Soon-to-be college graduates Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez learned how gourmet mushrooms could be grown out of recycled coffee grounds. The idea – intriguing if nothing else – made them think: Should they forgo stable careers in the banking world for innovative entrepreneurship in the…mushroom world?
As you might have guessed, the answer is yes.
If you can believe it, initial interest from Whole Foods and Chez Panisse, along with a grant from their university, gave them the courage to create Back to the Roots—turning Arora and Velez into “full time urban mushroom farmers”.
Their mission is simple: To make food personal again through the passionate development of tools that educate and inspire, one family at a time.
As are their values: Hustle. Passion. Family. Universal Happiness.
Sodexo is a massive global quality of life services company, reaching 75 million people on a daily basis. In spite of its size, Sodexo is committed to the local communities it touches, keeping its 425,000 employees engaged, communicating those core CSR values, and giving back.
I was able to learn more about how such a big company communicates its CSR values, through an interview with Neil Barrett, Sodexo’s Group VP of Sustainable Development. All italicized text is that of Mr. Barrett’s.
Sodexo’s Better Tomorrow Plan is structured around four pillars and sets out 18 defined commitments.
This structure governs who we are, what we do and how we engage with our clients, consumers, suppliers, and communities, in fact all of our stakeholders in order to be a responsible company.
But that is a lot of initiatives to remember, so in order to share them with the general public, we looked for common themes and came up with those four communications priorities, based on what our research said people cared about most...
The four macro themes of Sodexo’s CSR communications are:
1) A responsible employer: Our commitments as an employer talk about who we are as a company, with our commitments to diversity and inclusion, health and safety, human rights and developing our employees.
Sodexo is a global quality of life services company, reaching 75 million people on a daily basis. In spite of its size, Sodexo is committed to the local communities it touches and keeping its nearly half a million employees engaged in its mission and values..
Through an interview with Neil Barrett, Sodexo’s Group VP of Sustainable Development, I was able to learn more about how such a big company can be so personal. All italicized text is that of Mr. Barrett’s.
On being a local, global company:
The importance of being local, and recognizing the local impacts we have, is essential to our business. We have operations on 34,000 sites, ranging from one or two people to teams with several hundred employees. Those employees, 97 percent of whom are from the community in which they are working, are our direct connection to that community. The lives they touch every day – at work and during their non-working hours are in their local community.
By Allison McGuire
Much of corporate social responsibility work is done via coalitions, partnerships, and councils. The Global Sourcing Council (GSC) is a perfect example of how individuals, businesses, trade organizations, governmental agencies, nonprofits, and academics can come together to exchange ideas and share best practices. The GSC’s mission is,
“to discuss and define sustainable and responsible practices in global sourcing and supply chain management; and to encourage progressive economic growth leading to increased trade, investment and social good, all with an aim to increase knowledge, deepen trade relations and broaden commercial and cultural ties among nations.”
In short, the GSC is a nonprofit with an educational mission that advocates for corporate social responsibility in sourcing practices.
I was able to track down Wanda Lopuch, Ph.D., a past Chair of GSC’s Board and the Chair of its 3S Awards (more on that later) to answer some questions about the GSC.
AM: What does “global sourcing” mean?
WL: With the borders disappearing around the world, businesses are working with partners from all over the globe. Global sourcing refers to the ability of individuals, corporations and organizations to seek out partners from all corners of the world to aid in their business operations.
AM: Let’s say I’m a company that wants to do good in a global context. I’m looking for advice on how to establish my socially responsible global sourcing—how do I get started?
WL: The GSC Board and GSC community is made up of established industry leaders in sustainable sourcing. Reach out to board and community members around the world to brainstorm, address questions, toss around ideas, seek advice, and coaching. Be bold and persistent in presenting your vision for profit with purpose. Make GSC the first point of contact for any company wishing to establish a socially responsible global business.
AM: You have an awards ceremony coming up! What does the “3S” stand for, and why create an awards event around it?
WL: 3S stands for Sustainable and Socially Responsible Sourcing. The GSC decided to award companies and individuals who can see the difference between doing business and creating business-- sustainable business that empowers local economies without damage, but actually providing long-term values to communities or the environment. GSC's 3S Awards (Sustainable and Socially Responsible Sourcing awards) recognize exceptional achievements in the global sourcing marketplace by individuals and organizations who exhibit a combination of positive social and economic leadership. The awards bring to the forefront individuals, start-ups, and companies (e.g. suppliers, buyers and advisory organizations) that have worked to innovate, implement and improve communities and the environment through Sustainable and Socially responsible Sourcing practices.
By Kate Olsen
Last week on this blog, I discussed Patagonia’s lessons on corporate sustainability, including the company’s focus on reusing, recycling and repurposing its products via a call to action to customers to be a part of the ‘use less’ movement. It appears Coca-Cola is taking a page from the Patagonia playbook. In a bold move, Coca-Cola and musician Will.i.am are starting a line of high-end clothing and gear called Ekocycle. The line will feature recycled products and appeal to Millennials and Conscious Consumers (often one and the same).
Ekocycle will partner with a variety of big-name designers (Dr. Dre/Beats) to sell items including bicycles, shoes, handbags, glasses etc… All Ekocycle products will have labeling to inform consumers about how many recycled bottles or cans went into the product.
While Ekocycle won’t singlehandedly eliminate waste from consumer packaging (bottles and cans), it will communicate a message to younger consumers about green consumerism. Cause Affinity Platforms like Ekocycle, Product (RED) and others do more to raise the level of consciousness about important social issues than they raise profits through sales of cause-branded products, but they are a vital component of the cause marketing continuum.
A brand launch like Ekocycle is all the more remarkable when it has a major consumer brand backing the effort. Coca-Cola has invested much time, thought, innovation and money into its corporate responsibility strategy. While the biggest environmental impact a corporate giant like Coca-Cola can make is in amending core business practices to green the supply chain (which Coca-Cola does), it is refreshing to see a big brand invest in niche ideas and engage consumers in a conversation about our collective impact.
I look forward to seeing how Ekocycle leverages the star power of Will.i.am and the digital marketing savvy of Coca-Cola to (re)start the recycled revolution.
By Kate Olsen
Making headlines with its plea to consumers to buy less, Patagonia has certainly emerged as a company to watch for its brand marketing savvy and sustainable business practices. By inviting consumers to play a vital role in the company’s environmental impact, Patagonia is proving that a brand’s value proposition must include a social benefit factor to win in today’s crowded and noisy marketing arena.
How do you make that social benefit factor part and parcel of your company’s DNA? Patagonia has some ideas.
Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard has a new book out, co-written with his nephew Vincent Stanley, offering advice to companies on how to prioritize and implement sustainability initiatives. I consider The Responsible Company: What We’ve Learned From Patagonia’s First 40 Years a corporate responsibility primer, complete with checklists of policies and practices to inform how the business operates, recruits and retains employees, serves customers, builds community and protects nature. For those well-versed in sustainability trends and approaches, this meditation does not surprise, but it does provide helpful reminders. In the end, responsible business is about being human: aiming for greatness, learning from mistakes and continuing to press onward – a fitting lesson from two men who originally set out to climb and conquer mountains.
Chouinard and Stanley argue that no business in operation today has earned the right to call itself a sustainably company – there is just too much of a gap between how we do business and what we need to do to truly protect our environment and natural resources. For the authors, honor and respect are derived not from the label ‘sustainable’, but from the attempt to do business better.
Here are some examples of how Patagonia is striving to do business better.
- The Footprint Chronicles – examines Patagonia’s habits as a company and injects transparency measures throughout the supply chain to help reduce adverse social and environmental impacts. Patagonia does lifecycle analysis on its most popular 20% of products, tracing them geographically from design, to fiber, to weaving/knitting, to dyeing, to sewing, to warehouse delivery. Patagonia also calculates the carbon footprint, energy use, waste and distance travelled for each product. The company makes all this information available to consumers so they can make informed purchasing decisions. Patagonia continues to work to evaluate more of its products under this framework.
- Common Threads Initiative – Using the mantra ‘ Reduce, Repair, Reuse, Recycle, Reimagine’, Patagonia thinks about the whole lifecycle of its products and includes a consumer pledge to make customers an active part of the process of respecting the environment though purchasing decisions. The company will repair its products (and has staffed up to fulfill more requests – 12,000 last year) or take back any used Patagonia product for recycling or repurposing. The ultimate goal is to reimagine how the things Patagonia makes can be repurposed time and again to remain useful as long as possible.
- 1% For The Planet – Since 1985, Patagonia has pledged 1% of sales to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment. In 2002, Chouinard and Craig Mathews, owner of Blue Ribbon Flies, created a non-profit corporation to encourage other businesses to do the same.
How does your company strive to do business better?
The 2012 spring release of Williams-Sonoma, (WS) Inc.’s Corporate Responsibility (CR) Report didn’t make news headlines. Perhaps it should have, as it marked the corporation’s first report of its kind and there are some compelling results to share. A more informal communications strategy with storytelling and anecdotal snapshots of impact via social media channels would speak right to the interests of consumers who are hungry for news about doing good with the brands they trust. Here are the highlights.
Connecting with cause. PBteen (Pottery Barn’s aptly named line of furnishings) created “Giving Pillows” to connect teens with issues they care about—such as the environment, childhood poverty, and community development. It’s a smart strategy to cultivate younger consumers of the Millennial generation who self-identify as socially responsible and active.
Well done: Through partnerships with the Student Conservation Association, Trees for the Future, the Surfrider Foundation, Boys & Girls Club of America, and DoSomething.org, PBteen donated $5 per pillow cover purchased to the corresponding cause. By working with charities already established in these important spaces, PBteen showed a commitment to aligned causes and dedication to partnerships.
Needs some work: This type of campaign is ideally suited to digital outreach and viral communications. If PBteen were to expand the campaign, a storytelling campaign on Facebook (i.e. teens can share how they make a difference in their communities) or incentivized digital actions (i.e. watch a video on the Surfrider Foundation’s work and unlock $1 donation) could enhance impact (awareness for nonprofit partners, PBteen CSR work, product offering, and ‘cool’ factor of brand).
Engaged Employees. The CR report has three pages dedicated to associates (WS’ name for all of its employees) making a difference from within.
Well done: This was, without question, the most impressive part of Williams-Sonoma’s report. By giving a face, a name, and a voice to eight associates, the company does three brilliant things:
1) Appreciates cause. Through quotations and active pictures of WS employees (biking, boating, cooking, etc.), the whole conveys an authentic connection and appreciation for its parts. Instead of appearing superficially tied in with myriad causes, when individual associates call out their issues, the company is naturally united with that cause.
2) Accepts change. Each employee suggests a way in which WS can be socially responsible. WS is not only tacitly acknowledging the importance of change from within, it’s embracing it!
3) Acknowledges room for growth. These three pages exhibit honest ways in which the company can continue to grow, through the tagline: “How she[/he] makes us more responsible.” This line is so simple, yet intricately worded to convey the importance of WS associates and their ideas; to infer that the company could be less responsible without these individuals; and by using the word responsible, tacks on a thoughtful way of engaging with its employees and the world.
Sustainability. One of the primary raw materials used in Williams-Sonoma and its subsidiaries’ (Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids, PBteen, West Elm, Rejuvenation) products is cotton.
Well done: By moving to 12% of its cotton textiles to organic, the company stresses the importance of sustainable solutions.
Needs some work: The report notes that in the future, WS commits to “maintain at least 10% or more organic cotton in our textiles.” The “future” needs to be more clearly defined. 2012 report? Annual updates? Sliding scale? There’s no way to measure success.
Also, why the decrease from its current 12% organic cotton to 10%? Why not set the bar high—say 24% (I like when companies try to double their progress)—and report back in a year on whether or not that goal was attainable? It’s more interesting to see companies set high goals and report back on how they got there—earning accolades—or explain why they didn’t.
I’m curious to hear your reactions. Where do you think Williams-Sonoma can take the lead? How?
Photo Credits: Screenshots via http://www.williams-sonomainc.com/corpimgs/i/20121
By Kate Olsen
Last month, Sprint unveiled its latest green initiative - the ecoEnvelope(TM), a two-in-one reusable envelope that allows customers to receive and remit payment using the same envelope. Sprint, # 3 on Newsweek's 2011 Green Rankings and Forest Ethics honoree, sets a good example to other corporations with its environmental sustainability and ‘intrapreneur’ philosophy to look for innovative resource reduction opportunities in the supply chain. Sprint’s partners with environmental nonprofit Canopy to set appropriate goals and policies, as Canopy specializes in collaborating with large-scale forest product customers to ensure sustainable supply chains.
As reported at this year’s Sustainable Brands Conference, Sprint estimates that in just over a year, the ecoEnvelope(TM) will save just under $500,000 in operational costs and the equivalent of:
- 447 tons of paper
- 1,669 tons of wood = 11,565 trees
- 9,931,834 gallons of water = 15 Olympic-sized swimming pools
- 859,047 pounds of solid waste = 31 loaded garbage trucks
- 2,692,185 pounds of CO2e = 244 cars off the road/year
However, this latest initiative is smart not just for its eco-consciousness, but also for its direct application to the customer experience. Sprint has other consumer-facing green initiatives (for example, the Sprint Buyback Program rewards customers for recycling old phones), but the ecoEnvelope(TM)will be a monthly reminder to the 70% of customers who prefer paper bills about Sprint’s corporate citizenship, not just for those customers who opt in to a green program.
According to Keanon Swan, Manager, Vendor Management & Postal Strategy at Sprint, “The ecoEnvelope(TM) is a terrific way for us to continue educating customers about our sustainability efforts. The ecoEnvelope(TM) is branded with information about its paper-saving attributes; we also included information about e-billing and pay-by-phone options, in the hopes it'll raise customer awareness.”
I had the opportunity to ask Keanon about the new ecoEnvelope(TM) via email and am pleased to share is comments here. Keanon was instrumental in the development of the new envelope and sits on Sprint’s Paper Leadership Council.
Did Sprint solicit feedback from consumers in the development of ecoEnvelope(TM) and if so, what did consumers say?
“Yes. Prior to launch, we conducted several focus groups with customers, letting them try out and talk about the ecoEnvelope(TM) in various stages of development. We wanted to make sure the new envelope and its instructions were easy to use and understand; we even solicited customers' input on the envelope's design. The biggest piece of feedback that we wound up incorporating into the final product was the fact that customers said they'd like to see some information on the envelope itself about why Sprint decided to switch to this option, and how much paper the switch would save. After the initial focus groups, we selected a group of customers for a three-month pilot of the new envelope, then conducted phone surveys to gather their reactions.”
What has been the most interesting, or surprising result from the ecoEnvelope(TM) rollout?
“How fully it's been embraced by people and companies who are inspired by our journey. We talked to many people outside our industry at this year's Sustainable Brands Conference, and received so many excited and surprised reactions from people who never considered mailing policies could be such a huge opportunity for reducing our environmental footprint. We've received a similar reaction from the media, and even internally--bringing the envelope from idea to reality involved the enthusiastic cooperation across many different departments.”
What advice does Sprint have for other companies looking to create deep, lasting partnerships with nonprofits such as Canopy?
According to Kathleen Baker, Manager, Print Strategy & Operations at Sprint, "Having Canopy as a partner ensures we are aware and informed of the important environmental issues regarding paper procurement." Kathleen advises: "Ensure you seek out NGO partners you trust, and that understand and are aligned with your objectives. It's important to know the cultures of both organizations and determine up front if it’s a good fit."
Watch this video of Keanon Swan unveiling the ecoEnvelope(TM) at the Sustainable Brands Conference.
For many years, Patagonia has been a leader in creative corporate social responsibility strategies. They have fearlessly waded into the deep unknown with experiments regarding supply chain transparency, recycling initiatives, and sustainability practices. Not surprisingly, their Common Threads Initiative is said to enhance eco fashion, raise awareness of clothing waste, and encourage consumers to…buy less?
Yes, Patagonia is encouraging consumers (a word meaning people who consume) to consume less. Uselessers, perhaps?
The Common Threads Initiative has 5 pillars—Reduce, Repair, Reuse, Recycle, and Reimagine—which all include mutual agreements between the company and their customers.
Reduce: Patagonia’s understanding is that while they will create “useful gear that lasts a long time”, you are instructed to not buy things you don’t need, thus reducing the amount of production and consumption.
Repair: While you need to fix non-Patagonia “broken” items yourself, Patagonia will accept their worn, broken, and/or damaged goods, repair them, and send them back to you! The repair cost for items the company feels responsible for will be covered—the damages incurred by “normal wear and tear”, Patagonia will repair and charge a “fair” price.
Reuse: “Nothing wearable should be hoarded,” says Patagonia. Thus, they will donate their “seconds” to “activists working in the field” (cool) and unsold goods to people who have lost their belongings due to natural disasters. That’s truly wonderful corporate citizenship. You need to be a good citizen too, by selling or donating your old or unused clothing and gear.
Recycle: Americans throw away 11.9 million tons of clothing, shoes, and textiles per year, says Patagonia. To help remedy this, Patagonia pledges to take back all of its products that are worn out. In return, you agree to keep your things out of landfills by recycling it.
Reimagine a world where we only take what nature can replace is the tagline Patagonia wants you to hold. This piece is important because it envisions a future of sustainable goods; useful and healthy products and services; and global citizens who are committed to protecting our planet for “those who come after us.”
The last pillar is more than just a feel good end; it’s backed up by the pragmatic, strategic objectives outlined in the previous four pledge points. Patagonia is asking you to join them in their pursuits to consider the environment when you purchase, use, and discard goods. The Patagonia approach is a compelling example of a company inviting consumers to co-create the brand values and identity and, ultimately, a movement for social change. There are inherent risks in giving up some control of the brand experience, and, more importantly, asking customers to buy less, but the upside is authentic, unflappable brand loyalty that can’t be begged, borrowed or stolen by any other means.
Take Patagonia’s pledge here.
Which pillar do you think is easiest to do? Which is the hardest?
“Consumers don’t necessarily want—or need—more stuff. Rather, they want ‘better’ stuff, and a growing majority wants companies to move from ‘less bad’ to ‘net good’.”
Our friends at BBMG have come up with a timely and insightful new sustainable branding strategy they are calling “Disrupt & Delight”. In their latest publication, the folks at BBMG lay out five principles for sustainable brand innovation based on their direct experience and the best practices of leading companies like Nike, Patagonia and Unilever. You can download the publication here.
1. Start With What’s Sacred
Ever notice that Coke and Zappos proclaim to be in the business of happiness not the products they sell? That’s because at their core, these brands value the gestalt of experience and emotion and are curating a brand interaction, not just promoting product use. They seek consumers who value the experiences and emotions their brands evoke. In fact, those consumers then become loyal members of a tribe that shares the same sacred values. In this Web 2.0 age, as Seth Godin adeptly observes in his book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, tribes can easily and instantly make a difference or start a movement leveraging social networks and emerging technologies. A tribe of conscious consumers can help elevate a brand beyond the commercial realm to actually lead a social impact movement. Consider Chipotle, a food company that burst on the scene to not only change perceptions about fast food, but also champion a ‘Food with Integrity’ movement that has consumers demanding more transparency and accountability across the food industry.
2. Design Holistically
Sustainable design is design that takes nature and lifecycle into account from concept through production through use through afterlife (recycle, repurpose). Glowing examples of brands that understand holistic design are Levi’s with their Water>Less jeans (featured on this blog) and InterfaceFLOR with their modular carpets.
3. Create Collaboratively
There are many ways to collaborate, especially leveraging technology. Think about crowdsourcing ideas on platforms like OpenIDEO or open sourcing product development like Mozilla did with Firefox. Or maybe you can invite your supply chain and sustainability experts to your summit on improving your environmental footprint like Walmart does. How about getting together with your competitors to help solve a common challenge like many major food companies are doing with The Partnership for a Healthier America to help end the childhood obesity crisis? Or take a look at Unilever’s open invitation to individuals, nonprofits and business alike to suggest ideas for its research and development pipeline.
4. Be Playful
Did you think playful offices were just for Silicon Valley? Think again! You don’t have to have a ball pit in the conference room, but companies that foster a playful approach to work and problem solving see results in employee development and retention and more, better, faster innovations. Recyclebank is a rich example of a company using gamification and creative rewards to turn the recycling industry on its head. LiveOps, working with gamification consultancy Bunchball, integrated game mechanics like badges and leaderboards directly into their internal community to improve the performance of virtual call agents. People thrive on competition, recognition and fun, so why not weave those concepts into how your work is structured or how you are interacting with consumers?
5. Disrupt and Delight
In the end, it’s not about whether your company has the best commitment to sustainability, it about whether that commitment is paired with an authentic, relevant and unique brand promise. BBMG cites the example of Warby Parker, an eyewear company known for its social impact via a ‘buy one, give one’ model similar to TOMS Shoes. However, as BBMG asserts: “Warby Parker has succeeded not because of its noble commitment to social good, but because they disrupted an entire industry by giving customers what they never knew they always wanted: high-quality, fashion-forward eyeglasses, online shopping, a no-risk home try-on policy.” As the Boston Consulting Group experts explore in Breaking Compromises: Opportunities for Action in Consumer Markets, when you solve a hidden problem a consumer didn’t even know they were putting up with, you open the door for your loyal tribe to join your movement, whatever it may be. That’s powerful.