This article was first published in Issue One of Matters Journal (print edition). Image courtesy of Death to the Stock Photo.
From where we work to the toilet paper we buy, our everyday decisions have the potential to make the world a better place. But in a society spoiled for choice, it can be hard to put your money where your mouth is. We talk to the industry leaders creating products that give the power back to the consumers.
“Truly, at the centre of this movement are people. People who are tired of checking their values at the door when they go to work, people who are looking for meaning and purpose in their careers, who want to align their values with their purchases, who want to invest in a way that makes a return and also betters the world,” explained co-founder of B Lab, Bart Houlahan in his 2014 TEDx talk on how people are central to driving businesses to change.
Houlahan established B Lab with friends and Stanford peers Jay Coen Gilbert and Andrew Kassoy in Philadelphia in 2006. Their hope was to create an organisation ‘that serves a global movement of people using business as a force for good’.
B Lab is the non-profit organisation that assesses and verifies for-profit businesses to ensure they meet the required standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability required to become a Certified B Corporation.
At the time of writing, there were 2,339 B Corporations in 50 countries across 130 industries.
“B Lab’s vision is that one day all companies will compete to be best for the world, and as a result society will enjoy a more shared and durable prosperity,” explains Mindy Leow, Community Builder at B Lab Australia and New Zealand.
Leow believes a cultural shift led by consumer action is pushing businesses to redefine their place and purpose within the communities they operate within and serve. “We are in the early stages of a global culture shift that is transforming our vision of the purpose of business from a late-20th-century view – that it is to maximise value for shareholders – to a 21st-century view that the purpose of business is to maximise shared value for all stakeholders of society. Significantly, this shareholder to stakeholder transition is being driven by market-based activism, not by government intervention. Rather than simply debating the role of government in the economy, people are taking action to harness the power of business to solve society’s greatest challenges. Business – what we create, where we work, where we shop, what we buy, who we invest in – has become a source of identity and purpose.”
Studies reflect the societal shift towards ethical businesses. The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2017 found that globally 76% of Millennials regard business as a force for positive social impact.
“B Lab is only in its fourth year in Australia, and we are increasingly growing B Corp awareness across Australia,” says Leow. “Whilst we are seeing more and more consumer goods companies join the movement, the number one question that we get from individuals is ‘how can I work for a B Corp?’ Therefore, there is demand for B Corps in Australia, and demand from consumers for well-made products by ethical and responsible companies are only set to grow.”
Simon Griffiths, co-founder of B Corp-certified Who Gives A Crap – a forest-friendly toilet paper, paper towels and tissues company known for its bright-coloured packaging and light-hearted approach to marketing – agrees. “We’ve found that our social impact is the reason that customers remember us, even if they first found our product because they wanted to save money (our toilet paper is great value!), loved the design, or wanted the ease of home delivery. We know this not only from talking to them and listening to their feedback, but also from seeing how they engage with our website, social media and email-based impact updates. We also see the way they talk about our brand and products to their friends and family, especially on social media. Using 50% of our profits to help build toilets is always front and centre of their conversations about us.”
Another study, a 2015 report on sustainability by Neilsen found that 66% of global respondents said they were willing to pay more for sustainable goods. Of them, 69% were willing to pay more if the product is made with fresh, natural or organic ingredients; 58% if the company is known for being environmentally friendly; and 56% if the brand is known for its commitment to social values. However, it was if the products are made by a brand or company they trust that topped the list (72%) for why they would be willing to pay more.
“If our customers don’t trust that we’re working hard to make their dollars go further, we would lose them. Without our customers, we’d have no business and no impact. So we take the trust of our customers very very seriously!” says Griffiths.
The loyalty of Who Gives A Crap customers has helped shift the company’s early niche customer base to a more mainstream one. “Our big overarching goal is to ensure that everyone in the world has access to a toilet, and show that profit-for-purpose businesses and products like ours can achieve scale, widespread appeal and become the ‘new normal’. In order to do that, we need to appeal to absolutely everyone, but we know that’s incredibly hard, if not impossible, in the early years of a business,” explains Griffiths.
“In Australia, we’ve done a great job of finding really passionate, engaged consumers who have become brand advocates, and we’re now seeing growth from these early adopters into more and more and more mainstream consumers, which is incredibly exciting. We’ve recently launched in the USA and the UK as well – in these countries we’re still in the early adopter phase, and will keep refining our product offering to increase our appeal to a mainstream crowd.”
Australian social enterprise ThankYou – who make food, water, body care and baby products –donate 100% of their profits and provide customers with accessible, long-term transparency around how funds are being used to combat global poverty.
“‘Where does the money go?’ is probably one of the most commonly asked questions in the social enterprise, charity and not for profit sector – and it’s an important one. Track Your Impact™ is our answer. We built it because we give 100% of profits from our products to our impact partners and we wanted to prove it,” explains Wesley Rodricks, Digital and UX Designer at ThankYou.
“Every Thankyou product has a unique tracker code (Tracker ID). This unique code, when entered at thankyou.co/projects, shows you the exact project a product is assigned to fund, complete with GPS coordinates. Once the project has been completed, we send a personalised Final Field Report which details how the project solutions have been implemented, complete with photos. Our aim is to give users a similar level of reporting that you would receive if you gave away hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s an unprecedented level of reporting for consumers – it’s radical transparency.”
“Our goal with Track Your Impact is to create trust with our customers, through transparency and create a connection between our customers and the impact they’re helping to create. As with any app or software, we have a huge variety of users with varying styles of use. We have users that have tracked upwards of 300-400 products and some that have only tracked a few, but for most of our customers, it’s about knowing that it’s there. We’re delivering on a promise in an accessible and relevant way, regardless of whether they use it or not.”
It can be hard knowing where to start when considering how your personal impact can drive change but it can begin with small actions which you then build on. “L. N. Smith is credited for saying ‘every dollar we spend is a vote for the world we want’, which I firmly believe is true. It’s easy to think about this quote in terms of the smaller daily transactions that they’re making, say on coffee, food or maybe an item of clothing,” offers Griffiths of Who Gives A Crap.
“But I think it’s also important (possibly, more important) to think about the bigger institutions that are a less visible part of our daily lives – banks, superannuation funds and utility companies are three that come to mind. The great thing about switching to, or away from, one of these large institutions is that once you make the change you usually don’t have to think about it again for quite a while – it’s almost a ‘set and forget’ personal impact, so it’s worth putting some thought into getting it right up-front.”
Griffiths cites Bank Australia as an example of a great customer-owned bank, Powershop’s green electricity option as ‘really good’, and notes that Who Gives A Crap team members use Australian Ethical (“and there are lots of good ethical funds popping up”) as their preferred superannuation fund.
“Each of us has tremendous influence, and we can influence the way the world is shaped. We can do it with our work (come work with us!), with our actions (give someone a hug today and then go volunteer!), and with our dollars (hint hint.. buy our toilet paper!).”
“It’s simple advice but I think it’s really important to be informed,” says ThankYou’s Rodricks on where to start with personal impact. “We see so many articles, posts, tweets and hashtags about a range of issues, but often they only just scratch the surface. It’s important to take the time to understand why something is the way it is in order to find the right way to take action. You often find these issues are complex so the avenues for help are just as varied. It’s important to be curious and to not be afraid to ask questions. The more we uncover, the more clarity we have around a potential solution.”