Working hard for the money, but NOT coming out ahead? Kiss Off Corporate America

For several years, my wife and I worked hard for the money at a job with a full service ad agency. Every year, however, we kept coming out on the short end of the stick: working longer hours, living with more stress, securing less net income to cover our mounting expenses. A recent New York Times article echoed the reality we felt more than a decade ago. According to their research drawing from data from the US Labor Department, employee wages are the lowest share of Gross Domestic Product since 1947, with the median hourly wage after factoring in inflation for American workers declining about 2 percent since 2003. Only the top percentile income earners have prospered while the rest of us whither under rising food and energy prices (and soon, rising prices for just about everything else). According to Census Bureau reports cited by the New York Times, the median pay among American workers is about the same, after accounting for inflation, as in 1973.

Besides helping sell products of questionable societal value (and with plenty of negative social and ecological impacts), we kissed off corporate America after just a few years on the treadmill to nowhere. Now we operate a diversified family-scaled, small business based on an organic farm powered by the wind and sun. We use our profits to make the world a better place and have built our business around our passions.

The main requirement of a for-profit business is to make profits, at least once every three years says the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS). No requirement specifies how much profit must be made, just some. That’s the big difference between a hobby, where generating revenue is not the primary goal of the activity, and a business. There is no such thing as a “hobby business.” The non-profit business, formed as a special type of corporation depending on its purpose, uses revenues collected to fund its mission, whether it’s saving open space or planting trees around the world to help mitigate the effects of global warming, provide nature-enhancing livelihoods and prevent soil erosion like Trees for the Future does.

As my wife and I explore at length in ECOpreneuring and in my blogs, we approach our passions — writing, photography, hosting people at Inn Serendipity Bed & Breakfast and desiring to restore the planet — not as hobbies, but as business enterprises. You can blog on the Internet about growing in your garden, or you can write articles about growing food organically in your garden for Hobby Farm Home magazine and blog for GreenOptions.com. One’s a hobby; one’s a business and provides income from writing about something you love.

There are numerous advantages of operating a business for yourself, in terms of tax savings, control over how natural or human resources are used (or misused) and the freedom to pursue your passions without your boss looking over your shoulder. If you don’t like the kind of companies that are offering you a job, then make your own in your vision of what it means to tread lightly on the planet — what we call your “Earth Mission.”

Ever work for a company and become frustrated or appalled by the waste or inefficiencies you witness on a regular basis and your inability to enact changes to end the waste — even if it also saved the company or organization money at the same time? Ecopreneurs, often by their small, human or family-scaled operations, take the reins and seize control in ways larger organizations fail to even recognize.

Today information, knowledge and innovation are the harbingers of wealth creation in a world increasingly pressing up against environmental, social and resource limitations or issues created by the previous laissez-faire market-driven economic growth. Once the stronghold for guiding positive changes related to the environment or addressing social issues, federal and some state governments have lost their way, effectiveness and courage to take these issues on. Rather than setting forward-thinking policies, politicians are caving in to re-election concerns or the unprecedented influence of special interest groups, many funded by powerful multinational corporations. The present value of money overrides consideration given to issues that face future generations. Increasingly, citizens are ahead of the policy-makers, voting with their dollars and actions (not words). Perhaps is time for the “change-makers” of Senators Obama and McCain — both millionaires — to start exploring policies that address the needs for those of us who are not. Their plans need to accomplish change without destroying the planet (like opening up off-shore drilling) or exploiting people (providing “homeland security” by providing legal immunity to telephone corporations that participated domestic wiretapping without warrants or due cause).

Many universities and colleges, too, have become bogged down in the same muck of bureaucracy and complacency that few can even tout a campus that’s anywhere close to green, powered on-site with renewable energy, or with dorm cafeterias that feature food grown or raised by area farmers. Few teach personal finance, how to buy your first home or, more importantly, help us discover our life purpose or passions. In my six years of university education, not once did a professor put “HAPPINESS” up on the chalkboard for discussion. It’s mostly about learning what it takes to get a job, make money, buy stuff. ECOpreneuring contains a lot of what I was never taught in business school — but should have been.

How have you discovered you came out ahead — financially, socially, mentally, spiritually — by departing corporate America to launch your own green business? What challenges did you overcome?

Did you discover, as we did, that by working for yourself, in your community, provides a rich life without the need to earn a living at a job that merely paid the bills?

  1. Monica

    I think that corporates generally will not invest in environmentally sound practices, unless it gives them a rate of return that is high enough compared with their other revenue streams. I worked for an agency that promoted energy efficiency, and my understanding is that the agency people had a difficult time convincing most big corporates to do much if anything about it (including relatively low cost measures), mainly for that reason. Perhaps there was also an element of inertia and a perceived need not to divert the focus.

    I wonder whether Greenpeace should be scaling inefficient factories with banners to protest against energy (or other) waste. But I guess noone wants to scare too many businesses away (and lose jobs) to another country.

    About universities – 10 years ago I was busy putting aluminum cans in a bin marked “recycling” at a university, when the building services manager took me aside and told me that it was all just dumped in with the rubbish to go to the landfill anyway!

    All the best and thank you for your post. Go small eco-businesses and help make the dream mainstream!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *