The heart of a business is formed by its foundations and ethics. And no one wants to bite into an apple with a rotten core. Why would consumers want to learn about eco-friendly living from a business that has shares in oil companies. Or be warned of animal cruelty from a beauty brand that test on animals?
Amidst the rise in zoom classes during the pandemic, activewear business Lululemon faced a huge amount of backlash when it scheduled a zoom yoga session hosted by a yoga teacher/brand ambassador. The session was promoted as a ‘resist capitalism’ event, offering participants an opportunity to learn how “gender constructs across the world have informed culture and the ways violent colonialism has erased these histories to enforce consumerism”. Coming from a company that capitalizes on the multimillion dollar, fast fashion industry, this was, understandably, very poorly received. You can read more people’s reaction to this, here. Too many huge corporations are trying to look good without making any of the necessary shifts within their company to challenge existing power structures and demonstrate a fairer, kinder way to do business.
The transparency of business models has, for the first time in a long time, allowed consumers the opportunity to know who they’re doing business with. According to Forbes, 87% of consumers will have a more positive image of a company that supports social or environmental issues.
So what are the alternative business models? We’ve put together a few below.
A social enterprise is a cause-driven business with a social objective at its heart. This is not necessarily a non-profit enterprise; social enterprise businesses need to make a profit in order to pay their employees, and further their work to ensure that they can give back to their communities.
Examples of a Social Enterprise
Dot Dot Dot is a property guardianship that offers inexpensive rent to guardians in exchange for keeping uninhabited properties occupied. Their focus on creating a positive social impact meant that in order to be a part of the guardianship, the tenants must volunteer for 16 hours per month.
Brightkids is a social enterprise that promotes safe, active and sustainable travel to children. They sell various high vis accessories and learning resources which provides their main income and allows them to run their school programs such as ST:EPS (Safe Travel: Enabling Pupils and Schools).
A non-profit is an organisation that doesn’t make a profit from its activities. This doesn’t mean that they don’t make any money as of course, they need to pay their employees salaries and cover expenses. Rather, it means that with the surplus money they raise, instead of giving it to owners or shareholders, it commits them to their goals. Non-profits must follow very strict rules and usually cannot accept outside donations.
Examples of non-profits
Amnesty International is a human rights organization which lobbies governments and other powerful groups to ensure they obey international law. They are independent of political ideology, religion and economic interest meaning that they are truly unbiased and focussed on pursuing justice and preserving human life and wellbeing.
Daughters of Eve
Daughters of Eve are a non-profit that work to advance and protect the physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health rights of young people from female genital mutilation (FGM) practicing communities. They currently work in ten countries across Africa where FGM is most prominent and also with the wider diaspora in the UK in order to strengthen the movement to end FGM.
Community Interest Company
A Community Interest Company (CIC) is an organisation that has a lock on its assets and is limited to the profits it can distribute to shareholders or members. All assets must therefore be used for community purposes. The idea behind CICs is to promote community-based companies and prevent local authorities from selling off facilities like swimming pools, libraries and community centres.
Examples of Community Interest Companies
Art in the docks is a project space led by a diverse group of artists of different ages, ethnicities and backgrounds. The works vary from painting, printmaking and sculpture to theatrical puppet making, fashion, textile design, automata and performance art. There’s a strong focus on engaging and involving the local community, especially those groups that are usually excluded from the traditional art world.
Book 28 is an LGBTQ+ library located in London. They’ve cultivated a very supportive network within the community and regularly fundraise for local LGBTQ+ businesses. They also host events through the virtual outside project community centre.
This CIC is based in Ardea’s 2 founders’ hometown, Newcastle, England, and is an eco-friendly and economical alternative to a skip. Their mission is to save the tons of wood that are unnecessarily sent to landfills or dumped in the local waste stream. Instead, they assess the wood and repurpose it to be used for DIY or to make wooden products, or, if it’s not fit for purpose, they have it chopped up for fire wood. They also train volunteers on their yard or in their workshop, to help them learn new skills for future employment.
A co-operative is a private business or organisation that is owned and managed by a community of members who’s goal is to fulfill a united need. Co-operatives are democratically run and are built upon a foundation of equity and equality which mean that no one member’s opinion is worth more than another. They could be anything from healthcare to finance, housing or education.
Examples of Co-operatives
The Confederation of Co-operative Housing
This is the largest housing co-operative in the UK. They are a tenant led housing association and work to increase the housing co-operative sector by strengthening partnerships and implementing community led housing projects accross the country.
Fresh Growers is a co-operative that was formed by ten farmers in the 90’s. They have over 20,000 acres of farming land, farming both conventional and organic veg, and pioneered bringing back Chantenay carrots to the UK- they’re now the country’s main supplier, supplying 90% of the UK’s Chantenay carrots!
Ethical, People-Centered Business
An ethical or people-centered business model is often trauma informed and focuses on people over profits. Their aim is to reduce harm in their industry, protect consumer rights and move away from capitalistic business practices. It’s truly an expansive business model and is largely centered simply on making the best decisions for your client. These businesses make up the majority of the organsations that we work with here at Ardea.
Examples of Ethical, People-Centered Businesses
The Bloom is a people-centered newsletter providing ethical job opportunities, climate innovation resources, and social impact and mental health podcasts. They believe that joy is an act of resistance and they describe themselves as sitting at the intersection of international affairs, social justice and joy. We’ve had the privilege of working with the Bloom and we couldn’t recommend their newsletter more – plus it’s completely free to subscribe!
Jess has her routes in youth and family services and now specialises in trauma informed body work and care. Working with practitioners and survivors she teaches about how damaging the healing industrial complex can be when they promise ‘quick-fixes’ whilst engaging with spiritual bypassing and empty buzzwords.
These are just some of the alternative, anti-capitalist business models that can be adopted. There are also lots of small practices you can incorporate into your business in order to challenge these deeply problematic business structures. The graphic below from Emily Eley is a really useful resource providing examples of this.
We hope that you’ve found this a useful resource. These are the kind of businesses we champion and work with at Ardea Creative, those tackling capitalist white supremecist culture and aiming to disrupt harmful systems!
If you have any favourite businesses that operate an alternative business model, we’d love to know about them. Let us know in the comments.
Further Learning Recommendations
- Human first business-ish musings for non-conforming creative folks, book by Rachel Turner
- What Is Capitalism? (And Why It Should Matter To You As An Entrepreneur), blog post by Toi Marie
- Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness, book by Frederic Laloux