracy governance structure, And since conception, Conscious Brands has been working almost exclusively in the natural products industry – this was the industry of choice after closing my organic food manufacturing company down in 2004
I share all this to loop back to the title of this post, the age of dilution. If you have been in the natural products industry for some time or if you frequently purchase natural products, you are seeing these products on store shelves everywhere – the big players like Walmart and Costco, have seen the dollar signs attached to natural products and have quickly started following the lead of the locally-owned natural food stores. There has been a conversation thread weaving through the industry for the last 15 years that has really become apparent over the last 5 and that is ‘… as an industry, are we a victim of our own success?…’ – I personally wouldn’t use the word ‘victim’, I would use the word ‘product’ instead, but the question remains the same.
What I love about the natural products industry is the innovation, passion and authentic compassion around making the world a better place. I travel across North America to multiple trade shows a year, and something that has become very apparent in recent years is the noticeable (almost blatant) presence of predatory capitalism looking to pounce on the up and coming industry brands. Just to clarify, I am not opposed to the scaling and exiting of brands, however I am opposed to the way that some money is coming onto the scene cloaked in beads and hugs, pulling the values and higher purpose out these companies to flip and make a quick buck
There are companies like Guayaki Yerba Mate, Badger Balm, Nature’s Path and many others that explicitly state they will never sell, and in response you have companies like Pepsi (under the Rock Star brand) launching copycat brands like Yuchak to compete with companies like Guayaki.
To the untrained eye, you can see how there would be confusion-
You can see where this cynicism comes from – with Walmart being one of the largest growers and distributors of organics, and multinationals like Dupont hosting webinars on Plant-Based Fermented Beverages. Things like this make it easier to see how the entry of mega-corps into the world of natural/organic is disheartening – it means that what was once small is no longer an intimate gathering. The same concerns have been stated in other areas of life, whether it is inner-city communities becoming gentrified or temporary cities like Burning Man that used to be exclusively reserved for the ‘fringe’, now attracting the ‘mainstream’.
Regardless of your views on this topic, the bigger question is – is the overall movement headed in a positive direction? Or are we getting deeper into a hole that is becoming harder to get out of? As the once small industry of natural/ organic food gets diluted with private equity and mainstream brands, do we lose quality in the pursuit of quantity? Or is the metaphor of homeopathics relevant in that mass dilution is overall good as the imprint of the molecule is present and therefore can not be removed?
I have had many conversations and hosted many panels and large group conversations on this topic over the years, and recently, I’ve gone back to one of Conscious Brands guiding principles – ‘if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go further, go together’. As pioneers of the industry we need to be open to progress over perfection. This doesn’t mean that we sell out our core values, but rather imprint our higher purpose onto (and into) the new players in the industry. We should hold a space for conscious leadership for being above the line and remain curious rather than being committed to being right.
If we look to nature as a teacher, we see that monocultures require many external inputs to survive and ultimately are not sustainable. Growth and regeneration happens when there is diversity and systems are in balance.
As a gardener practicing permaculture, I used to consider pulling weeds tedious work. This was before I learned how to properly manage them – the weeds that are growing in our garden have a story to tell and it’s up to us to figure out how to translate what they are saying. Permaculture isn’t really so much about weed eradication, the weeds are going to grow one way or another. The simple act of composting the weeds you pull instead of throwing them away is a basic permaculture principle, learning which ones to leave in the ground, and for how long is an art. Many weeds are perfectly acceptable when left alone, and often play a major role in the overall ecosystem of your garden. As weeds, like predatory capital, enter into our industry’s ecosystem we need to observe them before quickly picking them out.
So a question for discussion is ‘as an industry, which weeds do we pull and compost, and which ones do we keep to provide the information and nutrients that we are missing?‘ I sometimes still find it hard to not be cynical when seeing the big names in a small industry, but I do also hold space for evolving values and consciousness, not just in this industry but in society as a whole. And as organizations we need to look beyond the bottom line to measure success – how are we taking into consideration all stakeholders views as we use business as a force for good, a Conscious Brand? How can we be architects of the future and not victims of it?\
Left wanting more? Check out our new Conscious Brands Index tool – www.consciousbrand.co to identify blind spots and measure how conscious your organization is.