One of the many big questions of 2020 is how we adapt and evolve as consumers, locally and globally. Whether we are considering online purchases or picking up groceries, we are recognizing the impact of our choices more than ever before.
Economically, it is a very dynamic time. Many of us are asking ourselves: “What’s the benefit (or harm) created by my spending?” and “Does this purchase reflect my values?”
Socially minded consumers navigate a complex web of considerations, acknowledging the global nature of our economy while trying our best to support the things that matter to us and make our community a better place. Corporations operate within this same web. Some capitalize on our concerns as little more than a marketing bandwagon exercise, while others are serious about sustainability and social justice.
And then there’s AquaQuest (AQ), a waterproof-gear company headquartered here in the Comox Valley. The company began in 1994—when they created the world’s first waterproof money belt—and now sells its high-performance goods direct to adventure-minded customers around the world. They offer service in six languages and make sales in five different global currencies every day.
“Our company’s core values are to be a great employer and to have a net positive impact on our community and the world. We’ve worked hard to align the interests of our employees with the interests of the company. In the years ahead, our goal is to continue to grow our global business while at the same time becoming more active and engaged in the Comox Valley,” says owner Michael Didham.
So, they talk the talk. But they also walk the walk. In addition to employee benefit programs and profit sharing, AquaQuest has truly gone next-level by developing a unique business model they call Halfitalism, which embraces the strengths of capitalism while addressing some of its key weaknesses.
That’s right, they’ve invented a brand-new business model to activate their values.
Here’s the concept: in Halfitalism, half of net profits are invested into local social and environmental causes. AQ is putting the idea to the test with their new store on upper 5th Street in downtown Courtenay, where 50 per cent of annual net profits will be directly invested in Comox Valley-based social and environmental initiatives. Cumberland Community Forest Society (CCFS) and YANA are among its early partners.
The rationale is pretty simple: local investments strengthen social fabric and the local environment upon which all of us depend. A stronger community and healthier local ecosystems lead to better economic, social, and environmental outcomes for all.
“We believe that we need to reform capitalism, not abandon it. Businesses typically generate profits that are provided to shareholders. The Halfitalist business model, while recognizing the need for shareholder earnings, also values the many benefits achieved by investing money in the local community,” says Didham.
“We decided to partner with the CCFS because we value land acquisition strategies that preserve the ecological integrity of forests and watersheds. This is a powerful way to contribute directly to carbon sequestration in our community,” adds AquaQuest’s business development manager, Trevor Westra. “We’re partnering with YANA because they provide accommodation and funding to Comox Valley families who need to travel outside the community for medical support for their children and who need support during difficult times.”
It’s easy to feel cynical when we’re faced with a barrage of messaging about ethical and sustainable business. But we also have genuine opportunities to put our money where our values are by looking for businesses who do the same. AquaQuest seems to be doing just that—they see Halfitalism as an opportunity to engage the community in the idea of re-imagining capitalism, as Westra explains. “Now is the time for bold action. But you can also start small. For example, make a new division of your company Halfitalist [or] solicit your favourite brands to explore the Halfitalism concept.”
AquaQuest is not holding this new model close to their chest. They’d love for it to go global. “Remodeling capitalism at the local level can have meaningful impacts. It is possible to generate wealth while also taking care of the ecosystems and communities that support us,” says Gabby Mason, AQ’s general manager.
If you’re curious and want to learn more, “We encourage folks to drop in to learn more about who we are and the values we’re bringing to the local business landscape, and to check out the great waterproof gear we have in stock,” says Mason. “Hop on your bike and head over!”