Tag Archives: conscious capitalism

No, This is Not Bizarro World: Do Good For The Planet And Get Free Stuff Via ActBolder.Com

Dude, I am so doing this.

Originally spotted on the GOOD website, ActBolder.com is a new website with a very simple premise: do an action that does good for the planet, and get free stuff.

An example of this? If in the next two days you wash your clothes in the cold / cold cycle and log into the community to share that you did it, you win a 20 percent discount off your next purchase from Seventh Generation.

Past challenges to the community have included: eat organic, say no to disposable grocery bags, get sweaty, discover your local CSA. Prizes for doing such actions have included discounts to yoga classes, a whole pound of apples from Whole Foods, free pass to an Equinox gym, and more.

Pretty sweet deals for just doing a little good in this world.

ActBolder.com is certainly placing a lot of trust in its community of do-gooders, as the reported actions of the community are on an honor-system of trust that these challenges were actually completed. Nonetheless, it’s a win-win situation for both businesses and consumers. Businesses get free advertising and new customers in a niche customers of conscious consumers, said cosumers get a cool freebie for making that extra effort to do something good.

So what are you waiting for? Sign up for the next challenge that benefits your community and the planet, and get some free stuff. And tell your family and friends to do it, too. Heck, make a game of it among your buddies.

I am hoping that enough of us do this, maybe this business paradigm will take off and encourage a high-end version of the ActBolder model where the millionaires, A-list celebrities, and politicians of the world are lured to do good via freebies that cater to the rich folk.

Buy 1 get 1 free vintage Versace dress for tweeting about a charity event? Free yacht repairs for following through at least 50 percent of your campaign promises? Bring it on.

Brain Food “Takeout” Delivery by Raj Sisodia: Conscious Capitalism

 We have a weekly team meeting that we “blew up” today.  Here’s why:  Our teammember Lara Simon told me that at her first startup, Yoyodyne, founder Seth Godin used to productively override team meetings to deliver “MBA in a week” lessons.  I liked that idea.  Not so much the MBA part, but the “let’s learn something together” part.
Raj Sisodia delivers brain food to the Grommet team.
I’ve recently gotten to know Bentley University professor Raj Sisodia through his role as co-founder of the Conscious Capitalism Institute.   I participated in their recent conference where I was honored to meet Stonyfield Farm’s CEO Gary Hirshberg, Kip Tindell, the CEO of The Container Store, and Doug Rauch  former President of Trader Joe’s, all practitioners of Conscious Capitalism.
Inspired by these powerful and successful companies and their impact in the world, I asked Raj to hijack our weekly team meeting and give us a tutorial on Conscious Capitalism.  Brain food indeed.  I won’t need to eat for a week, and I think our team felt similarly well-nourished.
Raj is the co-author of Firms of Endearment, whose title is fairly self-evident.  In developing the Conscious Capitalism movement he is taking his fascinating findings about purpose-driven organizations to another level.  I’m frustrated with just sharing a snippet from the CCI site here, but it is a good start to understand the movement:
Companies that practice conscious capitalism thus embody the idea that profit and prosperity can and must go hand in hand with social justice and environmental stewardship. They operate with a systems view, recognizing and benefiting from the connectedness and interdependence of all stakeholders. They tap into deeper sources of positive energy and create greater value for all stakeholders. They reject false trade-offs between stakeholder interests and strive for creative ways to achieve win-win outcomes for all. They utilize creative business models that are both transformational and inspirational, and can help solve the world’s many social and environmental problems.
Below are my random and incomplete notes about the facts and stats Raj shared that really struck me:
§US per capita marketing expenditures are $3,300, which is more than the annual income of 86% of the world’s population.
§Yet marketing, and big business, is generally deeply distrusted.  On a survey of trusted institutions, big business is 17th from the bottom.  (Interestingly, small business is second from the top!)  This cynicism and distrust is demanding more than incremental responses by business–it requires massive upheaval.
§The companies studied in “Firms of Endearmen”t spend very little on marketing:  Whole Foods spends 1/10 of its industry standard marketing budget and 90% of this is directed towards local social initiatives.
§The average age of a US citizen is 43, Europe is 47, Japan is 53-4.  It’s the first time in history when the demographic that traditionally seeks spirituality, purpose, and meaning in life is so dominant in developed countries.  Not surprisingly, the second best selling book of all time is “The Purpose-Driven Life”, bested only by the Bible.
§While 350 communities have passed laws to prevent WalMart from building in their town, Whole Foods gets 1,000 letters a week asking about their future store expansion plans from people who don’t want to move to a community unless they know Whole Foods will be also moving there.
§Psychological studies of successful businesses (traditional ones) reveal large parallels to psychopathic personalities:  i.e.e highly driven and self-absorbed, a take no prisoners attitude, believing in business as a zero-sum game.
§In an age where information is democratized, and transparency in all dealings is a given, old-fashioned “command and control” businesses will suffer.  Conscious Capitalist companies will ascend, as they balance all stakeholders (people, profits, planet) with a conscious culture and conscious leadership, all directed at a higher purpose.  For Google:  organizing the world’s information, for Southwest Airlines: democratizing air travel, Whole Foods: organic living.   Daily Grommet:  citizen-shaped commerce.
If you would llike to get a copy of Raj’s presentation, send a message to Jules Pieri at Daily Grommet and she”ll send it out to you jules@dailygrommet.com

A Look at America’s Most ‘Sustainable’ CEOs

TriplePundit’s poll to determine the Top 10 Sustainable CEOs has us asking some important questions — like, "What is a sustainable CEO, anyway?" and "Why does it matter?" Luckily, some really good answers are on the way.

Briefcase manThe results of TriplePundit.com‘s "Top 10 Sustainable CEOs" contest are in. Readers voted on which corporate leaders they consider to be doing the most to make their businesses respect a "triple bottom line" that responds simultaneously to the needs of profit, people and the planet.

The winners include some of the usual suspects that the man on the street might know — Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia and John Mackey of Whole Foods, for example — as well as many you may have never heard of, like BethAnn Lederer of Working Wonders and Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan of the New Belgium Brewery.

Nick Aster, founder and publisher of TriplePundit, stressed that though this isn’t an official ranking of any sort — really just a straw poll — it is the start of what he hopes can become a deep and serious conversation about what it means to be a responsible business leader in these trying times.

“People are starting to realize we really are in a major environmental and social crisis and the role of business is a huge one," Aster tells Tonic. "It runs our economy. It keeps us employed. It keeps food on the table literally. It’s a huge part of the conversation.”


Woman boss

A Conversation on Sustainability

The conversation about how business leaders can best engage with our societal conversation about sustainability has to start at a very basic level. Aster admits that he doesn’t even know what "sustainable" really means when it comes to business.

"To be honest, we’re not even sure how you define what is a sustainable CEO," he said. ”Maybe there isn’t a single definition. Maybe there are many definitions."

He says he’ll reevaluate the question after he collects the thoughts of a range of people, including the CEOs themselves. The contest is only the first part of an ongoing series on leadership that TriplePundit will be hosting over the next several months.

While the series aims to help us all understand what sustainability means for business, its other goal is to get business leaders thinking about their own businesses in these terms. It is a big shift in thinking. The CEOs who are making a difference in this area have each had to muster the courage to take a stand, a difficult task for people who have, as Aster put it, "been trained to say ‘yes, I have all the answers.’"

A notable example commonly referenced in the field is Ray Anderson, former CEO of Interface Carpet, who ranked among the lauded CEOs in TriplePundit’s contest. Anderson had "a moment" when reading Paul Hawken’s Ecology of Commerce in which he realized he was an environmental villain.

“It was an epiphanic spear in my heart, a life-changing moment; a new definition of success flooded my mind," he told the UK’s Guardian newspaper about the revMan bosselation. "I realized I was a plunderer and it was not a legacy I wanted to leave behind. I wept."

Anderson then made it his mission to change that legacy and proceeded to, as the Guardian puts it, "turn the company into a champion of environmental sustainability."

In taking that courageous step, said Aster, Anderson "basically kicked off a huge movement and got the attention of a lot of other companies and a lot of environmentalists. He was one of the key people who started bringing business into the conversation."


Other ‘Ray Anderson Moments’

The problem is that there aren’t enough others who have had similar revelations. A goal of TriplePundit’s focus on leadership, according to Aster, is to uncover other such instances of dramatic self-evaluation "that haven’t been as widely publicized" and to spark others that "are waiting to happen and just need a catalyst."

It’s easier to take such bold steps, of course, if you don’t have to answer to profit-hungry stockholders. Taking a company public makes it more difficult to insert such ethical considerations into its operations.

PeopleYvon Chouinard, founder and owner of Patagonia, for instance, has been able to shape his company exactly how he sees fit because he has, as Aster put it, “the luxury of it being a private company.”

Other legal entities such as low-profit limited liability companies (L3C) and B corporations, which allow for other bottom-line considerations beyond profit, promise to make it easier for companies to fit into a space between all-profit and non-profit.

"I think it’s a brilliant idea," said Aster.

Even with new legal structures, however, leadership will always be key to shaping how sustainability is prioritized within an organization. No matter how many employees are on board with a socially conscious mission, the support of the corporate leadership is key to making any progress a reality.

"Every employee of the company can be actively trying to evolve how the company does business, but if the CEO and the corporate leadership has not bought in and doesn’t understand that, then it can’t fully manifest," said Aster.

To highlight that fact, TriplePundit’s leadership series will actively engage and carefully scrutinize those who are making these decisions. "We hope that by bringing some attention to this and by congratulating some leaders that we think have done an outstanding job, that others will pay attention and that this might become something that more people will start thinking about,” Aster said.

Let’s cross our fingers for many more Ray Anderson moments to come.


Images (1 2 3 4) courtesy of stock.xchng

How Doing Good and Fat Belly Ads Relate — With Faisal Sethi

Doing nothing changes everything. It’s a bit hyperbolic admits Faisal Sethi, but it gets people thinking about how they can leverage their regular actions and routines for good. Sethi is the co-founder of DoGood Headquarters, a new startup out of Ottawa. DoGood Headquarters is virtual factory of online solutions that have a social impact in the real world.

Two weeks ago, the company launched its first product, the DoGooder. It’s a free browser plug-in that replaces generic Internet advertising with campaigns related to green initiatives and social causes. DoGood Headquarters then donates 50% of the profits earned from these ads campaigns to environmental movements, charitable foundations and non-profit organizations. Sethi is careful to note that the DoGooder is not an ad blocker; ads are still served and publishers receive revenue from them.

In the two weeks since launch, nearly 3,700 people have downloaded the plug-in, myself among them. It truly is quick and simple to download. My browser is still junk free (no toolbar or obstrusive graphics) and instead of seeing ads for CSI Miami or mortgage rates, I’m shown campaigns around causes I care about like the World Food Programme.

Faisal and I talked about the Texas BBQ that ultimately inspired him to start DoGood Headquarters, the importance of design and the benefit of being an ‘industry outsider.’ 

Listen to the interview on Cause + Capitalism

Market with Manure & Buy High: What I Learned From Stonyfield Farm

Gary Hirshberg, CE-Yo of Stonyfield Farms is a self-described “passionate capitalist” who has created millions of dollars of capital for investors and measures progress in numbers and assets. Like Hirshberg, I believe that business is the most powerful force today to bring about social change.

After listening to a podcasted conversation between Hirshberg and Clif Bar founders Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford*, I bought his book Stirring it up: How to Make Money and Save the World and annotated the heck out of it. While it is worth reading in its entirety, I wanted to share the most persuasive points I took away.

Up-end convention

  • Sustainability thrives when you open your mind to doing things that are considered taboo or foolish in business (I’ve heard this repeatedly from Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard). Hirshberg says Stonyfield’s approach is “almost diametrically opposed to the ancient business recipe for success.” For example:
    • Stonyfield pays some of its organic suppliers up to twice the market rate for conventionally grown materials.
    • They scarcely advertise and use their packaging(yogurt lids) to promote other organizations.
    • They push for more government regulation and oversight in the organic and consumer food industries.
    • They report on how much pollution and waste the company generates, even when these numbers rise.

Doing good is a financial boon

  • Running a business that is more than profit-focused works out financially in the long-term, if not in the short-term as well.  Stonyfield was obliged to cover $4 million in unexpected supply costs due to a shortage of organic milk. To balance the expense, marketing was cut.  Notwithstanding, customer loyalty and product preference pushed sales up by 25%.
  • “Serving humanity pays.” A company that meets its customers’ best instincts while making high-quality products has a competitive edge.
  • Satisfy your customers’ product needs and their emotional needs. Today this overwhelmingly means consumers want to feel morally good about what they purchase.

Write a mission and stick to it

  • A strong mission statement gets you through the blizzard. If your mission is clear and inspiring and you use it as the cornerstone of your business—your unique raison d’être—you won’t have trouble convincing customers of the superiority of your product or service.
  • You make money by enforcing precise standards, putting your heart and soul into producing the best product and, above all else, holding fiercely to your mission.

Manure marketing will save you millions

  • Bizarre antics earn you free media coverage (Stonyfield set up a fiberglass Jersey milk cow that pooped out manure-like potting soil at a Chicago park).
  • A guerilla marketing campaign can get you what you need for 1 percent of the price of a traditional advertising blitz.
  • Brands flourish when they acquire personalities that attract people.
  • Lack of traditional advertising (for Stonyfield, a consequence of a pint-sized marketing budget) can work in your favor by making customers feel they are part of a select group.

Waste not, pay not

  • Less waste saves you money twice. You pay less to get it and less to have it taken away.  Interface saved $336 in just over a decade from reducing product waste. They continue to define waste as any cost that does not provide value.

*Hat tip to Lee Fox (@KooDooZ) for pointing me to the Stonyfield/Clif Bar conversation.

13 Benefits You Can Count on if You

Most people think that a social mission* is a money drain on a business.  Conversely, I’ve found that it helps a company grow. Here are 13 ways that your business can profit from integrating a social mission.

  1. People will talk: consumers, competitors, investors, suppliers and the press.
  2. Employee morale goes up.  People like to work for a larger purpose and know that their work makes a difference.
  3. Consumers prefer companies that make a positive impact on the world.  Two out of three consumers will switch brands if one works with ’good causes’ and the other does not (Edelman, 2009).
  4. You’ll look like a future-bound company.  Talked-about, contemporary and successful companies represent more than just a product or service.
  5. Spend less on marketing.  Your mission will do your marketing. A line of grocery products founded and once produced by Paul Newman (Newman’s Own) is a somewhat banal story that merits only a mention in the press. The fact that the company donates 100% of profits to charity is a story that sticks, intrigues and encourages participation through purchase.
  6. Attract talent.  People want to work for employees that care. A social cause is indicative of a favorable workplace.
  7. Attract young talent.  Teach for America was the top employer of graduating seniors from Brown, Georgetown, University of Chicago, Trinity College and about a dozen other schools in 2009. 16% of Yale’s graduating class applied for one of the most challenging and low-paying jobs to be found in America.
  8. Keep talent.  When employees are part of a larger mission and feel their contributions make an impact in the world, they’re engaged, proud and motivated.
  9. Spend less on energy, water and waste disposal.  You’ll save money by reducing energy and water consumption and waste production. Making less waste and reusing water or materials costs less to buy and less to haul away.
  10. Gain an edge with your suppliers.  Stonyfield Farm pays their organic suppliers a floor price that won’t ever drop, protecting their suppliers from market swings and production hiccups. In return, when supply for organic milk or sugar outpaces demand, Stonyfield is first on the delivery list and can buy at a fair price.
  11. Your company’s initiatives will be modeled as more companies realize the benefits of having a social mission.
  12. Exercise your political or social voice.  Championing a cause transforms your company from a mere provider or a product or service to an influencer.
  13. Have fun.  Science proves what most of us know–doing good feels amazing. We feel happy, enlivened and creative. Channel these feelings back into your business and you’ve got a real competitive edge.

*What is a social mission?
A core component (or components) of your business that yields a positive impact on the environment, society or a specific cause or issue.  Newman’s Own, Stonyfield Farms, TOMS Shoes and Clif Bar are several examples of companies with brawny social missions.

Originally posted on Cause Capitalism

This Online Bake Sale Makes Cookies Even Sweeter by Donating 15% of Every Purchase

Author’s note: Baking for Good was recently featured as a gift that gives back on iGiveTwice, an awareness campaign I started to encourage people to choose gifts that have a social benefit.
Ask Emily Dubner what her company, Baking for Good, is and she’ll explain how it’s an online gift giving site, online bakery and fundraising tool. When you buy cookies and bars made from local and natural ingredients from the online bakery, 15% of your purchase is passed on to a non-profit or community fundraising group that you choose.

Dubner launched Baking for Good in September 2009 with the idea of creating a continuous, online bake sale that would provide an alternate choice to giving flowers and tie into the fundraising campaigns she loved as a kid. Working with a baker in Hermosa Beach, CA, she runs Baking for Good from her apartment in New York.

I interviewed Dubner to learn how she came up with such a simple—and seemingly effective—concept, whether Baking for Good is profitable and who her first hire will be.

What was your inspiration for creating Baking for Good?
Around the holidays last year I was visiting my parents and a friend of my mother sent a gift of baked goods—brownies and cookies—that she had ordered online. Even though the process of sending this gift was similar to ordering flowers online, I thought it was so special and thoughtful; it seemed different. I’ve always loved to bake so I started thinking about what the market looked like for online bakeries. It seemed there was a lot of potential there because people don’t typically think of ordering bake goods online yet.

So one part of my inspiration was the thought that baked goods make great gifts that can be shipped anywhere. The other part was that I had been thinking about the different fundraising campaigns we did as kids, like selling wrapping paper and candy bars. I started to think more about online fundraising and how it can be done differently in the 21st century. Specifically I landed on the idea of a bake sale. An online bake sale would let people buy delicious homemade treats and raise money for important causes at the same time.

So I put these two ideas together: that baked goods make great gifts and that you can raise money with them. At first I envisioned the business as a school-based fundraising campaign with an educational component to it that schools would use to raise money.

As I worked on it more, it became a simpler concept. As it’s structured now, Baking for Good focuses on the element of gift giving at the same time as transfering a significant portion of our profits, 15%, to a charity or local community fundraiser.

Were you actively looking to build a business when you started Baking for Good?
I was in management consulting when I had the idea. I always knew management consulting wasn’t a long-term thing for me. I had been doing it for three years since college. I’ve always thought about food-related things and would investigate various ideas. I actually had a different idea that I wanted to pursue first. [Dubner wanted to build a storefront bakery where customers could decorate pre-made cakes, similar to the Color Me Mine concept.] I realized that this first idea would require a lot of fundraising and have higher start-up costs. It just wasn’t the right time for it so I put it aside, but I did keep my eye out for different opportunities. When I came up with the idea for Baking for Good, although it was a much simpler concept, I did my due diligence and market research. I would encourage people to do their market research and talk to people about their enterprise. The concept of Baking for Good to our September launch was nine months.

Did you study business in school?
I didn’t. I went to Harvard and studied Social Studies, which had an economic component to it. I consider my business training to have been in consulting.

Did you have experience with non-profits?
I don’t have any formal experience working with non-profits. My experience came just from the fundraising I did a kid. I got a really big kick out of the campaigns we would do in school every year. My competitive nature always motivated me to sell a lot of the products. I also had experience volunteering with non-profits when I was growing up.

How did you do your market research and what type of people to solicit counsel from?
I talked with a lot of friends and family to test the idea from the consumer perspective—would they order baked goods online to send as gifts—and I talked with entrepreneurs. I was part of an entrepreneurial peer group at my consulting firm, so I worked with them as I developed Baking for Good. I also talked to friends of friends, whether they worked in restaurants and had an idea about restaurant marketing, or whether they worked for a non-profit.

Did you raise seed money?
I funded it all myself. In the beginning I assumed I could outsource everything and do it all inexpensively. It turned out not to be as low-cost as I thought it would be; it ended up being significantly more than I initially expected.

Did you have to make sacrifices in your lifestyle while you were building the company?
Yes, to some extent. I’ve always tried to be a good saver and I guess I made a good salary as a consultant, but I never spent like it. I’m usually pretty conservative. Also, once I left my job I started tutoring and that’s how I pay my rent now so I can reinvest profits back into Baking for Good.

How did you connect with your baker Laura?
I was looking for someone who had experience with online business, specifically with shipping products—someone who knows how to ship products without breaking and to maintain their freshness. I reached out to bakeries and bakers online. Of all the people I talked to, she was the most open to this.

What’s been your growth rate?
Laura’s been able to handle all of our orders and works with an assistant now. I’ve started to think about adding a bakery on the east coast for local events, which would allow us to cater for nearby non-profits more easily.

How have you marketed Baking for Good?
Built into our concept is the idea that the charities we work with will help us market Baking for Good to their membership lists. Initially I was hoping it would be all word of mouth through our charity partners. I do think we get a lot of business that way. I also used Twitter and Facebook in the beginning. Daily Candy’s national edition picked us up, which I think was through Twitter. It was almost too soon, before I was ready for it! I hired a publicist at the end of October/ There’s a lot of attention around the holidays.

You launched in September. Are you profitable now?
I did have startup costs and I certainly have not recouped those costs yet. That being said, the money that comes into the business has been able to cover our expenses so we’re self-sustaining right now. If I decide to launch a new product line it would require a further infusion of money, but right now we’re able to cover our costs.

How do you account for the 15% that you pass on to non-profits?
Our prices are equal to or lower than any other online bakery, especially one that makes all natural products with many organic ingredients. I consider the 15% to be the equivalent of what I would pay in rent if I had a storefront. Because I don’t have that cost, I can pass along 15% of sales to non-profits.

Do you feel your business model is a significant differentiator in the market?
Absolutely. I don’t think we would have received the majority of the publicity we have, with the exception of a few, if we didn’t have this charity component. I think the idea of a bake sale online is new, while the idea of a bakery in itself is not. We still market ourselves, but this part of our model definitely helps our marketing.

Does Baking for Good receive a tax credit for the donations you make?
Yes. Our donations are tax deductible because they’re made on behalf of Baking for Good.

This must help with passing on the 15% to non-profits.
We’re going through the accounting for the first time this year, but that’s the idea.

You process the donations for each non-profit that customers have selected at the end of each month. How long does that take?
It takes a half-day to a full day. My developers built in a system at the backend, which makes it more straightforward.

Is it hard for you to run this business independently?
I live and work from home and live alone and work alone so it’s been an adjustment. While consulting, I was always traveling and working with a team. I love the flexibility of working from home and being my own boss but I look back fondly on my experience working on a team with others.

Do you receive a lot of suggested non-profit beneficiaries from consumers?
Yes, we probably receive two suggested non-profits a day from customers or from non-profits.

Was it difficult to get the first non-profits onboard?
It was difficult before we had a website to illustrate the company and concept. We were turned away by some non-profits but many were open to it, particularly local and smaller organizations. Some allow us to use their name, but not their logo.

Do you have to prompt your non-profit partners to market Baking for Good?
It depends. We have some organizations that have created amazing strategies behind their Baking for Good campaigns. For example, they’ll ask us in advance if we can feature them on the Baking for Good site in December when they send Baking for Good gifts to their large donors. Free Arts for Abused Children in Los Angeles has been amazing in their commitment to making Baking for Good a real source of fundraising. Many others will write blog posts about us or promote us through Facebook and Twitter.

Do you have a standardized kit for your non-profit partners?
I’m working on it. Hopefully I‘ll have one after the holidays.

What non-profit were you particularly pleased to have as a partner?
The executive director of City Harvest in New York heard about us and wanted to partner. That was very exciting for me. The Christopher Reeve Foundation also recently contacted us. As I mentioned at the beginning, I want Baking for Good to be helpful for small organizations so I’m also happy when a community organization like a school group or sports team contacts us.

What’s your vision for Baking for Good 3 or 5 years from now?
I would love for it to be people’s go–to gift giving site. I think it already is for some of our customers. I would love for people to see baked goods as the new flowers, as a great gift to give. Finally, I want non-profits and community fundraising organizations to see Baking for Good as an effective way for them to raise money.

Has it been as easy as you make it sound? 9 months from idea to launch and you were able to self fund it.
I don’t know if I would have had the courage to start a business that would have had a lot more dark days—like the first idea I was exploring. From the beginning, I saw Baking for Good as very doable. I had a vision for it and I was able to simplify it. The team who built the website was able to bring my concept to life. The hardest part for me has been the adjustment to working alone and I also put a lot of pressure on myself. I’m always wondering ‘Did that order arrive? Are our customers happy?’ So there’s been personal stress but it’s been remarkably smooth overall. I feel very lucky.

How much doubt do you have as an entrepreneur, especially one who’s working alone?
I’m not someone who loves attention, so sometimes I wake up and think ‘Why did I do this? There’s so much pressure.’ But there are so many people who believe in me and that’s really gratifying. The most rewarding part about Baking for Good and the part that most excites me is that so many non-profits are contacting us who want to come be a part of it. For that to happen, it makes me think ‘Yes, this is as good an idea as I thought it was back in January.’

What type of work can you not wait to offload to your first hire?
I think my first hire would have to be a web person. That’s the one thing I can’t do myself. But I definitely foresee other positions down the line.

Do you still bake on your own?
Yes, it’s still pleasurable for me because I don’t have to bake for work.

Baking for Good is accepting Christmas orders through December 20. As part of my commitment to give socially responsible gifts, I ordered a gift basket of gingerbread blondies and chocolate crackles for my family in Philadelphia. I chose the American Cancer Society, a cause close that they personally connect to.


True Angels in the City of Angels: The Top 5 Social Enterprises in LA

It may be the image capital of the planet, but Los Angeles itself suffers from a huge image problem. If you watch cable news, LA is little more than the location for a never-ending disaster movie: fires, gridlock, droughts, earthquakes, riots. While New York cultivates writers and Chicago molds future presidents, Los Angeles offers Octomom and Khloe Kardashian. In LA, Mario Lopez actually passes for a journalist.

Yet, the City of Angels seems a well-deserved name because it’s a city that frequently prompts our better angels. Despite the negative press, LA is a vibrant hub of ethnicities and ideas, a thriving metropolis that spurs continuous innovation for the common good. Among its 20 million residents, LA has nurtured a number of remarkable hands-on social entrepreneurs. Indeed, the city hosts some of the pioneering, pro-social organizations in the world.

These groups work across a wide spectrum of issues from the micro- to the meta. Some are nonprofits, others for-profits businesses. Despite their diversity, they share one powerful trait: all strive to serve the public interest and strengthen community through activism and action.

So who are the top social enterprises in the Southland? Here is a short-list of the leading forces for positive change, groups that work to repair the civic fabric in Los Angeles each and every day. And, not only do they improve life in Southern California, these organizations set the bar nationally and globally for social innovation and human impact.

Education & Literacy – If the California public education system is a catastrophic mess, LA is ground zero for this disaster. The district’s average score of 681 is 60 points below the state average. However, charter school operators are changing the paradigm. In LA, Green Dot leads the pack. Since 2000, it has created a new dynamic in primary education across the Southland, one that is spreading to cities and towns all over America. Green Dot has pioneered a compelling model that takes over large failing institutions, breaking them up into smaller, nimble schools. It then engages parents and teachers in a highly collaborative approach that abolishes tenure and achieves dramatic results, such as test scores that often exceed those of peer institutions in the district. While many feel that Green Dot is still a work in progress, enigmatic founder and education visionary Steve Barr has the ear of US Education Secretary Arne Duncan and superintendents across the country who want to import his model and understand his new path. Walking the halls of a Green Dot school, you are struck by more than test scores – its the sense of pride that pervades the environment and stays with you long after a visit.

Runners up: Brightstar, Saber es Poder

Environmental Activism – LA is among the most environmentally conscious cities in the country. It hosts offices for NRDC, Sierra Club and other national groups, yet Global Green has emerged as its leading contribution to the worldwide movement to combat climate change. The US chapter of Green Cross International, Global Green is helmed by former Sacramento political aide Matt Petersen. Under his leadership, Global Green has earned widespread recognition for its hands-on involvement and relentless advocacy. Petersen has enlisted A-list talent in his campaign to battle climate change and build a better society. Leonardo DiCaprio and Ed Norton sit on the Global Green board. Brad Pitt works with Global Green to spread the gospel of green design in New Orleans. Whether hijacking the red carpet at the Oscars to promote sustainable consumerism or managing an innovative demonstration center to promote residential green building, Global Green sets the pace in LA and beyond.

Runners up: TreePeople, Heal the Bay, Living Homes

Civic Engagement – Every city attempts to foster civic engagement. Here in LA, the leading light in the field is City Year Los Angeles, the 18th local franchise of the national organization. By now, community service has become a bipartisan priority. It’s been embedded into federal policy, notably via the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act that was signed into legislation earlier this year. But look no further than City Year to see the transformative magic of volunteerism up close. The 150 young leaders recruited to spend a "gap year" in Los Angeles are powerful examples of heroism. These individuals spend almost 2,000 hours as tutors and mentors to at-risk children in some of the most economically challenged neighborhoods across the city. From their inspiring opening ceremonies to the small acts of kindness that these role models perform every day in schools all over the city, City Year LA earns high marks for its commitment, discipline and integrity. Beyond the red jackets and Timberland boots, the results speak for themselves: lower dropout rates, enhanced civic energy, and higher participation in civic institutions.

Runners up: LA Works, United Way (LA)

Global Development – In a city whose residents hail from 140 countries, it should come as no surprise that LA hosts a number of nonprofit groups who take a global view of civic engagement. Among those organizations working to enable sustainable livelihoods around the world, International Medical Corps ranks as the most impressive in the LA area. For 25 years, IMC has worked to build the institutions overseas that relieve suffering on an ongoing basis. IMC was founded in 1984 by Dr. Robert Simon, a UCLA physician, who sought to build medical training facilities in Afghanistan as the country sought to rebuild after the trauma of the Soviet invasion. Since then, IMC has expanded its work to 25 countries, encompassing some of the most desolate and war-torn regions of the world. As documented in their stunning new book, A Thousand Words, their singular focus on helping post-conflict communities achieve long-term self-reliance is inspiring and worthwhile.

Runners up: Jewish World Watch, Operation USA

Poverty Alleviation – Among many groups seeking to break the cycle of poverty, Chrysalis stands out for its extremely innovative model of aiding economically disadvantaged and homeless people attain self-sufficiency through employment. Launched in 1984 by former investment banker Adlai Wertman, Chrysalis boasts an alumni network of 30,000 individuals that have been impacted through its programming which spans pre- to post-employment. But Chrysalis is most notable because its work is fueled by the revenue generated via Chrysalis Enterprises, its network of wholly-owned businesses that employ more than 1,500 people. The companies include Chrysalis Works, a professional street maintenance service and Chrysalis Staffing, a temporary staffing agency that allows clients to reenter the job market through short- and long-term temporary work assignment. With its successful earned income model, Chrysalis is considered among the most effective job-creation programs in the US.

Runners Up: Liberty Hill, New Economics for Women (NEW)

This is my short list of the leading social enterprises of Los Angeles. What groups have I missed? What categories have I omitted? Use the comments section below’ to add your thoughts, challenge my points, and build a conversation. Let’s shift from monologue to dialogue and create a guide to social justice and community enrichment here in the City of Angels.

Cookie Cause Marketing: Why These Two Campaigns Would be Better Together

Holiday season is starting to equal a hyper-selection of cause marketing programs meant to draw in shoppers and make their purchases count twice through portion of the price donations, matching gifts or buy-one-give-one promotions. Terrific. Done right, cause marketing campaigns are virtuous and smart business. But I wonder lately if every Joe’s personalized version dilutes the results.

CookiesYesterday I came across a smart partnership between the nonprofit Cookies for Kids’ Cancer and the producer of Glad storage products. Cookies for Kids’ Cancer funds pediatric cancer research by raising money from bake sales organized and supplied by local volunteers. In its first year, founder Gretchen Witt and 249 volunteers baked and sold 96,000 cookies, raising more than $400,o0o.

To encourage volunteers to host these bake sales, Glad is giving out free bake sale starter kits (hosting tips, recipes and Glad products) at GladToGive.com and is matching up to $100,000 of funds raised from sales of butter cookies and snickerdoodles.

Today, I read about Organic Valley’s campaign, which presents an over-pasturized cause element. Consumers who enter the holiday contest receive $10 in baking product coupons and three chances to win a $2,500 donation for their local food pantry. My first thought was not much; it’s a weak campaign and didn’t hold my attention. Organic Valley should have looked for a nonprofit partner that encourages baking, which then incites consumers to buy more, bake more, raise money and feel good. A missed opportunity, but the real opportunity comes from integrating these two campaigns. In support of Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, consumers would receive Organic Valley coupons and recipes, as well as hosting tips and product samples from Glad. Organic Valley covers your eggs, milk, butter, flours and sugars and Glad helps with the storage, transport and display. By working together, these companies would have rounded out the bake sale ’supply chain’ and benefited from combined branding, media and marketing efforts, leading to more bake sales and more funds for pediatric cancer research.

Is the popularity of cause marketing programs (which I see as mostly positive) dumbing down the benefit? Have cause marketing campaigns taken the path of summertime lemonade stands, cropping up at whim without attention to long-term value? I hope not. I hope it’s merely an isolated incident of a poor campaign compared to a sweet one.

Photo credit Carl Tremblay

How Shopping Could Help to Save the Planet

Fresh off her talk at the New Models of Social Responsibility summit, Amy Skoczlas Cole, director of The eBay Green Team, took some time to answer my questions about creating a replicable program, optimizing employee engagement and saving the planet through shopping.

As the director of The eBay Green Team, Amy works to engage eBay’s 89 million users to buy sustainably and economically by reusing and repurposing products.  Prior to joining eBay, she co-founded Conservation International’s Environmental Leadership in Business to help companies align their interest in environmental responsibility and profit.  During this time, she spent three years in Rio de Janeiro engaging Brazilian companies in environmental responsibility. Amy has launched partnerships with Starbucks, Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, Intel, Office Depot, Aracruz Celulose, Fiji Water and Bank of America.

causecapitalism_AmySkoczlasColeAmy, you spent three years working with companies in Brazil to increase their environmental efforts. Are there differences in how South American and U.S. companies think about sustainability?

What astonishes me is that corporate responsibility is truly a global movement, without boundaries.  If you had told me, when I first started in this space in the mid 1990s, that 15 years later we’d see companies of all sizes, in all geographies, looking at how they can improve their environmental and social practices, I would have laughed.  There’s obviously a lot more work everyone can do, and different companies are in different places in the journey to embed sustainability into their core business strategies and business decision-making, but the momentum is clearly there.  In Brazil, I worked with a group called Instituto BioAtlantica, which was co-founded by some of the largest Brazilian companies, which shows awareness for this issues from the corporate sector.

What is your vision for the eBay Green Team in 10 years?

Ten years is a long time for a company that’s only 14 years old!  But our vision is clear.  We want the eBay Green Team to be a catalyst for bringing truly greener, smarter shopping into the mainstream—and for keeping it there.  In most cases, the greenest product is the one that already exists, but people don’t necessarily think about this today.  With a community of 89 million active users who trade $2,000 worth of goods on eBay every second, we have a unique opportunity and, as we see it, a responsibility.  Seemingly small actions really can add up to a big difference when taken together.  We’ve seen this firsthand with our employee Green Team, which was one of the inspirations for our larger initiative.  Together, those 2,300 eBay employees have driven greener thinking inside of eBay and have led us to some of our biggest environmental accomplishments, like having the largest private solar installation in our hometown of San Jose, California.

Do you see the Green Team as a model that other Fortune 500 companies can learn from and implement?

Certainly.  The most important part of the eBay Green Team is how deeply authentic it is to who we are as a company. It was created by our employees, inspired by our community of users and is in alignment with our overall business.  Tapping into the passion and ideas of your employees is a great place to start.  One resource for interested companies should be the “Making Your Impact at Work” guide that we partnered with Net Impact on.  The guide shares eBay’s employee engagement story along with those of several other great companies.

eBay’s Green Team was born from employee initiative. If a company’s sustainability efforts are driven from the top down, what can leadership do to involve employees in the company’s mission?

Make employees a part of the solution—from the beginning.  Value their opinion and nurture their desire to help the company succeed.  Don’t let big decisions get made in the C suite without consultation.  Inevitably, you’re going to need your employees to deliver on any big vision.  While major decisions certainly happen at the executive level, eBay’s sustainability efforts have been much more bottom-up and grassroots in nature.  We’re very much a values-based company, and our employee Green Team is a natural extension of that as the largest employee-based interest group in the company. What’s unique and exciting is that the eBay Green Team inspires employees to join projects on campus and to then take these interests and passions back to their communities and lives away from work.

It doesn’t have to be complicated to involve your employees. When we announced our three-year, 15% absolute carbon reduction goal we asked employees for their ideas for how to get there.  Since eBay is project to grow at a very healthy rate, it’s not an easy goal we’re setting.  We received over 600 ideas, all of them good ones, for cutting down on our corporate greenhouse gas emissions and operating more effectively.

For more than a decade you helped businesses become sustainable, and thereby more profitable. What are some primary takeaways from this work? Does it take a special type of business leader or company to succeed sustainably? Are there general best practices that you can share?

I’m convinced that there’s something to be gained by every company looking at sustainability.  What it takes, fundamentally, is a willingness to look at two things differently: your planning horizon and your audiences (aka stakeholders).  At an operational level, driving out inefficiency is just good business management.  Sometimes, as with eBay’s commitment to renewable energy, you have to be willing to look beyond next quarter to see the ROI or payback. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which operating more efficiently isn’t better for the bottom line.

Expanding your view on what audiences you serve (including employees, as survey after survey shows that a business’ commitment to sustainability is an important factor in recruiting and retaining top talent) also leads to similar conclusions.  What’s interesting is that in this time of economic downturn it seems more companies are asking themselves: What does it take to endure in the long term? The answers to this question inevitably lead to sustainability and better business decision-making.

What types of benefits do you look for when creating partnerships between businesses and non-profits?

Clear and shared interests and goals are a really important place to start.  For instance, with The Green Team’s most recent set of partners, The Uniform Project, PopTech and ecofabulous, we found that we shared a similar mission to help people think about using things that already exist in new ways that meet their needs.  While we’ve joined with three very different partners, we all share this worldview, as well as the perspective that the way to really ingrain this concept in society is to inspire and engage people in positive ways, rather than preaching to them.  We were able to bring this diverse group of partners together because we could rally around the single goal and concept that a greener lifestyle is really a trade up, not a trade off.  We all felt strongly that this consumer benefit had to be front and center in all that we did together.

Culture fit between partners is also important.  eBay’s a pretty fast moving company.  We don’t have time for a lot of bureaucracy so we need partners that can be as, or more nimble, than us.

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