Episode 20: Sustainable people, profit, planet
The two key lies that we’ve been told about profits and money
Why the QANTAS Airlines debacle has cost far more than just money
Whether the role of the founder is still relevant
The move from corporate social responsibility, to ESG, to the circular economy
Why being obsessed about greenwashing is damaging
If we’re not lacking budget and we’re not lacking evidence, then what are we lacking?
Whether or not there’s a future for charities
Rethinking growth in business.
Welcome to meaningful work. Remarkable life. I’m your host, Brooke McCarthy, and I’m a business coach, trainer, and speaker, living and working on the, unceded lands of the Camaragle people here in Sydney, Australia. In this podcast, we explore the paradoxes inherent in working for love and money, magnifying your impact and doing work you feel born to do. We explore the intersections of the meanings we bring to work and the meanings we derive from work.
Welcome to our last episode for season two. This is episode 20, and we are talking about sustainable business, sustainable planet, sustainable future, an immense topic. I’m already intimidated, so I’m going to start with an apology and say this is an incomplete conversation. But I do hope, my hope for this episode is to provoke some thinking, to hopefully introduce some new ways, new perspectives of tackling this absolutely immense issue that we have, and to leave you possibly feeling a little bit hopefully feeling a little bit more empowered, because certainly eco anxiety is a thing. Pretty sure I’ve got it. I feel a great sense of anxiety, but also responsibility, which I know seems perhaps well meaning, but also delusional, considering I’m, one person.
But this episode was actually, I’ve got a fabulous hook, which is Qantas. And ever since, Qantas has been in the news, particularly in the last month. So, September 2023, it’s really gotten under my skin, it’s gotten on my nerves. And it’s gotten on my nerves because Qantas Airways was such an iconic Australian brand and now they are fighting in court on three different fronts. From the workforce, from their workforce, their customers, and from a federal government agency. So the fall from grace has given me a really great hook to kick off this conversation. Qantas also received $2.7 billion in taxpayer subsidies during our, pandemic lockdown. And then they posted a record profit and they have surpassed any and all expectations of their profitability and they’re not paying back that $2.7 billion. Thank you very much. So the airline’s actions with unionised workers have also been declared illegal in court, which was a decision endorsed on appeal. Qantas is now escalating that to the High Court.
Then we have the class action from thousands of irate customers, joined by the competition regulator, which has launched its own legal action. And, Qantas is accused of selling tickets on more than 8000 flights that had already been canceled, some of which were up to 47 days later. So they could be facing some massive fines. And the reason that this story I mean, there’s many reasons why this story irks me. M many. How long have you got? And m, I will move on in a moment. But the point of the Qantas debacle is that it really clearly and obviously showed that at least from the perspective of Qantas, that shareholders were the most important group, above even the paying customers and clients. Yeah, absolutely. Definitely above workers and staff.
And we see this echoed so much in, the business world. We see this echoed in technology and tech startups. We see this echoed in so many big tech businesses, where the businesses raise millions of dollars without ever having been profitable or even having a plan to profit. And call me naive, please, but it makes no sense to me. It absolutely makes no sense. And it really puts these founders up on a pedestal where the role of the founder, and this is kind of a narrative that’s endorsed or amplified by media, is that the founder is the person who can exit with the biggest pay check. customers and clients are, well in second position way back.
Now, I also was, inspired by a panel discussion that I facilitated recently with a group of CEOs, and the topic was ESG environmental, social, and corporate governance, which is oftentimes, it’s kind of become the new focus away from corporate social responsibility, which is what we kind of used to call it, language evolves. And what was really interesting to me, or what stood out in this conversation, with this group of CEOs, was the fact that there was a recurring theme of greenwashing. That despite the fact that there was clearly and obviously a huge need for ESG, the conversation kept coming back to greenwashing, greenwashing, greenwashing. We don’t want to be seen to be greenwashing. And I found that really puzzling, I guess, for want of a better word, that despite the fact that there’s much to be done and much to be said, people were most focused on whether or not they were going to be seen to be hypocritical.
Now, another idea, I don’t know whether idea is the word or philosophy is the word, of recent years, is the circular economy. So this is the idea that sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing, recycling existing materials and products for as long as possible is the way of the future. And in this way, the lifecycle of products is extended. And I think it’s a philosophy that also goes hand in glove with the idea that the prices that we are paying in modern society, in our world, for goods and services, or certainly for goods, are far, far, far too cheap. That they are simply, unsustainable. Now, of course, for a period of time, for a short period of time there, Australia led the world with the carbon tax. And part of the purpose of the carbon tax was to reflect the real and actual cost of things, because there is so much of the economy of all economies, and especially the global economy, that is subsidised. And I remember learning this for the first time in it might have been high school, perhaps late high school, or maybe it was university, I can’t really recall. But I remember being quite shocked.
You hear about communism and socialism for the first time and you’re young and you’re idealistic, and you’re like, wow, all these ideas are just revolutionary.You can feel your kind of brain is stretching to accommodate these new ideas. And then the university lecturers, who are often, of course, quite cynical, would take Great pleasure in talking about the fact that there’s so much hypocrisy in the economy that even though, we have this free world economy that’s not supposed to be subsidised, where we’re letting the market dictate things and we’re not controlling anything, still there is so much control. There are so many subsidies that make the real cost almost impossible to determine because of introductions of subsidies for this and subsidies for that. And some things are taxed heavily. poorer people are taxed heavily. And multimillion squillion billionaires avoid paying tax at all costs. So there’s a nice kind of introduction, kind of a laying of ideas on the table, I guess.
But the idea here with capitalism and let’s start talking about the difference between capitalism and business because I think this is something that I see a lot of my clients struggle with. I see this a lot with bleeding hearts. And when I say bleeding hearts, I put myself in that category, the bleeding hearts.Those of us.You can use all kinds of derogatory or otherwise terminology to refer to this loose group of people. That loosely and forgive me for speaking on your behalf perhaps that loosely believe that we are, a collective, that we are interconnected, that we have a responsibility to each other and especially to the weakest parts of society, the weakest and most vulnerable. That we all have a collective responsibility to ensuring that everybody is safe and that everybody has what they need to. You know, if that is your general philosophy. And we see this certainly in Europe, this is kind of prevalent, certainly in, you know, the basic idea, basically, of business is a little bit at ODS with this, right?
Because in that kind of we’re all in this together model, there needs to be typically larger, government to provide the social services such as health education, to look after people. Whereas in the opposite end of the spectrum, it is every man and woman for themselves. And this idea of extractive value, which is that there’s a resource to exploit, that we need to sell things at a profit. But not only do we need to sell things at a profit, we need to sell it up, sell it at the maximum margin. And I think a lot of bleeding heart people really this kind of churns them up at night, right? There is a big, group of new business owners, particularly, whereby they, are kind of stuck in this paradigm of how much does it cost? Plus, I add a little bit on top. So what did I get paid in my last job? That’s my hourly rate. I add a little bit on top, perhaps. And it’s very, very different from values based pricing, where you put the client at the centre and you figure out, okay, well, what is the value of this to that ideal client? And I’m pricing based on the value.
So there’s a couple of different lies here that I think we need to explore. And part of it is that idea that I just explained that extractive value. And I oftentimes kind of think of the Industrial Revolution with this. I think of factory workers. I think of this kind of assembly line where, how can I extract as much value as possible while paying as little as possible? How can I, maximise the profit? And the lie I guess we’ve been told here, and the lie that will continue to perpetuate if you struggle with sales, if you hate talking about money, if the idea of negotiating or bargaining with customers or clients makes you kind of ill, then this is something that you need to kind of I was going to say suck on, but that’s not the word marinate. On is the word marinate is that this does not need to be a win lose situation.
The way capitalism has been historically in the past is i t is a win lose situation. There is clearly a winner and clearly a loser. And yes, the worker takes home, a pay packet, but at great loss. Yeah. So the lie in this win lose situation is that profit cannot be married with purpose, and that profit also cannot be married with restraint. That we can’t decide, okay, well, this is a reasonable this is an amount of profit that I’m happy with, and I’m happy for my workers, for example, to share a larger piece of the pie. And of course, there are businesses that are turning this on their head. there are some fantastic examples of businesses. I’m trying to remember the name of the company where the CEO took I think it was 70 grand a year, and all his workers had the same salary. I’m sure it’ll come to be it’s an American business anyway. But there are some fantastic standout examples of businesses going against the grain with this. And this is part of an ongoing, hopefully, revolution.
Hopefully, this is the start. This is just the beginning. But this is also clearly untrue because we also see social enterprise, the rise and rise of social enterprise, where profit is absolutely married with purpose. And we have almost a new business model, and I say almost a new business model because how on earth are we to know what has gone on in the past? I’m absolutely certain that thousands of years ago, hundreds of thousands of years ago, there would have been bleeding hearts who were business owners, who were hiring vulnerable people, who perhaps didn’t make the best workers, I don’t know. And doing an excellent job of marrying profit with purpose. So social enterprises, probably in one form or another, always existed. But certainly it’s become more and more well known as a business model and increasingly growing as well.
So I want to talk a little bit more about some of the lies that we’ve been told. Oh, I’m having fun using a big word like lie. The next part know our conversation here is based on a speech by Richard Dennis, who’s the chief economist at the Australia Institute. I will link up that speech in the, show notes because it is a brilliant, brilliant speech that I enjoyed immensely. And it was based on women and the lies that have been told to women about women and wealth. But Richard made some really pertinent points that I think are relevant to sustainable business as well. And one of the things that he talked about was the fact that when a government no, no, we cannot give you any money for this fabulous cause, we cannot invest in whatever project which is going to bring a clear social benefit to society. The argument that they often fall back on is we need more evidence, we need more evidence, we need more evidence. We cannot make big policy changes until then. That’s despite the fact that there is evidence.
And you probably have had this situation before. I certainly have had this situation before. I used to have this situation, this circumstance, when I was young, I had a racist uncle. And I remember being eight or ten and being in conversation with this uncle and he was very intelligent and he was very articulate, and he was obviously better educated and well read than I was. And he’d argue really articulately. And I knew in my heart of hearts he was wrong. But I didn’t have the words, I didn’t have the arguments, I didn’t have the evidence to win the argument. And I’ve had this experience innumerable times since, where you’re arguing with somebody who’s a bit of a bigot and they’re demanding evidence, and they are not providing any they are certainly not providing any footnotes or references or data, but they’re demanding that you need to produce it. And this is despite the fact that other countries around the world have, again, Scandinavian countries spring to mind, have managed to address social issues whilst also having strong economies.
We see this in politics all the time, where politicians make absolutely dreadful populist popularist decisions based on winning votes that have, very little evidence, that ignore research that the government has commissioned and paid for and gone ahead and made a decision to the contrary. So let’s just lay that one to bed, right? We do not lack evidence. We do not lack technology. We do not lack green technology. We do not lack innovation. We have plenty of innovation to curb climate change, to change things, to clean up our oceans, to reduce microplastics, to introduce more circular economy principles such as making manufacturers, responsible for the waste, for more of the waste that they are generating, for making retailers, for example, responsible for the waste, for the, packaging. We don’t lack evidence. We do not lack solutions. We lack will. Or rather, we lack united will.
The next big lie that we have been told, and again, I am referencing this speech is that Australia cannot afford to tackle those problems. Yeah. These problems that even if we could agree that we needed to spend more money, we just don’t have the means. We cannot afford it. Yeah. And this is absolutely most definitely not true. The money that we’re often talking about, that would be used to change the trajectory of certain social, ills or wrongs or whatever the word is, whatever the phrase is, could easily be solved. But the government is not prioritising it. Again, there is a lack of united will. So the questions that I want to pose and again, I kind of feel like adding yet another caveat. I’m sure I sound extremely confident right now, but this is an immense topic and I am certainly not an expert on it. I am just a bleeding heart who wants a better way to do things.
Yeah. Because the questions I want to propose are if governments are too slow to act, or if they lack the will to act, will businesses step up to fill the gap? And what I see the answer to this question is almost invariably a yes. Because I know many, many businesses, including my own, that are stepping up to fill the gap. I know many, many business owners who regularly donate to charity. I know many business owners who contribute to crowdfunding campaigns, who contribute to patreon. I know many business owners who are volunteering their time, who are paying their staff to volunteer their time. I know many business owners that are moving towards social enterprise, including my own. And part of me thinks this is of course brilliant and wonderful and how could we not? And the other part of me sees a sector micro businesses that are notoriously underfunded that don’t necessarily have the resources or the means to be giving as much as they are. And so perhaps they’re giving inefficiently.
So the next question I want to pose is, that considering the cost and the threat of compassion fatigue. And I want to take a moment to explain. Compassion fatigue. If you’ve not heard the term used before, it is commonly attributed to health workers. So doctors, nurses, people that are ah, constantly at the bleeding edge of misery. And what happens is that it’s kind of a form of burnout where the person just basically loses a little bit of their humanity because they cannot feel anymore. They’ve kind of numbed themselves or kind of compartmentalised their emotions due to overwhelm relentless, relentless need. Now, if we think about this, this is a very real issue. This is perhaps one of the biggest challenges of our time, right? Because if we consider and I’m making a few assumptions here. If we consider the fact that climate change is increasingly problematic, it’s only going to become more so that in the next ten to 20 years it’s going to be crucial that we need that political will, we need that united will to turn the things around, to demand more from our governments, to demand change. Compassion fatigue on a mass scale is not a good thing. And, there is eco anxiety. There is absolutely most definitely a lot of people, particularly young people, but I think this affects all ages, who feel a great sense of anxiety and depression, which, of course, are, not constructive emotions to take to the streets and enact real change. So do not underestimate this is an issue. The threat of compassion fatigue is a very real problem and a growing problem.
So considering this, are, charities becoming increasingly redundant? Because I don’t know about you, but charitable marketing by charities kill me now. It is so over the top. And this is coming from somebody like I said earlier, I’m a bleeding heart. I started donating. I had a World Vision, child sponsorship, which has got to be one of the best marketing, marketing ideas around, right here’s. An individual child, not an indistinct problem or an indistinct country. So I started giving to world vision when I was eleven. I think they had one of those kind of TV marathon things where, there’s lots of ads about it. So I’ve given to charity pretty consistently over the years. There must have been a couple of years in my early 20s when I was very skint. But pretty much I’ve been giving to charity since I was eleven years old. And I come from a marketing background and I’m in marketing, and I look at those emails, I look at those things that come in the mail on dead trees, asking for more money, and I just go, it just sucks. All your emotion, right? It doesn’t move me to action.
So if charities are becoming increasingly redundant, and if government has outsourced its caring responsibilities to charities, which has happened on a mass scale, what happens next then? Do we turn all charitable endeavours into social enterprises? Do we bring the dollar into do we bring enterprise into all aspects of social good? Is there still a sizeable enough space for donations? What about other forms of funding? Crowdfunding, peer to peer lending? I know there are others, I can’t remember what they’re called right now off the top of my head. but certainly in soloist land, in micro business land, there’s a lot of crowdfunding. And having worked on a crowdfunding campaign for an NGO before, I was volunteering with two other volunteers, one of whom I’m still mates with. And I think we bonded over the fact that it was so relentlessly horrible. Like, it is not fun, right? And it wasn’t like it was just one person and it was intensely personal and difficult that way. It wasn’t, but it was still crowdfunding is absolutely relentless. And if you’re not really marketing or social media inclined, it’s not really viable. but what else do we do exactly to kind of bridge these two worlds between social good, crafting the world of our future, and actually funding it? I want to kind of turn it back around a little bit or redirect the questions.
The next question is, does business need to be growth at all costs? Why does this need to endure? Why does this narrative, this kind of truism need to endure that business needs to be growth at all costs when we have so much evidence, so many appalling appalling stories of businesses that have crashed and burned yeah. Where clearly in the case of Qantas, customers and clients, staff, suppliers were the last priority? Where is the win win between people, profit and planet? How do we find that win win? How do we kind of reposition ourselves, our, businesses, our community, so that we are sustainable from a day to day perspective? Because it would be wonderful if we were living in a utopia where the mangoes were falling from the trees and, we could just pluck a pineapple off ah, a bush.Yes, pineapples grow on bushes. So strange if you’ve never seen a pineapple plant. Very weird. It would be brilliant, believe me. I’d be the first to sign up to the commune. But things need to be funded, especially large scale radical change like what we’re talking about is necessary. So how do we create that? Where is the win win? How do we create that? How do we reposition our communities, ourselves, our businesses, our families, our systems and institutions to create that win win?
And then the last question, and maybe this is a little cynical, but how do we make an economic argument for treating people fairly? And again, I think there is an economic argument. There absolutely is. Similar to what I was saying earlier. Oftentimes principled people, people with values, who were kind of standing for something, taking a stance, are oftentimes judged far more harshly and demanded reams and reams of evidence, reams and reams of data. And we have data, we have absolutely data for making an economic argument for treating people fairly. And we need more if this is to happen en masse at a large scale. If we are to do this through systemic change, a legislative change, we are going to need to make an economic argument. And that was something that was super clear and obvious in that panel discussion I was facilitating on ESG, is that economics is absolutely, definitely still the driving factor. And the same goes for politics. People vote based on their own personal, selfish reasons. and it would be lovely again if it was otherwise, but that’s the truth of it. So if we’re going to persuade hearts and minds, we do need to make these arguments in the best interest of our audience.
So those are the questions. If you have any information, any articles, if you have any questions, any comments, if you agree, disagree. If I’ve missed something substantial, then please let me know. Send me a message on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn. Stalk me online. I’m easy to find. Brooke? No. E McCarthy. And I will see you for season three after I take a short break.
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Acknowledgment of Country
We acknowledge the Cammeraygal people, the traditional and ongoing custodians of the lands that Hustle & Heart creates and works on. This lush land is just north of Sydney Harbour Bridge. We also acknowledge the traditional and ongoing custodians of the land, skies and seas where you are, and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging. We recognise that these lands were never ceded.
Always was, always will be Aboriginal land.
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