A Buddhist-Inspired Ethical Way of Evolving Business Paradigms
by Fleur Pozzi, for Onclaude
Evolution Stores' bestselling products currently include Indian drawer jewellery and trinket boxes in rich and spicy colours, elephant candle and incense sets, a cute kissing giraffe set, and an array of fun and kitsch signs and plaques. This certainly doesn’t make them unique, so what’s special about them?
They’re a one-of-a-kind Buddhist business, which follows the Buddha’s teachings on kindness, generosity and honesty, values that they consider to be universal and potentially shared by all Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike. From humble market stall beginnings in 1980, they now have 20 stores across the UK and Ireland, offering an eclectic mix of wind chimes, gifts and homeware.
Whilst most of their head office staff are Buddhists, their store staff are a diverse lot who want to make a difference in people’s lives. To this end, they value teamwork, cooperation, discussion, and connections with others above all.
They pay their suppliers a fair price for their goods and make sure their workers are working in safe conditions by conducting inspections of workplaces at their own expense. They also focus on buying goods that support the continuation of traditional crafts and ways of living in the countries in which they’re made. Rather refreshingly, they don’t believe that this kind of ethical trading should come at a premium to be borne by the customer and their products are all very reasonably priced.
Their main aim is to make profit to give to the Windhorse Trust, the charity that owns Evolution Stores. In addition to contributing to various Buddhist initiatives around the world, they turn to their suppliers and the communities they operate in to give them ideas for charitable projects – that’s just one of the ways in which those longstanding relationships they work so hard to cultivate really come in.
For a number of years, they’ve been donating to the Kupu-Kupu project for adults and children with disabilities in Bali. Typically isolated and unable to leave their houses, they provide disabled people with wheelchairs and transport to the centre where they’re able to join in various classes and meet others in similar situations. They recently built a second centre, which they funded entirely.
In Thailand, they support the Ban Rom Sai orphanage, which houses 30 children, including some who contracted HIV at birth, something which carries a tremendous amount of stigma in the country. They’ve also helped to build three schools in Guatemala and, in Nepal, they give money to support the work of the Green Tara Trust and, in particular, that of a number of health care workers trying to improve maternal healthcare there, something which is terribly inadequate at present.
As if that wasn’t enough, they’re conscious about the environmental impact they’re making too, using recycled or sustainable materials wherever possible, and transporting goods to the UK by sea, not air. They monitor energy use in their head office, using an electricity supplier that gets a good share of its supply from renewable sources. Finally, staff share cars; there’s a minibus to take them to work, and a cycle to work scheme, which enables them to hire bikes if they want to.
With their innovative approach to business, they’re trying to minimise the environmental impact they have on the world around them, and trading with the people making their goods in as ethical a way as possible to bring them and their wider communities real benefit. Check out the Evolution Stores website and The Windhorse Trust Facebook page if you're interested in their activities.