The start of a new year is always a time of good intentions and resolutions. Most usually involve
a temporary lifestyle change aimed at reducing waistlines, improving health or trying to get some return from that expensive gym membership. But this year something bigger is in the air. Maybe it's a reaction to the dramatic events of last autumn, but there seems to be a growing chorus for a change in the way we do business.
While no-one can disagree that free-market capitalism has made lots of people staggeringly wealthy over the past 100 years, it is a flawed system—at its best it's the least bad option available—and some of those failings were horribly exposed last year. Of course, fringe activists have been calling for the dismantling of global capitalism for years. The difference now is that business leaders, entrepreneurs and academics recognise that the relentless pursuit of growth and profit at the expense of everything else is hollow. As Rory Stear, founder of Freeplay Energy, put it to me recently: "Businesses are legal persons and a person without a conscience is a psychopath. Business must have a conscience."
Bill Gates and Warren Buffett agree, having combined to give almost $70bn (£48bn) between them to Gates's new foundation. And in the UK, philanthropic capitalism is on the rise. Rich entrepreneurs such as Sir Tom Hunter have committed not just money, but time and their talents to a wide range of causes. Gates calls it "creative capitalism". But it's
not just those who have already struck gold that are developing a conscience. Across the world there has been a boom in so-called social entrepreneurialism, with a new breed of company placing all stakeholders on a par with shareholders.
Tim Smit, founder of the Eden Project, considers this "the most important corporate development for 300 years". I caught up with him to talk about these improvements and why he feels so strongly that business should be about more than profit and growth. And he had harsh words for those he sees as responsible for last year's financial collapse and the imminent recession. There's no doubt that 2009 will be tough. But it might help us all to remember that there's more to business than returning a financial profit.