Cause: Eat, drink, be merry, do good

IS2C6024 smallImagine a bar and restaurant that, like Newman’s Own, gives all of its profits to charity.

Beer and benevolence, it’s been called. Drafts and donations. More fun, in any case, than salad dressing.

That’s the idea behind Cause, a philanthropub (“a bar where having a good time helps a great cause”) that opened last October in the U. Street/Cardozo neighborhood of Washington, D.C., at 1926 9th St. N.W.  I’ve been three times–first to kick off the new year with the D.C. chapter of Net Impact, then to interview founder Nick Vilelle and this past week to have dinner with my wife.

Cause isn’t alone. “Have a pint, save the world,” says the Oregon Public House, which plans to open soon in Portland, a hub of both craft beer and NGO activity. In downtown Houston, bar owners came together last year to open the Okra Charity Saloon; customers, who get a vote with every drink, decide which charity should receive the next month’s profits. The ideas for these charity pubs evidently arose spontaneously and independently. They’re the latest in a wave of mission-driven businesses that blur the lines between the for-profit and non-profit worlds. [click to continue...]

Marcus Chung: A report from Bangladesh

ChungSadly, today’s guest post from my friend Marcus Chung is timely. The New York Times reported this morning on another factory fire in Bangladesh, this one killing seven women. Is this the price we must pay for cheap clothes? Marcus thinks not–although he’s just 36, he has worked for about a decade on corporate responsibility issues in the apparel industry, doing stints at Gap and Talbot’s. I’ve gotten to know Marcus as a fellow board member at Net Impact, a nonprofit organization of students and young professionals who want to use their business skills to make the world more just and sustainable. That’s exactly what Marcus, a Wesleyan grad with a Berkeley MBA, is doing in his current job, consulting for a global retailer of children’s clothing. Here’s his report from Bangladesh.

From the moment you arrive at the Dhaka airport, it’s clear that the apparel industry is vital to Bangladesh’s economy. Airport walls are lined with posters advertising local garment manufacturers, textile mills, and trims suppliers. Apparel accounts for between 70 and 80 percent of exports, so it’s no surprise that almost everyone on my flight from Hong Kong to Dhaka declared their profession as “buyer” or “sourcing” when clearing through immigration.

I visited Dhaka on behalf of a client to get a better understanding of the CSR challenges, trends, and opportunities that large apparel brands face in sourcing from Bangladeshi garment factories. Following November 2012’s tragic Tazreen Fashions factory fire that claimed the lives of more than 100 workers, there is renewed focus on how the industry can promote better factory working conditions. Tazreen was just the latest in a string of Bangladeshi garment factories that burned to the ground, but it also was the country’s most devastating in terms of lives lost.

Western mass-market apparel retailers source from Bangladesh because they can get a solid product at a competitive price. The apparel industry cannot ignore a fundamental commercial reality: Bangladesh has a ready supply of very capable garment factories that are filled with inexpensive labor. It’s not realistic (or probably advisable–MG)for companies to simply stop sourcing from the country. Therefore, the industry must do a better job of sourcing in a responsible manner that protects the rights of workers and includes basic commitments to a safe and healthy work environment.

A Multitude of Challenges

Over the years, I’ve heard many hypotheses about why fire safety continues to challenge so many Bangladeshi factory managers. Some cite an ineffective, corrupt government that does not enforce its own building code regulations. Others believe factory middle managers, myopically focused on production output, lack the ability or understanding to support fire safety practices with workers. Many believe pressure from Western brands to achieve low-cost goods encourages subversion of basic health and safety standards. I’ve heard people claim the root cause is a basic lack of infrastructure: old, multi-story buildings with poor electrical wiring; unreliable power supply (I cannot count the number of times the power went out during my visit) that causes short-circuits; and dusty, flammable materials lying dangerously close to unprotected electrical outlets. I spoke with one CSR leader who lamented a general lack of civil society and a culture where officials will agree to make improvements, but never follow through. [click to continue...]

What a long strange trip it’s been: How the Social Venture Network changed business in America

Ben Cohen, of Ben & Jerry’s renown, is asking me for money, and he’s not selling ice cream. I give him a dollar bill, he stamps it in red ink — NOT TO BE USED FOR BRIBING POLITICIANS — and returns it to me. It’s part of his new crusade to get corporate money out of politics.

“Corporations are not people, and money is not free speech,” Cohen declares.

The 61-year-old ice-cream mogul sold Ben & Jerry’s to Unilever in 2000.  (He’s on the left, without his trademark beard, next to his longtime pal Jerry Greenfield.) The T-shirt says: “Stamp Money Out of Politics.” These days,  as “Head Stamper” at StampStampede, Cohen is working for an amendment to the US Constitution to get money out of politics.

It sounds improbable but no more improbable than this: That a gathering of about 70 people, including Ben and his partner Jerry Greenfield, at the rustic Gold Lake Mountain Resort not far from Boulder, Colorado, Colorado back in 1987 could spawn a movement that has changed the way millions of Americans think about and do business. The Gold Lake get-together led to the creation of the Social Venture Network (SVN), a group of business people, investors and philanthropists, many of them shaped by the political and cultural movements of the 1960s, who believe that business can change the world for the better. About 700 SVN members, friends and family gathered last week in New York for a 25th anniversary dinner and celebration–a time to assess how far their movement to remake business has come, and how far it needs to go.

The dinner was a star-studded affair, at least for those of us who pay attention to businesses that aim to build a more just and sustainable economy. On hand along with Ben and Jerry were Eileen Fisher of the eponymous clothing company, Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farm, Drew and Myra Goodman of Earthbound Organic, George Siemon of dairy co-op Organic Valley, Jeffrey Hollender, formerly of Seventh Generation, Chip Conley, founder of Joie de Vivre Hotels, Roger Brown and Linda Mason of Bright Horizons, Amy Domini of Domini Social Investments, all of whom were named to the SVN “Hall of Fame.” Spotted in the crowd of 700 or so were Gifford Pinchot III, president of of Bainbridge Graduate Institute, my friends Seth Goldman of Honest Tea and author Mark Albion (More Than Money: Questions Every MBA Needs to Answer), Danny Kennedy of Sungevity–the closest thing to a power elite of the sustainable business movement.

None of them, to be sure, run FORTUNE 500 companies. But the movement birthed by SVN powered the field of corporate social responsibility, opened up new possibilities for entrepreneurs, raised expectations that big companies now need to meet and helped shape the way companies ranging from Google (“Don’t be Evil”) to Walmart do what they do. [click to continue...]

Ford’s John Viera: What an auto company can — and can’t — do about climate change

When it comes to climate change, Ford and its global director of sustainability, John Viera, want to do what they can to be part of the solution. In its latest sustainability report [PDF, download], the company says:

Ford is committed to doing our share to prevent or reduce the potential for environmental, economic and social harm due to climate change.

Viera puts it simply:

Climate change is real. Man has an impact on climate change. We as a company have to do our share.

Behind the rhetoric are actions. Ford has set science-based CO2 targets for North America, Europe, Brazil and China that determine the amount of greenhouse gases that its cars and trucks can emit over time, consistent with stabilizing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere at 450 ppm. Along with other automakers, it has agreed to the U.S. government’s fuel efficiency standards that mandate an average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon for the 2025 model year

All of which is well and good. But as John Viera acknowledged to me the other day, all of those good intentions will not take Ford, or the rest of us, where we need to go. Markets — which are beyond Ford’s control — will play a bigger role than corporate commitments or even the CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) rules. [click to continue...]

Tim Mohin: Changing business from the inside out

When I went to college, people with a strong social conscience went into politics or government, joined the Peace Corps, taught school, or became public-interest lawyers or doctors– in other words, they did just about anything but go into the business world. That’s no longer true, thank goodness. Today’s students understand that business can be a force for good and my  friend Tim Mohin — we serve together on the board of Net Impact — has written a new book called Changing Business From the Inside Out: A Treehugger’s Guide to Working in Corporations that helps business people, as well as students, understand how they can have a positive impact inside corporate America. Tim, who is currently direct of corporate responsibility at chip-maker AMD, previously worked on social-responsibility issues at Apple and Intel. His book has been heralded as “essential reading for anyone who wants to build a meaningful career”  by Aron Cramer, the CEO of Business for Social Responsibility. Here is a guest post from Tim about that offers a sneak peek at the book.

Like jumbo shrimp or military intelligence, “corporate responsibility” is considered an oxymoron by  many. People are skeptical of corporations and with good reason. Massive corporate scandals ranging from the 2008 mortgage meltdown, to the BP oil spill, to the recent headlines about Wells Fargo and Barclay’s have left a trail of destruction. The cost to repair the damage has been borne by society in the form of taxpayer-funded bailouts and environmental cleanup. Growing distrust in corporations boiled over last fall, sending young people into the streets in the Occupy Wall Street movement. So, at a time when trust in corporations has reached an all-time low, why is interest in corporate responsibility at an all-time high?

Even before the Occupy protesters set up their camps, corporate behavior was under intense scrutiny.  Regulations like “Sarbanes Oxley” and “Dodd-Frank,” required greater levels of transparency, a trend that has been fueled by social media and the Internet.  For more than a decade, companies in all industries have voluntarily published corporate responsibility or sustainability reports. CorporateRegister.com allows you to search 41,238 corporate responsibility reports across 9,153 companies, a number that has been steadily increasing.

Maybe there is a cause and effect here. The corporate scandals of the past have shown by painful example, just how quickly a company’s reputation, and brand value, can be damaged. Company employees, customers and shareholders know more, and increasingly care more, about corporate behavior.   So in today’s world, smart business leaders know that investing in ethical behavior is money well spent.

More important, I believe, is the need of every company to attract and engage talent.  A new younger generation of leaders is rising in corporate America,  and many of them bring social and environmental values to the job and will only work for responsible companies.

My new book, Changing Business from the Inside Out, delivers practical advice to this new group of committed business people. They recognize the power of business to drive positive change in the world. Changing Business From the Inside Out is “field guide” of practical tips, hard-won wisdom and leading edge concepts for people interested in a career in corporate responsibility. Here are the top five tips from the book: [click to continue...]

At Starbucks and Thanksgiving Coffee, it’s not just a cuppa joe

A coffee farm in Costa Rica

Aside from being in the coffee trade, Starbucks and Thanksgiving Coffee would appear to have little in common.

Seattle-based Starbucks is a FORTUNE 500 company (2011 revenues: $11.7 billion) that sells its brews all over the world, pursues global dominance (its latest outpost is Helsinki) and owns an iconic  brand. The company bought about 428 million pounds of coffee last year.

Thanksgiving Coffee is a family-owned, artisan roaster that sells most of its coffee to grocers, specialty stores and restaurants near its home base in Mendocino County, CA, where the other popular crop is often smoked. Thanksgiving bought about 500,000 pounds of coffee last year.

Yet the big coffee company and the little one share a couple of important goals.

First, they want to win the trust of their customers and, of course, their own employees. One way to do that is by showing them that their coffee is ethically-sourced. Starbucks talks about responsibly grown coffee, citing its Coffee and Farmer Equity (CAFE) Practices, a set of social, economic, environmental and quality guidelines. Thanksgiving’s slogan is ““Not Just a Cup, but a Just Cup.”  Reputation matters, whether you are big or small.

But, even if reputation didn’t matter (and to most customers, it probably doesn’t), Starbucks and Thanksgiving need to devote their attention to the social and environmental practices of their growers, upon whom they depend for a reliable supply of high-quality coffee. If their coffee farmers run into trouble–because of low coffee prices, poor environmental practices or climate change–Starbucks and Thanksgiving will struggle, too.

The other day, I wrote about the Fair Trade movement and its efforts to improve the lives of coffee growers. (See my blogpost, A Schism over Fair Trade.) About 9 percent of the coffee sold by Starbucks in the US is certified as Fair Trade; about 75%  of Thanksgiving’s coffee is Fair Trade certified. Today, I’ll dig a bit deeper into the ways Starbucks and Thanksgiving work with growers. [click to continue...]

Ratings, rankings and the world’s most sustainable company

I’m skeptical about efforts to rank and rate green or sustainable companies, and I have been for a time. [See 100 Best Corporate Citizens? What a CROck!] It’s terribly difficult to compare big and small companies, retailers with manufacturers, software firms with oil companies, etc. We once tried at FORTUNE, and gave up because we decided it couldn’t be done right.

Having said that, I’m impressed with the rigor and methodology used by a Canadian magazine called Corporate Knights to produce its 8th annual list of Global 100 Most Sustainable Companies, which it calls “the most extensive data-driven corporate sustainability assessment in existence.” The ratings are transparent and they encompass social as well as environmental metrics, among them energy, carbon, waste and water productivity, diversity and employee turnover, safety and, interestingly, the ratio between CEO and average worker pay–a revealing metric that most such rankings do not include. Disclousre: While I played no part in putting the list together, I did write a profile of Novo Nordisk, the top-ranked company, for Corporate Knights.

A couple of things to note about the list. First, US companies perform poorly. There’s not one US-based company in the top 10. Intel (No. 18) Life Technologies (No. 15) is the highest ranked US-based firm, followed by Intel (18), Agilent (59), Johnson Controls (64), Procter & Gamble (66) and IBM (69). Lest you suspect a Canadian bias, our neighbors to the north did no better. The top-ranked Canadian firm was Suncor (48), which calls itself an “oil sands pioneer. Go figure.

Of the 22 countries with companies that made the list,  the UK led the way with 16 Global 100 companies, followed by Japan with 11 and France and the US with eight. Northern European countries (Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden) punched above their weight, which isn’t surprising.

Int [click to continue...]

REI’s Sally Jewell at Net Impact

Sally Jewell – 2011 Net Impact Conference from Net Impact on Vimeo.

Sally Jewell, the chief executive of REI,  is the most unpretentious big-company CEO I know. When we first met a couple of years ago for dinner in Washington, she arrived in toting an REI backpack (made from recycled material). She’s plain-spoken, direct and a good interview.Her company, as you might expect,  is committed to minimizing its environmental footprint. (Without  a healthy planet, there’s no business for REI.)

So I was delighted when Sally agreed to a keynote interview at the 2011 Net Impact conference last week in Portland. We talked about how REI has lowered its energy and GHG emissions while adding stores, about the (unfair) competition from Amazon and about how ideas percolate up, down and around the retailer.

Some 2,600 people attended the New Impact confab which, as always, was a great event. I’m only slightly biased, as a board member of Net Impact; the organization’s mission is to inspire and equip young people to use the power of business to make a more just, sustainable world. You can hear more about Net Impact on the video below from Liz Maw, Net Impact’s executive director.. The interview with Sally is nearly an hour long, but I’ve posted it here, figuring that at the least REI employees may want to watch.

And, if you are one of those people who plans ahead, please mark your calendar for the 2012 Net Impact conference on Oct. 26-27, in Baltimore, MD.

Starbucks: We are indivisible

I’m not much for patriotic displays, but I’m proud to wear this red, white and blue wristband inscribed with the word INDIVISIBLE.

I hope you’ll wear one, too. They’re available, beginning Tuesday, at Starbucks, for a donation of $5 or more to a project called Let’s Create Jobs for USA.

The program aims to create thousands of jobs across the country, by investing community development financial institutions (CDFIs) — mostly credit unions and community banks — that will then lend to small businesses, nonprofits, housing and commercial developers, micro-enterprises and the like, all to spark the economy and create jobs.

I’m a fan of this project,  for several reasons.

First, there’s no more front-of-mind issue in America today than jobs. So this a great example of how a big company can help tackle an important  problem–while enhancing its reputation as a business that supports its communities.

Second, Let’s Create Jobs for USA underscores the fact that, despite the rhetoric from politicians, jobs are best created by the private sector.  If you’re anti-business, you’re anti-jobs.

Ben Packard

Third, although credit for the campaign ultimately belongs to Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO, Let’s Create Jobs for USA unfolded as it did because of a connection between Ben Packard, vice president of global responsibility at Starbucks and Mark Pinsky, president and CEO of the Opportunity Finance Network, a national network of CDFIs. Ben, Mark and I serve together on the board of Net Impact, a great organization of students and young professionals whose purpose is to inspire and equip young people to use the power of business to make the world a better place.

Let’s Create Jobs for USA is very much in the spirit of Net Impact. [click to continue...]

How to hire a hotel desk clerk

I’m surprised by how casually some companies  hire.

Hiring matters. A lot.

Just ask Chip Conley, the founder and executive chairman of boutique hotel company Joie de Vivre.

“I chose that name because it’s hard to spell and hard to pronounce, and most people don’t know what it means,” he jokes.

Despite the name, Chip has made Joie de Vivre a big success because he focuses relentlessly on hiring the right people, and creating a workplace where they can grow and thrive. He’s the author of Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow, an excellent management book based on the well-known hierarchy of needs of psychologist Abraham Maslow. (See my 2007 blogpost, Peak Performance.)

“The most neglected fact in business is that we’re all human,” Chip says.

Chip, who is 50, started Joie de Vivre right after he graduated from Stanford Business School. Joie de Vivre is now the  2nd largest boutique hotel company in the U.S. (behind Kimpton). It employ 3,500 people in 35 hotels, 19 restaurants and five spas. Last year, Chip sold a majority interest to a private equity firm run by John Pritzker of the Chicago family that used to own Hyattt.

I’ve known Chip for years. He’s always full of ideas  Last week, he gave a talk in San Francisco to the board of Net Impact. (Great organization, by the way: check it out here.)

Chip argued, as he does in Peak, that great companies succeed by meeting the highest expectations and desires of their workers and customers.

For workers, the base of the pyramid is money. That’s about survival.

Above money is recognition. That’s about listening to people, giving them opportunities to grow, applauding their accomplishments.

At the top of the pyramid is meaning. That’s about giving people the sense that they are making a contribution to the world, that they are part of something bigger than themselves.

“Your goal (as an employer) is to help people move up the pyramid,” Chip says.

You need to start with the right people. So, for example, when Joie de Vivre  interviews job candidates who want to work at the front desk a hotel  —they’re called hosts—they’re asked to talk about a time in the last month when they did something for someone else that made the other person happy, and made them happy, too.

It’s obvious why, right?

If making other people feel good makes you feel good, you’re going to like working as a front-desk clerk. You’ll greet every guest who approaches the desk with a smile, and genuinely look forward to helping them in any way you can.

If you don’t much like helping people, you’ll see the job as eight hours of drudgery and the guests will notice.

For the hotel, that’s the difference between repeat business and a disappointed guest.

For the desk clear, it’s the difference between a calling and a job, Chip notes.

“A calling energizes you,” Chip says. “A job depletes you.”

Chip’s been fortunate to find his calling as a hotelier, a writer and a speaker. Here he is, giving a TED talk.

: