The Humane Economy: Making Compassion a Bottom Line Item

An interview with HSUS president and CEO Wayne Pacelle about his new book

Posted May 02, 2016

Making compassion green and "rewilding the bottom line"

A new book by Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States HSUS), called The Humane Economy: How Innovators and Enlightened Consumers Are Transforming the Lives of Animals is a groundbreaking work that could well change how people interested in animal protection will factor in the incredible importance of money more than they have. 

With permission
Source: With permission

The book's description reads:

From the leader of the nation’s most powerful animal-protection organization comes a frontline account of how conscience and creativity are driving a revolution in American business that is changing forever how we treat animals and create wealth. Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the United States reveals how entrepreneurs, Fortune 500 CEOs, world-class scientists, philanthropists, and a new class of political leaders are driving the burgeoning, unstoppable growth of the “humane economy.”

Every business grounded on animal exploitation, Pacelle argues, is ripe for disruption. Indeed each one of us is, and will be, touched by this far-reaching transformation in food and agriculture; in the pharmaceutical, chemical, and cosmetics industries; in film, television, and live entertainment; in tourism and wildlife management; in the pet trade for dogs and cats and exotic wildlife; and in fur and leather fashions. Collectively it promises to relieve or end the suffering of billions of creatures, while allowing businesses aligned with the best instincts and values of their customers to flourish.  

Pacelle shows, for instance, how the cruelties of industrial chicken farming are quickly becoming obsolete with a visit to Hampton Creek, the makers of a plant-based egg substitute and the world’s fastest-growing food startup ever.  Pacelle also recounts the stories of how established companies are joining in this economic transformation: from Petco and PetSmart, which have turned the conventional pet store model on its head by forswearing puppy mill suppliers in favor of shelter dogs; to John Paul Mitchell Systems, the Body Shop, and Lush, which use safe ingredients instead of animal tests for their cosmetics; to major food retailers like Whole Foods, Chipotle, and even Costco and Walmart, which are embracing animal welfare standards that are one by one unwinding the horrors of the factory farm.

The Humane Economy is a clarion call to business leaders and to the world’s growing animal protection movement; it is equally a warning to the static thinking of animal-use industries and their apologists: “Here, in this humane economy,” Pacelle argues, “human ingenuity meets human virtue, and we discover at last that we can have it both ways – a better world for us and for animals, too.”

I was fortunate to be able to conduct a brief interview with Mr. Pacelle that went like this.

Why did you write The Humane Economy?

There’s still such a long way to go for our cause, but there’s undeniable progress in our movement, in so many different sectors of the economy.  Euthanasia rates are down; every state has felony-level penalties for animal cruelty; with the corporate pledges we’ve secured, I can see the end of the era of confinement of animals on factory farms in the next few years; we have commercial seal hunters and commercial whalers on the ropes. I wanted to remind people who care about animals that progress is not only possible, it’s upon us. 

What do you hope to achieve?

I want to reframe the debate about animal protection, and remind politicians, CEOs, and everybody else involved in the tug-and-pull of animal protection that acceptance of the tenets of our cause is not about opportunity, not sacrifice.  When we make decisions to help animals, it’s empowering.  And when corporations make decisions to protect animals, they position themselves for the future and put their company in a position to succeed. 

It's an admirably and amazingly well-referenced book. How long have you been working on it?

 I didn’t take a break from my work at The HSUS to write; instead I got up at 4:30 just about every morning for a year to focus on it. We are a far-flung organization, in the thick of just about every major battle for animals, with staff members working around the clock all over the globe, so it’s not like I have a lot of spare time. It was an act of real will and discipline to get up that early every day to write, but I actually think it was beneficial for me, because it forced me to think more deeply about the amazing sweep of reforms in which we’ve been involved in just the last few years, and to share some of what I learned. I’ve got a great team of experts on whom I rely as sources and researchers.

Why do you remain hopeful that the world will become a better place for nonhuman animals?

There’s no way society won’t change for the better if we all stick with the fight.  The societal currents and winds are at our back.  People are so much more alert to the needs of animals. We understand, partly thanks to you Marc, so much more about animal cognition and family and social life. We are seeing more public policy advances for animals and more corporate reforms. Whole Foods Market revolutionized the operations of grocery stores by making animal welfare a priority in its supply chain. Cirque de Soleil has transformed the circus industry by providing an electrifying and exciting alternative to wild animal acts. John Paul Mitchell Systems and Dr. Bronner’s were leaders in the beauty and personal care business by forswearing animal testing early on and showing the way. And now there’s a new generation of startups disrupting established businesses: Hampton Creek, the food industry’s fastest-growing startup ever, has developed an egg substitute that is “taking the animal out of the equation,” and Beyond Meat has developed a plant-based substitute to chicken using protein isolation techniques that produce entirely new textures. You really can see that individual companies have changed the course of history with their disruptive actions, forcing others in their industry to become more humane or to be left behind in a dynamic economy.

Any other words to the wise?

There will always be people who want to keep things, and typically they use fear to try to hold things in place. One way to create a kind of soft fear is to invoke the idea that being decent to animals is impractical and will hurt you in the pocketbook. But the core premise of this book is that the exploitation of animals, and the cruelty and abuse that frequently attend our use of them, are grounded on a set of false economic assumptions, and that by doing right for animals, we actually have better economic outcomes. The combination of moral intention and economic progress is going to be impossible for society to resist over time.

In my book Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence I wrote about the importance of "making compassion green" and "rewilding the bottom line" based on some discussions with Mr. Pacelle and others. Agree or not, The Humane Economy will make you think about how we can and must stop animal cruelty right now and that we must all work together. My humble advice is to read this book and share it widely. It could well be a game-changer and a win-win for all. 

Note: You can watch a very interesting Mr. Pacelle with Bill Maher here.

Marc Bekoff's latest books are Jasper's Story: Saving Moon Bears (with Jill Robinson), Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation, Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation, Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence, and The Jane Effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson). (Homepage: marcbekoff.com; @MarcBekoff)