Monthly Archives: February 2013

A Shift Towards Conscious Business?


Whole Foods CEO John Mackey offers his vision inside new book

by Kyle Skahill

Conscious Capitalism is the most recent call to arms advocating for a shift in the way we do business. While co-author and co-CEO of Whole Foods, John Mackey, is himself a captivating blend of beliefs not often held in unison—simultaneously a self-described libertarian and vegan Buddhist—he blends his values in Conscious Capitalism, illustrating the complementary relationship between successful business and high ethical standards.

Championing the progressive shift in mainstream business culture, co-authors Mackey and Sisodia provide a framework for how business can rediscover its “virtuous nature” as “the largest creator of wealth humanity has ever conceived.” The authors claim that shifting focus from short-term profit maximization to long-term stability can restore the for-profit sector’s reputation as a critical and respected institution. The resulting read makes a compelling case for free-enterprise capitalism as “the most powerful creative system of social cooperation and human progress ever conceived.”

What’s a conscious business?

Mackey and Sisodia state that their purpose is to inspire more conscious businesses – “businesses galvanized by higher purposes that serve and align the interests of all their major stakeholders…and who exist in service to the company’s purpose, the people it touches, and the planet.” The authors offer four tenets of this type of business: 1) higher purpose 2) stakeholder integration 3) conscious leadership, and 4) conscious culture and management. The combination results in win-win relationships between customers, employees, shareholders, suppliers, communities and the environment. Win-win relationships between all stakeholders correlate to better customer experiences, less employee turnover, higher engagement, lower overhead, higher profits and sustained growth. As Mackey explains, “the four [tenets] are interconnected and mutually reinforcing. We refer to these as tenets because they are foundational; they are not tactics or strategies…they must be understood holistically to be effectively manifested.”

The case for Conscious Capitalism is vetted by frequent references to the successes of Whole Foods Market and other pioneering companies, including REI, The Container Store,UnileverTwitterSouthwest AirlinesTata GroupPOSCO, and others. Unfortunately, the almost exclusive quotation of leaders already on Conscious Capitalism Inc’s Board of Directors makes Mackey’s validations feel like an insider executive roll call. Conscious Capitalism could have enjoyed greater depth of perspective by including  the voices of customers, employees, or activists in the text, instead of simply speaking for and about them.

That being said, the book recognizes Whole Foods’ role as a flag-bearer of conscious business – privately administered healthcare for employees, maintenance of executive salary caps, full wage transparency, and generous benefits all demonstrate that Whole Foods walks the Conscious Capitalism talk. In resonance with these internal practices, Whole Foods is one of only thirteen companies to be listed in Fortune’s “Best Places to Work” every year since the list’s inception in 1998, and received multiple awards and recognitions from the Environmental Protection Agency among other honors. At the same time, the company has enjoyed a high degree of success on the stock market compared to its sector’s average, and continues to enjoy sustained growth.

The role of stakeholder support

The fundamental assertion in Conscious Capitalism— that free market capitalism is “inherently virtuous because it is based on voluntary exchange” — is an oversimplification of a more nuanced history. But that doesn’t negate the fact that the larger point rings true. Purposeful, mission-oriented strategy is noble, and it represents a viable long-term model for the business world. Hopefully, by providing a road map for how to implement its four tenets,Conscious Capitalism can articulate this truth to a wider audience. By highlighting the virtue of “shared-value business,” Conscious Capitalism should help shift the current malaise towards “business as usual” into the optimism and trust fostered by “doing well by doing good.”

We can only hope that Conscious Capitalism – so successful at bringing organics to the mainstream – can help realize a conscientiously-oriented business paradigm for the 21st century.

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Thinking Small with Big Results

 

A social entrepreneur gives back to global education through her ethical baby clothing line

By Small Steps, Big Wins Campus Challenge

The Small, Steps Big Wins campus challenge is built on the belief that an idea, moment of inspiration, or simple action can set something powerful in motion. And social entrepreneur (and Net Impact member) Jo Tiongson-Perez is just one example…

Jo’s approach to change is written right on the front page of her company’s website: Big change starts puny. In 2011, the Philadelphia communications professional and mother co-founded Punypixel, an “eco-cool” organic and ethical baby clothing line that gives a percentage of each sale to help kids around the world.

As a girl growing up in the Philippines, Jo saw firsthand the inequality and lack of access to basics, like education, that so many children around the world experience. She had originally planned to fund an education program in the Phillipines – once she made enough money. Then Jo had her first child, and began researching natural and ethically-made baby products. A puny little idea sparked her creative instincts: why not create her own line of products that’s good for kids, and also helps kids? Using her own design sense, her background in marketing, and her photojournalist husband’s beautiful images, Punypixel was born. The company was named after her husband’s photoblog that documented all their baby’s firsts.

Punypixel works on a social entrepreneurship model: for every purchase, the company donates a set amount to a nonprofit committed to children, with a new organization benefiting every four months. The nonprofits they work with are diverse, but Jo has an eye out for organizations that preach an empowering kind of philanthropy. “It’s not about ‘saving’ people with your money,” says Jo. “It’s about giving people the tools to thrive so they can grow strong and break from that cycle of poverty.”

As a business owner working for a better world, thinking small can be its own type of empowerment. “You don’t have to wait for the government or a nonprofit to create social and economic change in the world,” says Jo. “It’s something you can do with your own small efforts. You may not know exactly what you want to do at first, but wanting to create change is a powerful start.”

This post was originally published on the Small Steps, Big Wins Campus Challenge blog. Check out the 50+ campuses that have already committed to making an impact by recruiting friends, taking action, and winning some really cool prizes.

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Are You Ready for Job Search Season?

Net Impact’s MAP program helps you navigate your way to that ideal impact job or internship

by Kyle Skahill

Finding any job in the current economy can be tough, so it might seem impossible to find one that also fits your personal values. Even figuring out where to begin the search can be daunting; the route to an impact job is far less defined than the search for conventional roles. But what if you had a road map? Better still: what if you had a group of peers along for the journey, providing the support and camaraderie to keep you focused on your mission?

That’s where MAP (Make a Path), Net Impact’s newest career support program, comes in. Originally designed and tested with students in mind, it quickly became clear that every impact job seeker could benefit – so we’ve refined the program and piloted MAP to professionals. From honing in on your passions, to finding the specific role that speaks to you and marketing yourself to prospective employers, MAP helps empower members so they can navigate the job search together.

Giving job seekers the support – and accountability – they need

What’s so exciting about MAP is that it works: participants in our pilot program reported feeling less lost, isolated, and overwhelmed in their impact job searches.  More than 73% said they felt more confident they’d find a job aligned with their values, 80% felt more connected to the impact-oriented community, and 87% said participating in MAP increased their access to helpful tools and resources. “MAP really helped to bring my career search back to basics,” says Jonathan Ward, who participated in our pilot. “I learned a little more about what drives me professionally… what motivates us to work for good, and where we’d be the happiest and most successful. MAP helped me look at my job search with new eyes.”

The program’s strength lies in its design: small peer groups of five to fifteen conduct a series of workshops focusing on practical exercises and peer feedback (we provide customizable resources, ensuring you’re headed in the right direction and equipped with confidence).

Team | Group members develop a personal “elevator pitch,” listening to each other to get to know more about the group.
Target | The second workshop focuses on identifying key job and career paths, utilizing an exercise from career consultant Shannon Houde. Network | Participants learn about contacts available through your group, and network like a pro.
Brand | We all know that getting hired is about selling yourself, and the fourth workshop shows you how to do just that, ending with a self-authored outreach email ready to go for your targeted jobs.
Values |Tying it all together, your final workshop ensures you know how to maintain your values throughout your job search, even when other pressures might threaten your resolve.

Create your own MAP in time for the upcoming job search season

MAP starts March 1st, just in time for the busy springtime job and internship search season. Don’t miss this chance to help yourself, your friends and colleagues, and find the impact career you’ve always wanted.

Get a MAP group going today

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Hope for Bangladesh: Fire Safety in the Garment Industry

Bangladeshi workers demonstrate the power of a newly installed on-site water pump. Photo: net Impact Central, courtesy of Marcus Chung.

 

On the heels of the most recent Bangladeshi factory fire, former Net Impact board member Marcus Chung shares his thoughts on a recent trip to Bangladesh, where he toured several garment factories. As Marcus says, “It’s unconscionable that any person should lose his or her life in the name of garment manufacturing.” Here, he describes why he is cautiously optimistic.

by Marcus Chung | Former Net Impact Board Member

From the moment you enter the Dhaka airport, it’s clear that the apparel industry is vital to Bangladesh’s economy. Airport walls are lined with huge posters advertising local garment manufacturers, textile mills, and trims suppliers. Apparel accounts for between 70 and 80 percent of the country’s 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 definitely 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 the sheer multitude of lives lost.

Yet it makes economic sense for almost every Western mass-market apparel retailer to source from Bangladesh because you 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 and it’s not realistic for companies to simply stop sourcing from Bangladesh. 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

I’ve spent the past decade or so in the garment industry and 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.

Signs of More Systemic Change

It’s abundantly clear that the Tazreen fire has shaken the garment industry in Bangladesh. In each of my factory visits, owners and managers were eager to show me the improvements they’ve made in fire safety, many of which were recent and required financial investment. Even unsolicited, factory managers would point out the fire extinguishers and emergency exits on each floor. One factory owner was immensely proud to show me his newly installed on-site water pump, with hoses that could reach the top of the building. He eagerly invited some workers who were trained to use the hoses to demonstrate the system’s ability to reach the roof of the nine-story building.

But why build a nine-story factory to begin with? One factory manager explained to me that each floor in his building was in fact a separate legal entity. Even though he owned the entire building and each separate factory within it, government incentives encouraged the practice of adding new factories on top of each other. The top-most factory, added to the building only one year ago, was made possible because the factory owner did not have to pay taxes on one year of factory operations after its establishment.

Many people have cited the vertical “stacking” of factories as especially problematic with garment factories in Bangladesh. Last October, Gap Inc. announced a plan to address building fire safety standards in its contract factories in Bangladesh. While many companies have rightly focused efforts on fire evacuation (ensuring the factory conducts regular fire drills and requiring each factory floor to have an adequate number of fire escapes), the Gap initiative brings in expert engineers to identify tangible structural improvements. To me, this approach starts to get at some fundamental challenges across the entire industry in Bangladesh and also in other countries.

Along with the physical improvements that will be demanded by Gap and other brands, a culture of fire safety awareness and fire prevention seems to be taking hold. One factory I visited had organized a fire-fighting team in each production area. The teams were composed of factory workers and management, creating a level of accountability, collaboration and worker-management discourse that previously did not exist. I applaud this approach not only because it addresses the immediate fire safety challenge, but also because it begins to build a culture of open discourse between production managers and workers. Members of this team wore yellow vests with the word “fire” printed on the back and team member photographs were highlighted prominently on posters in each area.

Cautious Optimism

Factories in Bangladesh are far from perfect and it’s clear the industry has a long way to go toward better conditions, but two things keep me optimistic. First, brands are making real investments in the country’s future. Sourcing leaders – not just CSR professionals – from the world’s biggest apparel brands are seriously looking at factory health and safety. I recently attended a meeting on Bangladesh fire safety standards where half the attendees were Sourcing executives and the remainder were CSR professionals. Brands are making investments, but in a careful way to ensure maximum positive impact.

Second, there seems to be a willingness to change among factory managers. The big garment manufacturing companies in Bangladesh know that they’re under the spotlight. Media are now focused on challenges that brands have been raising for years. The garment industry is too important for Bangladesh business owners and government to put at risk with lax fire safety standards.

It’s unconscionable that any person should lose his or her life in the name of garment manufacturing. If nothing else, let’s hope the tragic fires of Tazreen, Hameem, and most recently at Smart Garment Export, serve as a catalyst for real change. With responsible sourcing strategies and principled decision-making, we can put ourselves on a path toward a safer industry that respects the value of each and every worker’s life.

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Three Myths of the Impact Job Search

 

 

Think you know what it takes to land that perfect impact job? Do you even know what that job looks like? Even the savviest Net Impacter can benefit from a closer look at the reality of positioning yourself for a job in this market.

Later this month, Net Impact Conference speaker and career consultant Shannon Houde hosts “Map Your Skills to the Sustainability Jobs Market,” an Issues in Depth interactive online workshop. But before jumping on that call, there are some things you should know about what it takes to land a job in CSR or sustainability.

Myth 1: I need to demonstrate a single career trajectory to appeal to employers

Traditional wisdom once insisted that job seekers demonstrate an almost single-minded focus on a specific career path to be desirable in the job market. But massive shifts in economies, technologies and, let’s face it, generational differences have changed all that.

The reality: More and more companies are getting the memo that there’s a new kind of workforce. As Shannon points out, “There’s really no direct career track.” Luckily, this is good news for those looking for impact jobs.

“It’s a very ambiguous place,” Shannon says of the sustainability and CSR world, “because it is changing constantly.” This means that a successful search requires us to look at how our unique skills and experiences map to those sought after by potential employers, and position ourselves accordingly. Shannon’s Issues in Depth call on February 28 will walk attendees through that process.

Myth 2: The impact job search is sexier than the search for a conventional job

Many of us set out on this path driven by the search for more meaning in our day-to-day, and spend our hours dreaming about what it might be like to really see the tangible impact our work makes on the world around us. So it’s pretty easy to see how we might romanticize what it takes to get there.

The reality: Impact job searchers rarely have the luxury of a structured process or dedicated job funnels. This is especially true for students, where traditional job seekers benefit from on-campus recruiting programs that hold their hands through a highly structured timeline. Without the advantage of a clear path to follow, they have to become “map makers,” navigating their own path, creating their own timelines, and holding themselves accountable.

“We have to be so much more creative now about how we go about our job search,” says Shannon. This is why Net Impact developed our Six Steps to Job Search Success, and created MAP (Making a Path), a peer support group for impact job seekers now kicking off across the country.

Myth 3: Landing the job is the hardest part

Hey, we work with job seekers, job switchers, and job experimenters constantly – we get how challenging the process can be. Once you’ve taken a good, long look in the mirror, done your due diligence, jumped through all the hoops, and the ink is finally dry on that job offer, it’s tempting to sit back and enjoy the ride.

The reality: “Skills are at the crux of this whole [job search] process,” Shannon says. “You need to be able to articulate your skills, position your skills, and translate your skills.” But the most successful impact careerists know that the process doesn’t stop on day one of your new role. “This is something you’re going to be consistently doing throughout your entire career, and you should be thinking about it whether you’re in a job, or not in a job, or changing a job.”

Join Shannon this Feb. 28th for her “Map Your Skills to the Sustainability Jobs Market” interactive online workshop (completely free for premium members). Not a member yet? Join today.

By Jess Sand at Net Impact Central

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