Real Leaders

Confessions Of A Recovering Capitalist

Photo by Simon Abrams on Unsplash

The emergence of a new business model, effect marketing, promises to blend the needs of people and planet into a new form of capitalism.

The feature-length documentary Koyaanisqatsi, released in 1983, became an iconic, cult movie that aimed to show the relationship between humans, nature and technology. The title, meaning “life out of balance” in the indigenous Hopi language of Northeastern Arizona, was also filmed without dialogue or narration and has many interpretations.

The overall effect was to raise awareness among viewers about the wider world in which we live, creating a consciousness around our shared plight on a planet that now houses over 7 billion people.

One of the seemingly out of place people in the audience was Mike Martin. Martin’s career started as a real estate investment banker at Citibank on Wall Street. “I was basically just doing deal structuring and engineering every day,” says Martin. One weekend his best friend put on a James Taylor concert for the benefit of a wildlife organization, focused on stopping the human extinction of species.

“I looked at the purity and long-term importance of that and compared it with how I was spending my days. I reflected on Koyaanisqatsi recall thinking just how out of balance I was. I left a very lucrative career to focus my business knowledge on how to convert capitalism into capitalism for good.”

Coming from an investment banking background that had rung hollow for him, Martin decided that he needed to turn on capitalism, and spent seven years working on big campaigns that rallied against it. After seven years he realized he was getting nowhere and that he was basically just creating negative energy. “ I thought there was no way to change the system, so I began working with small companies that seemed to offer an alternative. I worked with Organic Valley, CLIF Bar, Earthbound Farm and Ben & Jerry’s and helped them grow bigger.

Another seven years went by and I realized that these type of companies only accounted for 3-5 percent of GDP, too small to make the kind of difference I had imagined,” says Martin. Martin’s work eventually started getting the attention of notable industry leaders, such as Ben and Jerry, Steve Jobs, and Lisa Jackson, the head of the U.S. EPA, with other big companies also starting to take an interest in what he was doing.

He began to realize the only way to really move the needle on sustainability and impact on a large scale was by working with big, mainstream companies. Ironically, the very companies he had run from at the outset of his career. But this time, rather than continuing to contribute to the problem, he is partnering with these companies to help them drive profits through good corporate citizenry. “Effect Partners was built on the principle that sustainability is necessary for the future of our planet, as well as for business.

To be truly sustainable, businesses need to profit from sustainability or they will not do it,” asserts Martin. And while companies must be allowed to profit, so too must consumers become more aware and interested than ever before in the social changes initiated by the brands they interact with daily. The very nature of consumerism is changing and so is the process with which to engage consumers.

In the 1990s Martin helped revolutionize social change in the music industry as the Executive Director of Concerts for the Environment. He went on to build MusicMatters, a pioneer in the world of music and sustainability marketing, and now a division of his company, Effect. Martin has advised U2, The Black Eyed Peas, Dave Matthews, Jack Johnson, and dozens of other artists, on sustainability practices and green issues around concerts and tours.

In 1997, MusicMatters played a key role in launching green energy in the US with their work with Green Mountain Energy. Offering “Green Energy” options was new at the time, so they created a grassroots connection with consumers to educate them about such unheard of concepts such as: Global warming, carbon offsets, renewable energy, and biomass. A green touring and event “bible” developed by Martin, called the EnviroRider ™ has become a global industry standard for the music industry’s environmental footprint. Collaborating with major, established brands is a key strategy for Martin, who believes these companies already have the infrastructure and influence to start shifting consumer behavior.

On the Live Nation U2 360 Tour, from 2009 through 2011, Effect brought Brita water filters on tour. Brita provided hydration stations and compostable cups to keep fans hydrated without any bottled water waste. The partnership also highlighted Brita’s Filter for Good initiative, and helped educate fans on the impact they can have simply by using reusable water bottles. He has also structured some powerful and effective programs with major companies such as Green Giant, Toyota, Proctor and Gamble and Ben & Jerry’s, all designed to catch the consumers’ attention in novel ways, effect positive change, market the brands and develop an emotional connection with the consumer, resulting in improved ROI.

For example, the average football game produces 50 to 100 tons of waste and an initiative last year with waste and food bag company Glad, saw Effect collaborate with Glad and the University of Southern California (USC) to reduce game day waste within the stadium. Glad and Effect have even developed a One Bag toolkit that provides a how-to guide on planning a waste-conscious event which can be found at

While Martin goes all out on creating sustainability programs for big corporations, he feels some of the meaning and context of sustainability has become a box to check for most companies. Some just ensure there’s liability insurance for the corporate officers or have a recycling program set up in their offices and think that’s enough.

“What needs to happen next,” says Martin, “is to ask what the short term AND long term Return On Investments (ROI) is on sustainability work. This is what the leading companies in the world are starting to do. In other words, how do company sustainability efforts drive profits for the company and also how do they fold into the bigger picture of the economy?”

“ExxonMobil will make $45 billion of profit in a year, yet not one penny of profit is going towards CO2 remediation. Coal energy plants give a lifetime of asthma to 30 percent of kids within a 30 mile radius of their plant, yet not one penny goes towards helping with their lifelong health costs,” says Martin.  “You have these costs that are being socialized, yet the profits are being privatized.

The whole notion is something which is a fundamental flaw of capitalism.” Martin stresses that we’ve created a capitalistic system that requires quarterly growth, yet is overlaid on a planet that has finite resources. Something has to give at some point. He’s not against capitalism and embraces it, being excited about the conscious capitalism movement and working exclusively with companies who improve the health of the people and the planet, or who are working to achieve this in their business model. Martin has unique marketing expertise from his work in the corporate world and a good grasp of marketing.

He often uncovers amazing work that’s being done by a company around sustainability, that’s not being communicated because management don’t see it for what is, or don’t want to subject themselves to criticism. Sometimes the marketing officer will suggest doing a green campaign, which is completely disconnected from what’s happening from a sustainability perspective, and it all ends up as green washing because it wasn’t thought through properly.

“When companies start realizing the power of combining their marketing departments with their corporate social responsibility departments, we’ll see the emergence of a new business relationship that has proven to drive profits: effect marketing,” says Martin.


More like this

Most Recent Articles