Why I Nominated Erika Karp for the GOOD 100

Erika told me she was out to transform the all-powerful capital markets so that they would correctly value sustainability, thereby reorienting capitalism to a higher purpose. Whoa.

Illustration by Lauren Tamaki

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As a for-profit, B-to-B office supply company based on the Newman’s Own business model, obviously our primary contribution to the community is through the millions of dollars in profits we’ve donated over the past 21 years.
But we quickly realized that the pro bono model of leveraging other business assets could have a profound positive community impact too.
Over time, a successful business builds a whole arsenal of assets. We have a deep reservoir of employee talent, a fleet of trucks, warehouses, supply chain access and influence, bank credit lines, a broadly visited website, regular contact with thousands of customers, conference rooms, and the list could go on and on. The first priority claim on these assets needs to be to our customers. But when we asked ourselves, “How can we use existing assets under our control for additional community benefit?” it is amazing what possibilities came into focus.
Here are just a few examples:
We still own our trucks even when they return empty from their daily delivery runs. We created our e-Waste Pick Up Program to use those empty trucks to pick up the massive amounts of electronics waste from our clients and deliver those old computers to a job training program. That program repairs them for use by schools and nonprofits. In simpler terms, the pro bono investment of our distribution capacity, when previously unproductive, now creates much needed jobs in our community.
Another, perhaps even more amazing example is our partnership with K to College, a nonprofit working to provide free school supplies to homeless and very low income children in California public schools. We essentially “lent” our buying power in our supply chain, which includes school supplies, and our warehouse and logistics infrastructure to the K to College program in a way that resulted last year in 157,000 backpacks filled with a full term’s school supplies for needy school children. We collaborated to create perhaps the largest free school supply program in the U.S. largely by the effective power of pro-bono.
Beyond the more typical lending of technical expertise and employee participation in community volunteerism, which we also engage in, it is astounding what can be accomplished with other innovative uses of business assets in a pro bono context. That’s why we were thrilled to take the Billion + Change pledge and proudly add our efforts to the cause.
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Superb Idea: Virgin America Rolls Out Water-Bottle Refill Stations Virgin America Rolls Out Water-Bottle Refill Stations

After the TSA pats you down, x-rays your undies, and dumps your liquids, at least now you don't have to pay $4 for bottled water.

Call this common sense marketed well. Virgin America has installed "hydration stations" at San Francisco International Airport's "green" terminal. Normally, after the TSA pats you down, X-rays your undies, and confiscates your Poland Spring, you have to shell out $4 or so for monopoly-priced airport water. Not any more—well, not at SFO, anyway.

Sure, you can bring your empty water bottle through security and fill it up at a water fountain at just about any airport (well, not any airport). And SFO has had "hydration stations" for a while now. But now Virgin is jumping in with an endorsement, branding refills as the smarter way to travel, and even pushing water bottles with the company logo. This is Virgin doing what Virgin does best, and making something that's been around seem cooler—the eco-friendly version of on-board lounge music and purple mood lighting.

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The Benefit Corporation: Can the Future of Business Be About More Than Making a Buck? The National March of the Benefit Corporation Continues, Now Protecting Ben and Jerry's Backyard from Future Sellouts

New laws take effect in Vermont and Virginia today that protect sustainable businesses from the pressure to turn a profit at all costs.

New laws take effect in Vermont and Virginia today, giving ethical business a boost. If Vermont's law had been around 11 years ago, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield might not have had to sell their ice cream company.

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Hollender Speaks (Part 2): On What's Next for Seventh Generation Jeffrey Hollender on How to Hold Seventh Generation Accountable

Ousted founder Jeffrey Hollender explains how to tell if the company he created is sticking to his original values—and a company response.

Seventh Generation has become a leader in environmentally friendly home products since it was started by Jeffrey Hollender 23 years ago. Hollender remains every bit the charismatic founder whose personal values of radical transparency and environmental responsibility course through the corporate consciousness at Seventh Generation. Now that he’s been fired—as detailed in part one of this post—he has a few suggestions for what to watch for to make sure his old company sticks to his high standards.

That’s not to say Hollender expects any impact on quality. “I would say assume the best, expect the best, and if you don’t see it, be vocal about it.” Just what he's told his consumers all along. “I can’t imagine that they would ever do something to make the products less safe or less environmentally responsible. It makes no sense to do that. You’re destroying the brand.
I can’t imagine they would do that. That’s not what I’m watching for.”

“Consumers became committed to Seventh Generation,” he says, “because of its transparency. So they should look for continued transparency.” Specifically, he says, “one of the things that always struck people is that we had a ratio from the lowest to highest paid person of 17:1.” Don’t expect to see something different he says, “but you want to see, are the things that built my passion remaining? I can’t imagine why the company would want to change those things,” he adds.

And they don’t plan to change things, according company spokesperson Chrystie Heimert who says she recently asked about the 17:1 pay ratio and confirms the company intends to continue it. A promise from a founder is one thing, but from a board that ousted him and from a new CEO?

“What I learned were too many things were dependent on my perspective and my belief and that’s not good for any business,” Hollender says. “The values have to be woven into the fabric not just culturally, but legally.” Hollender wishes he had enshrined more practices in bylaws and other legal documents.

“So, for example,” he says, “Seventh Generation has given 10 percent of its profits away to charitable nonprofit organizations. Now that’s not in the bylaws of the company, that’s not in the charter of the company. That can be changed at any time. Well, you know what, that’s a mistake… It should be in the bylaws and it should only be able to be changed by a supermajority that includes the employees… So if I failed, and I think I did fail in a lot of ways, I failed to institutionalize the values I believed in.” Heimert points out the 10 percent giving continues as it always has, directed by board member Sheila Hollender, Jeffrey's wife.

That's probably just one of the reasons Hollender isn't saying he predicts these things will change. In fact he repeatedly stressed that he doesn’t expect them to, but this is a time of reflection for him as he examines what led him to be ousted from his company. And he makes a passionate argument for using new tools to protect the core principles of values-driven businesses. He cites B-Corporation status, which requires a company to alter its bylaws so the leadership has to consider environmental and social impacts as well as financial factors before making corporate decisions. Seventh Generation was a founding B-Corporation when the concept was created three years ago. But those bylaw changes didn’t address 10 percent giving, CEO pay, or publishing a corporate responsibility report according to Global Reporting Initiative standards, all practices instituted by Hollender.

Dave Rappaport, the Senior Director of Corporate Consciousness, says he doesn’t know of any plans to alter the bylaws to enshrine any of those policies but says “there’s been no change to our commitment to all of the things we’ve been working on.”

(Rappaport's title in another company would be director of corporate responsibility, but one founder-inspired quirk of Seventh Generation is that company leaders make up their titles—at one point Hollender named himself Chief of Un-Fucking Up the World. That title lasted one day.)

Rappaport who was hired by Hollender after working in the NGO world, says all of the practices listed by Hollender will stick around. “Although the company was launched by Jeff’s vision, it is embraced by everyone here. It has been a part of everybody’s perception of their roles. Down to the innovations we’ve created on sustainability and corporate responsibility you will find the work of employees who took the vision to heart.”

He says, since letting Hollender go, the board of directors has approved the creation of a new committee on corporate social responsibility and sustainability. “With Jeffrey’s departure we know we have to institutionalize all of the things” he advocated for, to make sure there is management oversight and “continued direct board oversight, which there was through him” when he was on the board, Rappaport says.

Rappaport cited a few specific initiatives indicating how transparency continues to increase, including publishing the corporate responsibility report in an accessible online form and a new initiative to make more company data available to the public in the same way publishes government data. He hopes consumers and publications like GOOD will use it to hold his company accountable.

In possibly the most comforting statement he could give in this position, Rappaport echoed the man who hired him with a Hollender-esque call to consumers, "don't just take our word for it. Watch and see. Nobody deserves to get a pass on their actions ... our consumers need to be the ultimate judge of what we do."

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