Walk into a grocery store these days and you will likely find that shortage of options is not an issue. Whether choosing flavors of bottled water or growing locale of a bushel of apples, you are the king, queen, and chief justice of choice.So what does that make you, me, and the billions of other buyers of goods and services—are we consumers…or voters? And what factors will tip us over the edge in deciding whether to pay or pass on something.Here are a few common factors that come to mind when deciding whether to buy a grocery product:
– cost (price, cost per serving, sales/promotions, incentives, bulk/bargain buys)
– nutrition (low calorie, low fat, high protein, gluten free, not gluten free, etc.)
– availability
– expiration date

but with a shifting focus on sustainability, health, and reducing our carbon footprint, a few more factors can come in play:
– was it grown locally?
– is it organic?
– fair trade?
– were hormones/pesticides used?
– did the company use sustainable practices?
– is the company a responsible employer?

voting or shopping

All of these various factors can complicate a simple grocery run for bread and milk—to say the least.

Certifications and badges can help guide our choices. For example the Guayaki bottle of organic mint yerba mate tea on the right features a mini display case of badges denoting its various certifications. And these can be decidedly helpful—if we know what they stand for & if we are on board with the certification process.

Guayaki notes its approval as a B corp—which is of special interest to me as that entails a number of other factors including social and environmental considerations.

Do certifications make a difference when you shop?
And do companies actually benefit by being evaluated for certifications?

Whether we see them as such or not, our purchases ($.25 or $25,000) are also votes for a particular product, brand, or type of product. Just as you cast a ballot for your favorite candidate, ‘voting’ for a product makes a statement to companies, suppliers, buyers, and retailers.

Arguably, however, no matter how aligned with our values a product may be, if it doesn’t meet our basic consumer instincts (i.e. do you love it? is it a good value?) it may not make it off the shelf and into our carts.

So, consumers or voters? I would venture to say both—and to examine further—we may see ourselves as consumers first and voters subsequent.  As ever, am curious to hear broader feedback :)

When delving into any field there is often special field-specific terminology that helps define and explain core concepts and ideas. Sustainable enterprise is no different. While attending the Sustainable Enterprise Conference I came across a few industry-specific buzzwords related to social enterprise, social entrepreneurship, and social innovation that were mentioned throughout the day. Here’s a rundown:

1. Triple Bottom Line

The “bottom line” for a company generally refers to profits. Triple bottom line results encompass people, planet, and profits (it is also called TBL or 3BL). It is the key performance indicator (KPI) for assessing a company’s success in the social enterprise context. The term, in fact, has been adopted by the United Nations as well as other organized bodies focused on sustainability. It calls for companies and organizations to focus on various affected stakeholders (social, environmental, financial) rather than solely the shareholders. Learn more about the Triple Bottom Line on Wikipedia, including supporting arguments and criticisms of the term.


2. Greenwashing

Greenwashing refers to the misleading or deceptive advertising or spin on products and services that make them appear to be environmentally-responsible when they may not be, or more environmentally-friendly than they actually are. Though there do not seem to be universal guidelines to determine the true “green” factor for a business, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has identified voluntary guidelines for environmental marketing claims. Greenpeace also outlines criteria for spotting “greenwash”.

 

3. Carbon Off-Setting

Carbon offsets refer to investments/donations to environmental projects and initiatives for the purpose of offsetting unavoidable carbon emissions. Products or services that label themselves as “carbon neutral” often take a two-step approach: 1) reduce their own carbon emissions (reducing waste, recycling, reusing, conserving); and 2) offset unavoidable emissions by funding initiatives that reduce greenhouse gases. The CORE Initiative website offers insight on identifying the “most influential” carbon offset programs.

 

4. AB 361

AB 361 is the title of the legislation being proposed in California to create an official “benefit corporation” corporate structure. The proposed benefit corporation would be a voluntary structure that would enable CA corporations to pursue triple bottom line goals. AB 361 was introduced by CA Assemblymember Jared Huffman.

 

5. Green MBA

Green MBA refers to graduate business management programs that examine in-depth the triple bottom line reporting and the complex interconnectivities between issues of business, environment, sustainability, management, conservation, and social justice. Two premier schools offering Green MBA’s represented at the Sustainable Enterprise Conference were Presidio Graduate School and Dominican University of California.

Read More:

I had the chance to attend the Sustainable Enterprise Conference in Sonoma this past Friday. It was an opportunity to get plugged in on local efforts, campaigns, and ventures in the realm of sustainability.It was a great experience—I was struck by the sense of community within the sustainable enterprise movement. Like a tuned ecosystem–many of these companies collaborate, pool resources, and both support and are supported by a growing infrastructure of conservation and social responsibility  Here’s a high-level overview of the event and sessions I attended (note: there were a number of other workshop options)…with links so you can continue your research into the various orgs, speakers, and concepts mentioned.sustainable enterprise conference
Welcome by Genevieve Taylor (Partner, CircadiaOne), Brad Baker (President/CEO, Codding Investments), and Robert Girling Ph.D. (Author).Keynote address “California Legislation for a Sustainable Future” by California State Assemblymember for the 6th Assembly District Jared Huffman, JD

Keynote address “Ecological Sustainability and Economic Drivers” by Maggie Winslow, Ph.D. (Academic Dean, Presidio Green MBA)

Keynote address “Green Energy in the Golden State Under a Brown Administration” by Panama Bartholomy (Deputy Dir., Effiency and Renewables Division, CA Energy Commission)


Workshop: “Straus Family Creamery Strategic Planning” panel including Edward L. Quevedo (Sr. Counsel & Chair of Sustainability Practice, Paladin Law Group, LLP), Sarah Isabel Parriott (Sustainability Strategy PM, Paladin Law Group), and Deborah Parrish (CFO, Straus Family Creamery), with special guest Albert Straus (Founder of Straus)

Keynote address “Pulp Non-Fiction: Changing the Paper Industry” by Jeff Mendelsohn (President/Founder, New Leaf Paper)

Workshop: “Behind the Scenes with B2B B Corporations: Building the Vision and Infrastructure to Shape, Support, and Scale the Sustainable Business Economy” panel including Matt Reynolds (CEO of Indigenous Designs), Jonathan Storper (Partner & Chair of Sustainable Business, Hanson Bridgett LLP), and Carolyn McMaster (Principal, ThinkShift Communications)

Workshop: “Localization and Sustainability: Tales of Success” with panel including Mike McGuire (4th Dist. Sonoma, County Supervisor), Tom Scott (VP and GM, Oliver’s Market), Nancy Bailey, (GM, Quivira Wineyards & Winery), and Evelina Molina (Co-Founder, North Bay Institute of Green Technology)

Lessons Learned, Call to Action and Closing Statements by Oren Wool (Executive Director, Sustainable Enterprise Conference)

Read More:

You may have heard of a for-profit corp and a non-profit corporation…but there’s a good chance you haven’t met B yet.

A B corporation is one that integrates business objectives with social standards and sustainability considerations.
B corporation certification requires meeting specific criteria with regards to:
  • transparency
  • social & environmental performance
  • enhanced legal accountability
  • documentation & business practices
It’s a fascinating and innovative approach to addressing the challenge of marrying social considerations with the inherent duty of a business corporation to create profit for its shareholders.But don’t take my word for it…you can learn more about what a B corp is in their intro video:

Read on:

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design and it is a pretty fascinating social innovation experiment aimed at sharing big ideas by thought leaders in those fields—and posting those talks online for all of us to glean something from.This is an interesting one by Melinda Gates. She explains the concept of aspirational marketing–using the ubiquity of Coke as a model.Aspirational marketing—finding ways to make ideas core to social progress, well, “cool”– is an interesting concept. And it seems like tools such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook can be apt instruments for spreading the aspirational marketing gospel by allowing a leveled playing field for getting front-and-center to the masses, leaders, and you and me.

you can watch Melinda Gates @ TED 2010 in her talk “What nonprofits can learn from Coca-Cola” below…

 

Intrigued? I definitely was when I read a recent blog post from the Stanford Social Innovation Review titled “Monk, Architect, Diplomat” by Mark Albion.Don’t hold your breath for a punchlineAnd it turns out the post didn’t just have a witty title to pull readers in, well, unwittingly (on that note I will admit that I do give a hearty mental ‘bravo’ to witting, insightful, or just plain well-put titles). The article was a well-reasoned piece on how social entrepreneurs can successful scale-up as their organizations grow. Rather than lack of finances, Albion argues that the underlying reason social entrepreneurs have difficulty scaling to a larger version of themselves is due to challenges in leadership.Albion focuses his leadership advice into three simple statements:

1. Be a monk, not a father.

2. Be an architect, not a captain.

3. Be a diplomat, not a dictator.

Through these metaphors he describes the successful expanding social entrepreneur as one who is socially engaged in her work, and mindful of her impact on others. For the greater goal of the mission and vision, she is willing and capable of distributing leadership and building a strong team. And she’ll spot the forest from the trees by not hesitating to be collaborative and compassionate.

It’s a great read. And inspiring. Sometimes being in a hierarchical framework such as a corporation, non-profit, or social enterprise it may seem like you are on a ladder with the options being continuing up, falling back, or holding still. This article and metaphors of leadership, allow us to be makers of a delicate yet resilient web of work—far reaching, three dimensional, and progressing in more than one direction. I like it, and I like the possibility and scope of thinking of meaningful leadership in this way.

If I had to add a #4 to Albion’s list, it would be:

4. Be a sherpa, not a ranger.

While I have not been in a position to scale-up a social enterprise as Albion describes, I have been part of the active leadership of social organizations that have changed hands. And I have seen first-hand the importance of sherpa-ness. While sherpas (Wikipedia) supply the necessary support and guidance on a demanding trek, it is not their hike. They serve as support for those who have chosen to undertake a challenging journey.

In the same way, “alumni” or subsequent generations of an organization or cause don’t necessarily need to hide under a rock so as not to influence the path of successive leadership. But I think they can benefit from seeing themselves and their accumulated expertise as support. Perhaps the support that would have helped them when they were actively leading or the support to help traverse a particularly tricky pass. Most of all they should form the support that is asked for by the noveau leaders.

While rangers no doubt save lives, prevent forest fires, and maintain pristine surroundings—in a social entrepreneurship venture ‘naysaying’ by organization alums may create confusion and uncertainty that can handicap a growing organization.

Read on:

 

I find myself thinking about how social media would have impacted the journey of historical figures in the past. Would Gandhiji have been able to explore nuances of ahimsa and satyagraha through reading comments to his latest posts by other thought leaders of the time…would blogging about his fasts and marches have hindered or helped their impact?

globe gazeIn a world in which people are busy with their daily routines, whether it is tending the farm or keeping up with the Kardashians, would Mother Theresa’s tweets about the mundane and profound aspects of her day have shown her twitter followers that she is human like them and also underscored her choice to dedicate herself to a path so unlike many around her?What if Shakespeare practiced his compositions on youtube. Would he have been discovered as the Justin Bieber of his time? Or would his advanced use of iambic pentameter have seemed less striking amongst throes of other youtubing poets.It’s hard to say really. And then it’s not at all. Because as we connect through this post, there is a “Gandhi” starting a new one, a “Mother Theresa” tweeting from a smartphone, and a “Shakespeare” uploading some new rhymes. In fact somewhere in the web of social media is our future President and a future Olympic gold medal winner. It is a major way our world now communicates.

This blog is about exploring and learning. It is a chance to examine topics—even if through the breezy tones of a blog format.

So, 5 goals for this blog? Here they are:

1. Write.  I have enjoyed writing for a long time, and this is a chance to do so in a free-form style and with assignments that are self-imposed. A chance to be creative, to be informative, funny where merited, and to write with an audience in mind.

2. Explore. If you’ve ever blogged, you may relate to the sometimes-challenging task of identifying content. Having a blog will be a good way to encourage exploration of new content by reading interesting posts by other bloggers and scouring related news.

3. Connect. If you believe the adage that “no person is an island” then connecting with others becomes key. Those interactions with others may be invaluable catalysts for our own understanding and growth.

4. Innovate. Before I blogged I may not have associated innovation with the act of blogging. But truth is, it’s all about innovation. How you decide to structure a post, what you choose to include and leave out, and so many other unique aspects go into blogging. This is a great chance to be innovative, in content and style.

5. Challenge. This is a chance to challenge my own perception of what I know and think I know about the fields of social entrepreneurship, photography, and writing.

Thanks for taking the time to read & I hope that this blog may be of use to others exploring any/all of these interests.

*Note: This post has been republished. The original version can be found here.