ANITA RODDICK: CONSCIOUS CAPITALIST
Dame Anita Roddick’s sudden death of a brain hemorrhage on September 10th was as dramatic and newsworthy as her extraordinary life. In stuffy, patriarchal, class-ridden Britain, this young, beautiful founder of The Body Shop chain of globally-franchised beauty stores became its most visible business leader.
I first met Anita Roddick, the earnest seeker of spiritual wisdom, in the 1970s at Findhorn, Scotland’s now globally-renowned ecumenical-ecological learning community. Over breakfast, on a bitingly chilly October morning, Anita told me of her spiritual quest and vision of fostering greater ecological awareness and peace to humans on this endangered planet.
I fell in love at first sight with Anita’s bold vision since it matched my own which Anita had encountered reading my first book, Creating Alternative Futures: The End of Economics (1978). Anita had a better idea: she would transform economics by implementing our shared vision – as a global corporation!
Thus, The Body Shop became a sensation, overturning all the conventional economic textbooks and business school curricula. Anita inspired me and all my associates trying to reform capitalism and challenge old economic dogmas. I had shared Anita’s passion for reforming markets. From working with Ralph Nader’s “Campaign to Make General Motors Responsible” in 1968, I had by 1982 joined the Advisory Council of the Calvert Group of socially responsible mutual funds.
I recall Anita Roddick’s speech at a meeting of the US-based Social Venture Network of investors and entrepreneurs as she explained the growing financial success of The Body Shop. A company could have a social mission and become robustly profitable! Advertising was not needed if a company’s mission for a positive future for the human family was compelling and newsworthy. We all rejoiced to hear our own efforts vindicated. It was possible to do well by doing good.
Today, Anita Roddick’s vision is alive and well. Corporate Social Responsibility is now acknowledged even by its detractors such as London’s The Economist and by most other financial media in their new embrace of green business and investing. The UN’s Principles of Responsible Investing are now endorsed by pension funds and companies representing $10 trillion in assets. Socially-responsible investing is now some $2.3 trillion in the USA alone.
The “greed is good” motto of the traditional Wall Streeters who followed Milton Freidman’s dictum “the only business of business is to maximize shareholder’s returns” has been overtaken by the facts of global warming and other ecological and social challenges to business as usual.
Even business schools, whose narrow training gave us the unethical executives of Enron and Worldcom, are now offering courses on Business Ethics, Socially Responsible Investing and Sustainable Development. Here, too, Anita led the way, founding such a new business school at the University of Bath. Anita honored me by inviting me to give the first lecture. Today, triple-bottom-line corporate accounting for people, planet and profit is the norm, promulgated by the Amsterdam-based Global Reporting Initiative and used by over 600 global corporations.
The neoliberal movement for “market reform” is morphing into reforming markets themselves. Only more ethical markets and companies with social missions geared toward the public good are fit to survive in this 21st century. Anita Roddick’s vision and example to the business world are alive and well.
Hazel Henderson’s latest book is Ethical Markets: Growing the Green Economy (2007). She co-created the Calvert-Henderson Quality of Life Indicators, www.Calvert-Henderson.com, and is on the Organizing Committee for “Beyond GDP,” the upcoming conference in the European Parliament, Nov. 19-20, 2007, www.beyond-gdp.eu.