Conscious capitalism seizes imaginations. What’s next, the Dow Jones Happiness Average?

Corporate mission statements have always made idealized declarations about mission, creating quality products or services, even changing the world as we know it. But some companies these days are not simply embracing their corporate values, they’re being founded upon them. The conscious capitalist is creating workplaces not simply designed for profit-making, but for enhancing human values.

This is transformational. Profit as a means to embrace and carry forward social idealism is a total smackdown of the materialist values recently displayed by Enron, Countrywide, Bernie Maddoff and other run-amok capitalists. Companies like Homeboy Industries, Threadless and shoe manufacturer Toms are building social values right into their business plans.

While some of this seems fringe, Whole Foods ceo John Mackey has talked for years about a “virtuous cycle”. PepsiCo buys corn for its snack products directly from impoverished Mexican farmers, allowing farmers to secure credit for seeds, insurance and equipment. “Before, I had to sell my cow to buy what I needed,” explains one farmer. “Now I keep the cow and my family has milk while I grow my crop.”

And it’s new entrepreneurship. Fledgling bank venture e3 builds “prosperous and sustainable enterprise through sound investments in people and our planet, protect the health of our environment which supports life and our economy, and increase social equity by being fair to all people and communities affected by our decisions.”

Even institutional investors like pension funds are looking at companies from the perspective of corporate values, including how environmentally friendly they are (albeit from a risk management doomsday point of view).

Where is all this goodness coming from? The reasoning is simple. While some people work for a paycheck, more and more employees are seeking meaningful work.

Since we spend so much of our time at work—with employee food courts, gyms, yoga therapy, daycare, game rooms, even health clinics seducing us to stay ever longer on the corporate campus—the simple fact is that our job can’t suck. We are happier when we work for a higher ideal. Companies that make energy-efficient, sustainable products, that make social good a part of their corporate culture, can attract a talent pool that provides advantage over their competitors.

When Countrywide whistle-blower Michael Winston talks about re-entering corporate life, he says to The New York Times, “I want to do my part to promote vision-driven, values-based, leadership that is a force for good.”

Even as Google and Facebook fight it out in Silicon Valley talent wars—and wrangle about bonuses and Land Rover-style incentives, some remember that we are no longer drones happy just to make a paycheck, we must also feel happy about what we make. As Dan Pink says, we are all happier when we have “flow.” It’s not just about the profits, it’s about the place, it’s about the people, it’s about a dream.

As more and more companies are able to create both, just as Bhutan measures its Gross National Happiness, perhaps one day we’ll be looking at a Dow Jones Happiness Average.