11/26/2013 08:32 pm ET Updated Jan 26, 2014

Conscious Capitalism: A Gift From My Mother

After my mother passed away earlier this year, I went to the Peruvian Andes as part of the Shaman's Light Journey. I hoped to find solace by reconnecting with nature. I sought perspective and my own brand of spirituality. I did not expect to discover a thought-movement that is changing the world. Yet fate would have it that my mother's death and a shamanic journey would lead me to the concept of conscious capitalism and a new horizon in my life.

Sustainability, corporate social responsibility and triple bottom line thinking have been a central part of my ethos and career for almost 30 years. I have had the good fortune to work with the Olympic movement to deliver legacy programs with social, environmental and economic benefits that significantly outlast the television ratings and the immediate economic returns.

The very first principle in the Olympic Charter states: "Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles." How blessed I have been to operate in an environment where social responsibility are fundamental steps toward good governance, great Games and enduring benefits.

The corporate world has been different. Social and environmental impacts are of increasing concern to corporations. But there will forever be tension between the idea of "doing the right thing" and the fiduciary responsibility of corporate directors to maximize shareholder profit. Or so I thought until I went to Peru.

I shared my time in the Andes with 3 local shamans and 14 other thoughtful travellers, many operating in the Sustainability sphere, so the conversation was always thought provoking. The shamans talked of the ancient concepts that bind local Peruvian communities -- ayllu, the collective, and ayni, reciprocity and mutual help. But it was John Montgomery, fellow traveller, corporate lawyer and author of Great From The Start, who introduced me to the newer concepts of conscious capitalism and benefit corporations -- and I was inspired by the potential for these modern ideas as a way to bring forth those ancient values.

Conscious capitalism turns traditional corporate thinking on its head, insisting that Corporations can generate shareholder profits and still drive toward a greater societal purpose, creating value for all stakeholders (ayllu: the collective).

The benefit corporation structure (now adopted in 19 U.S. states plus DC and British Columbia) provides a legal framework that releases the traditional tension between the drive for profit and the loftier ideals of social moral obligation.

Effectively this structure is identical to the existing corporate structure except for two small, but explosive, changes. Built into the constitution of a benefit corporation are the following requirements:

  • It must provide a materially positive impact on society and the environment from its operations, taken as a whole (ayni: reciprocity)
  • Its directors must answer to the interests of all stakeholders when determining whether corporate action is in the interests of the corporation

In the words of John Montgomery, this "changes the expression of the corporation from a limited pecuniary conscience to a planetary conscience." It does for corporations what the Olympic Charter does for the Olympic Movement, firmly establishing "doing the right thing" at the center of the corporate ethos and conversation.

I returned from the mountains with a sense of inner peace and inspiration. Then fate intervened again in the person of my friend, colleague and serial entrepreneur Robert Safrata. Rob had a vision to transform the courier business model and create Vancouver's "greenest" courier and he invited me to play a role. Here was my opportunity to immerse myself in conscious capitalism.

For the past few months I have been working with a nimble and bright team to launch Zipments, a bold new courier business based in large measure on the shared economy. Using a web application and a network of couriers that range from local franchise couriers to bicycle couriers to students and stay-at-home Mums with spare time, Zipments is poised to provide a national network of cost-effective, local, same-day delivery. The new enterprise provides courier delivery service and co-marketing channels for retailers keen to provide same day "store to your door" service.

As well as an innovative business model, Zipments has also embraced conscious capitalism. It will be structured as a benefit corporation, its directors legally bound to consider the community and other stakeholders as part of all corporate decisions.

I will continue to work within the Olympic movement and the mega-sporting event sphere where traction on new event management and reporting standards are being applied, and I find myself excited by the opportunity to harness corporate power in the quest for a sustainable and socially responsible world.

I still miss my mother. But, my work in sustainability has taught me much about the ways of nature and life. It cannot be simply chance that my mother's passing has led me to this new horizon. I know that I continue to be blessed by her grace and giving. Thank you Mum.

Ann Duffy and John Montgomery will be speaking at Vancouver's first forum on Conscious Capitalism on March 6, 2014 from 8am to 2pm.

Zipments will be launching their Vancouver business on Wednesday November 27, 2014. Visit for more info.

Ann Duffy is an International Sustainability and CSR advisor who has worked with the IOC, Sochi 2014, Toronto 2015, Istanbul 2020. She was the Corporate Sustainability Officer for Vancouver 2010. Currently, she advises The 2015 Canada Winter Games and FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015.