Don’t ask businesses what they do, writes Paul Lyons, ask why they do it.

As the co-founder of energy efficiency tech company Ecocentric, I’m continually asked what we do. Very few people ever asked the more important question: why we do what we do.

Perhaps it’s because centuries of social conditioning and academia has taught us that the purpose of a business is to make a profit. But the paradigm is shifting. The conscious business movement is gaining momentum.

Ecocentric Energy co-founder Paul Lyons.

At Ecocentric, we are a purpose-driven business that starts every conversation with “why?”

Everything we do is to benefit people and the planet. If our employees, customers, investors and other stakeholders understand the why, we can have meaningful discussions about what and how. Being a conscious business is a state of mind, not something which can be retrofitted once the all-important profit goal has been achieved.

The 1,000-year legacy

Waste is a human phenomenon; it doesn’t happen in nature. Four-and-a-half billion years of research and development has led the way for us which I believe should be regarded with humility and reverence.

Ecocentricism is the term used to describe a nature-centred, rather than human-centred, system of values.

At Ecocentric, we see ourselves as stewards of the planet. With our energy efficiency technology Numen we are able to extract information from the built environment – right down to devices – which provides us with an unprecedented view of the flow of energy in buildings.

This kind of information will create a new marketplace, a whole new platform of data that was previously unavailable to us. At the core of why we exist is the desire to empower people through knowledge, by making information available so that they can affect positive change.

Cities are a massive drain on energy resources, with buildings accounting for nearly 40% of the world’s total energy consumption. We see buildings like trees, and cities like forests. Becoming ecocentric is a way of life, an aspiration that will last one thousand years.

Butterfly effect

On a recent overseas holiday I was confronted by the fragility of the human race when I contracted dengue fever and then pneumonia from a mosquito bite. The insect bite set in motion a series of events which included a medivac airlift to a hospital, 24-hour emergency care and then an unscheduled flight back to Australia.

The mosquito was so small and seemingly insignificant that I didn’t even see or feel it.

Yet one of nature’s tiniest creatures was responsible for thousands of dollars in medical bills and almost cost me my life. The US Centre for Disease Control blames urbanisation for creating the ideal ecology for these mosquitos to thrive. The increased density of populations as people flock to cities in search of employment in addition to more affordable air travel have resulted in more than 50 million infections a year.

The experience was humbling. Nature is effortlessly powerful. What if the mosquito took a bigger bite?

New awakening

Conscious business is not to be confused with corporate social responsibility, which is often criticised as lip service or, at worst, a public relations exercise.

Being conscious in business is a way of harnessing the entrepreneurial spirit and its potential for problem solving and innovation as we seek to overcome the issues of climate change and the changing ecosystem of the planet.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk continually focuses his key stakeholders on the “why”. Electric cars, powered by energy from the sun, will displace fossil-fuelled vehicles that produce greenhouse gas emissions.

Doing good business and doing the right thing are now intrinsically linked. Tesla overtaking Ford and General Motors as the most valuable car company in the United States is a case in point.

A purpose-driven business can affect change, no matter whether it’s a big multinational or a small startup with a handful of employees.

If you are clear about why you are in business, you can truly change the world.

Paul Lyons is the co-founder of energy efficiency company Ecocentric Energy.