Stephen Whitty

Columnist, critic for national and international outlets. Author, lecturer, host.

Sep 14, 2021
1 min read

Can a company do well by doing good?

According to Seeding Change: The Power of Conscious Commerce, the simple answer is “Yes.” But the way there is a bit complicated.

It involves dealing with your suppliers honestly. Respecting the environment, at every stage of the process. And then putting some of your profits to work helping others.

But actually, filmmaker Richard Yelland says, even that’s not a problem. Because if this is the way you approach your business, there will be more than enough profits to go around.

Yelland’s impassioned Seeding Change is in the long tradition of the advocacy documentary – a non-fiction film that’s less interested in fully exploring a topic than promoting a specific point of view. Often movies like this end up being strident propaganda.

Not here.

It’s true that the film presents one side of the issue. But who, exactly, would dare show up to present the “other side”? Who is going to argue that companies have no moral responsibilities whatsoever? Scrooge? Mr. Burns?

The film focuses on a few righteously profitable companies behind products like organic tea, acai berries, Dr. Bronner’s soap. And listens as executives explain their devotion to the idea of “the triple bottom line” – making sure a company benefits everyone, economically, socially and environmentally.

It could be a dry subject, but the film avoids that by spending much of its time in beautiful Brazil, where many of the ingredients for these goods originate. And showing how, thanks to corporate policies that prize re-investment over exploitation, millions of acres of rain forest are being preserved, and villagers sharing in the prosperity.

There is humor, too – like the CEO of Dr. Bronner’s, whose title actually turns out to be “Cosmic Engineering Officer.” And some sobering facts. We’re so addicted to cheap packaging, it says, that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish; we care so little about how our clothes are made, that the fashion/textile industry is one of the world’s most polluting, second only to fossil fuels.

Sometimes the film feels a bit like a slick corporate campaign, working hard at creating feel-good branding. Sometimes a touch of cringey white-savior complex creeps in, too. It’s terrific that these companies are helping so many indigenous people, but there don’t seem to be many people of color running them. It would be nice to see some more diversity at the top, and even a little more revolutionary spirit.

After all, it’s good that these workers are being paid better by their bosses. But wouldn’t it be even better if they were getting the chance to become their own bosses?

However, a film like this – which clocks in at under an hour – isn’t meant to really excavate an issue. It’s really created as kind of advertisement, an inspiring commercial for conscious consumerism. It shows you how companies can and do operate ethically, and then pushes you to ask: Which ones aren’t? And why patronize them?

Every time we spend a dollar, someone points out, we’re casting a vote. Isn’t it time we voted for change?

4 stars (out of 5)

Seeding Change: The Power of Conscious Commerce