You Have $10 And A Laptop. Go.

When I first saw Greg Hartle’s website, “$10 and a Laptop,” it reminded me of the idea of making something with nothing.  Well, okay, maybe Greg @greghartle had something when he started couch surfing across the U.S. to learn more about American entrepreneurs, like $10 in his pocket and a laptop. But he didn’t have much more.

Greg is someone who is creatively using social media to communicate a message about being an entrepreneur in America. He is traveling all fifty states to see how entrepreneurs are starting projects in the current economy. In the process, he is finding ways to make money as an entrepreneur, exploring the world of making something with nothing and opening up to America the struggles, dreams, and lessons of what it means to be an entrepreneur in America today.

Here Greg talks about some of the highlights of his journey so far to create business opportunities that not only make money but create social value as well.

When I discovered your project through the Twittersphere, I thought it was interesting that both of us are using social media to catalog a journey of discovery in areas where we want to situate our work, so that the journey itself is a part of the learning process. How have your most compelling insights about American entrepreneurs influenced your perspective of social media trends?

Eric Hoffer said it best when he said, “In times of change the learners inherit the earth. While the learned find themselves beautifully equipped for a world that no longer exists.” This is exactly where the majority of Americans are right now. We are in the midst of a major trend. One as large as the Industrial Revolution. The challenge with trends is that we don’t recognize them until we have enough data points. Once we do, it’s often too late to adapt to the trend. Those who are out in front will do well and are doing well. Those who aren’t, will struggle.

That’s the biggest thing I’ve noticed with entrepreneurs as I’ve traveled around the country. The way in which we transact business in the second decade of the 21st century is completely different than the way in which we did business in the last century and even the last 10 years. Social networks are only a part of this change. Technology and the internet in general have changed the game dramatically. Unfortunately, the majority of Americans (and entrepreneurs) are still doing old things. I consistently remind people to stop trying to do the same old things better and start doing better things.

What do you see so far as the biggest challenges that entrepreneurs face, and how have you seen ways that entrepreneurs are overcoming them?

It’s never been easier to start a business in America than it is today. It’s also never been harder to succeed. Early-stage entrepreneurs are quickly learning that just because the barriers to entry have been lowered doesn’t mean that success is inevitable. The marketplace is over-saturated with options in every industry. Consumers have to sift through more “noise” than ever before. You combine that with the scarcity of the dollar bill in today’s economic conditions and you have a recipe for entrepreneurial struggle.

The entrepreneurs that are overcoming this challenge are doing three things: 1) They are building Meaning into their business model. When every dollar spent is critical, a consumer is more likely to spend it in a meaningful way not necessarily just in a cheaper way. That’s why companies like TOMS Shoes and Zappos are doing so well.  2) They are allowing their customers to have a vested interest in the company. When a customer is invested in the outcome they are more likely to do what they can to see it succeed including sharing it with others they know (especially through social media).

That’s why companies like Threadless are doing so well. The clothing with the highest votes gets made. That’s a win for the consumer because they will buy what they voted for. That’s also a HUGE win for Threadless because they will only produce clothing they know will be purchased rather than guessing at what the consumer will want. 3) They are executing the fundamentals of business starting with managing cash flow and reserves all the way through marketing, sales, operations, customer service, etc. 85% of every business operates the same. Most businesses fail because they cannot execute, not because of bad ideas or a bad economy.

What have you learned so far about how social media is creating or diminishing opportunities for entrepreneurs to build businesses that have financial and social value?

Early business was about being “high touch”. Then we moved to “high tech”. Social media has provided the opportunity to be both high tech and high touch. It has also shifted the execution of certain aspects of business. For example, customer service can be executed so much better with the use of social media and the best way to increase sales is not marketing, it’s through WOW customer service. Ironically, social media has also created the opportunity for consumers to now tell a company and their friends what they “like” without actually having a conversation with either party. Word-of-mouth is always your best marketing. Now word-of-mouth can spread further, faster and without an actual word being spoken. That’s a game-changer.

Is there any part of your journey that has lead to a big-picture shift of perspective about America and entrepreneurship? 

The biggest shift in the world right now is the recognition that 20th century capitalism is on it’s last leg. We can no longer have an energy industry that destroys the atmosphere, banks that deplete the financial sphere, a food industry that sparks an epidemic of obesity, an apparel industry that produces dreary working conditions, and athletic shoes that don’t make people more fit.

21st century capitalism is about building organizations that are living networks creating a meaningful profit through co-creation of ideas, products, and services that make the world smarter, fitter, healthier, happier, and more connected. Whether you are a bootstrapping solopreneur or a startup with seed capital, you should be asking, are we making a real economic (not just financial, but also natural, social, and human) difference? Are people smarter, fitter, healthier, or more connected as a result of interacting with our business? Outcomes that make a difference to well-being are what make our work meaningful and our societies stable and thriving.

Today´s best companies get it. From Zappos to Whole Foods, the Container Store to Google: they´re generating every form of value that matters: emotional, social, and financial. And they´re doing it for all their stakeholders. Not because it´s “politically correct;” because it´s the ultimate path to long-term competitive advantage.

Follow Greg @greghartle or http://www.facebook.com/GregHartle.TenLap.


The following is a reposting of my first blog first during 2010’s October Breast Cancer Awareness month. I thought it was an appropriate way to close out Breast Cancer Awareness month in 2011…

Here in Chicago this October, I saw the color pink everywhere I went. Walking from a dance performance at Harris Theater in Millenium Park to Michigan Avenue on a fall evening, I looked over to see the Smurfit-Stone building, known to many as the Y- building, or “The Vagina Building,”  lit with the color pink. I was used to seeing “pink” products in Susan G. Komen’s Breast Cancer Awareness pink ribbon cause marketing campaign in the grocery store this fall, but I was surprised to see it in Chicago’s skyline that evening  (quite cleverly placed I might add).

What is cause marketing? One of the more concise and simple explanations of cause marketing can be found on Alden Keene’s Cause Marketing website (see below) where the blogger Paul Jones describes it as “a relationship that bridges cause and commerce in ways that mutually benefit both parties.” The Pink Ribbon campaign is a litmus test in cause marketing.  But does it influence awareness about breast cancer (and solicit funding to Susan G. Komen) in a meaningful way, or does it reach a tipping point when it seems to be everywhere without appearing to be anything special?

So this a big question, I realize that.  But I wanted to start coming to terms with this question by trying to put in words what went through my head when I saw the pink flood lights in the sky.

Seeing pink everywhere this fall reminded me of the concept of “normalization.” Don’t yawn, it’s actually pretty interesting. My Women’s Studies background makes me want to break it down according to Foucault (a social science philosopher who critically analyzed issues of power, knowledge, and social institutions).

Normalizing to Foucault meant how society makes something appear normal and how we in turn conform to social norms. The pressure to be what we perceive as “normal” appears to come from everywhere yet nowhere. The metaphor that Foucault is well known for using in order to explain this is the prison watch tower; as long as the prisoners (us) perceive ourselves as being watched, we monitor our actions, and the actions of others, even if a prison guard is not there.

Is the pink tower in the sky something as influential as Foucalt might suggest? Does it serve to normalize breast cancer awareness (and supporting pink products to help fund breast cancer research) in any kind of meaningful way? Will you find yourself next October in the grocery aisle reaching for a product with the pink ribbon, because you don’t want the people down the aisle to shun your cold, heartless face?

Normalizing and the pink ribbon tower… maybe that’s one of the ways that cause marketing has connected social causes with profits this October.

Alden Keene’s website, blogged by Paul Jones, is “Cause Marketing: Dedicated to Highlighting and Dissecting the Best and the Worst Cause Marketing Promotions and Campaigns” is at http://causemarketing.blogspot.com

(photo by Hirotomo of a Tokyo tower @ http://www.flickr.com/photos/travelstar/5046809289/in/faves-29654410@N02/)

I recently took a hiatus from posting on my blog (except for last month’s interview with Claire Diaz-Ortiz, head of social innovation at Twitter) because I landed an awesome new job coordinating social cause campaigns at Groupon on the G-Team.

While I’m pretty ecstatic about using Groupon’s platform in my journey through the cause world, I’ve also been thinking about how causes have a tendency to make people feel guilty or defensive.

It’s the artist in me who likes to think of coordinating cause campaigns kind of like how an artist produces a piece of art. Art can break up how we see things by offering new ways of seeing the world.

This is why I want to give a shout out to a cause-campaign bursting with creativity here in Chicago- Tour de Fat. Here are five reasons why Tour de Fat’s annual tour through Chicago makes me loopy, unable to sleep, and all ga-ga about the cause world:

1) My friends, this is a good excuse to ride your bike. So let’s just state the obvious first and elaborate later.

2) In every city where Tour de Fat stops, one person ONLY gets chosen to exchange their car for a custom made touring bike. Check out the above video of the lucky guy at Chicago’s Tour de Fat this summer who dodges doors for a “door prize.” Ha!

3) 100% of the proceeds of your graceful, crazy-indulgent biking and drinking on a summer day in Chicago will for one day benefit a local bike shop, West Town Bikes. Tour de Fat raised $20,000 for West Town Bikes this year.

And let’s be real by asking the very important question, who could have drank that much beer and raised that much money alone?

3) My favorite form of theater, Commedia dell’arte, comes alive every year with Tour de Fat. Commedia dell’arte was connected to traveling carnivals in Italy during the 14th through 17th centuries. While Tour de Fat challenges social mores like the idea that cars rule the world, Commedia dell’arte made fun of the social order like the upper-class. It used stock characters like Pinochet, who made a wealthy man slip on a banana peel.

3) Tour de Fat celebrates sustainable technologies.

4) Families with kids who love bikes hang out with people who don’t have kids and who like bikes. Lots of different people at Tour de Fat makes this event fun for everyone…

5) My friend Phil is last, (yet not least), in my five reasons why Tour de Fat is my biggest crush this summer. Phil manages to bedazzle adoring fans every year by wearing a cape every year and soliciting signatures from hundreds of people at Tour de Fat, all without pausing between drinking a Fat Tire and a 1554 beer.

Putting Phil’s red cape aside, I think there is a tenuous balance between having fun, watering down a message, and making people feel guilty about causes. Tour de Fat seems to walk the tightrope between these things quite handsomely, balancing them on its shoulders, and this makes me want to swoon. This crush o’ mine reminds me that I would rather blush and stumble on my words around cause campaigns like Tour de Fat than adore campaigns which sit in the cogs and wheels of other less inspirational cause-campaigns…

What is your most fabulous crush in the cause world?

While I am lucky to come home this summer with enough energy to pour a bowl of Cheerios for dinner since starting my new position coordinating a new and expanding corporate cause platform, Groupon’s  G-Team, I am always impressed with head of Twitter’s social innovation, Claire Diaz-Ortiz, and her energy towards her work.

I first came across Claire when I was exploring the corporate cause world this winter during my job search. Claire’s story was empowering because she shares with me a nonprofit background and an eloquence for leveraging her experience into a vision of cause campaigns in social media and corporate cause-driven innovation.

Her founding of Hope Runs, an East Africa organization operating in AIDS orphanages, and her following MBA from Oxford’s business school as Skoll Foundation Scholar for Social Entrepreneurship, culminates today in the release of Claire’s second book, Twitter for Good: Change the World One Tweet At A Time.

And for today only (starting at midnight on Tuesday, September 6th), an electronic download of Twitter for Good is available for FREE (yes I said this four letter word – FREE) on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Claire shares with me some insights about how social media like Twitter is changing the landscape of cause campaigns. She offers some context for a new strategy for tweeting for good that she calls T.W.E.E.T. in Twitter For Good; this acronym stands for target, write, engage, explore, and track, which you can read more about in her new book.

Here is my interview with Claire:

How do you see social media most impacting how nonprofits are raising funds and gaining awareness for their mission-driven work?

Social media and new media mean that the reach potential of a given organization is far greater than it ever was before. Organizations who respond well to this (and maximize these opportunities while still remembering that social media is about relationships) have the best shot at success.

What do you see as the biggest challenge in integrating social media like Twitter in existing fundraising & nonprofit marketing strategies?

I think that many people new to social media don’t understand that the same rules which apply to regular face-to-face relationships apply in social media. Would you sit down with someone at a dinner party and immediately ask them for a donation? Probably not (unless it was a fundraising dinner!). And yet on social media people seem to do that all the time. i.e. “Here I am! I’m on Twitter! Give me money STAT!” Even when it’s slightly less subtle, it’s still a problem.

What is the most exciting aspect of the world of social media for social good?

I think that the most exciting aspect is surely the chance for new innovation. Social media and new media by definition are nascent fields, and that gives us an incredible opportunity to innovate in how we support social good efforts. I, for one, am excited to see what’s coming next!

How do you envision the role of corporate social responsibility for online companies?

Online companies can (and should, I believe) be engaged in CSR efforts in the same way that a traditional brick and mortar company does. Honestly, strictly “traditional” brick and mortar companies are more or less falling by the wayside these days, and the vast majority of successful companies have a new media presence. Thinking of your abilities to do good online as well as offline only increases the potential for impact.

I’m positive that after I read Twitter for Good, I will have more drive to make dinner besides a bowl of Cheerios. Maybe I’ll make a casserole, homemade lentil soup, or perfect a new dish that requires something beyond milk and a bowl. Will you tell me what you are able to do after you read Twitter for Good?

Did you miss the free offer?

Don’t fear! Enter to win a copy here.

This blog post is featured on Social Media Club Chicago’s website as a post by a first time attendee of SMC Chicago. The event follows my last post about Millennial women mentorship (which was integrated into Shape What’s to Come Twitter streams!) and in the social media community in general.

As a recent graduate of a public relations and advertising program who has a heck of a time choosing which shoes to wear in the morning, I can relate to SOBCon (Successful Online Business Conference) co-founder Terry Starbucker’s latest blog postWhat Was Your Fork In The Road, And Did You Take It?, which I read before I attended my first SMC Chicago event.

Sitting in a Michigan Avenue café on a rainy day with my laptop, Starbucker’s tale of a time when he was faced with a crucial decision resonated with me. He had realized the importance of “doing something” at the fork in the road rather than “doing nothing.” He quotes Yogi Berra, who said, “When you get to a fork in the road, take it.”

The post reminded me why I was heading to SMC in the first place… I had to grab the reins of inertia not long ago and choose which master’s program to enter after working in membership development marketing in the nonprofit sector. I chose public relations and advertising because I wanted to incorporate social media into my marketing mix. To me, and I’m sure to many people working with social media, it’s exciting to see those forks in the road, because they aren’t always easy to identify as social media continues to evolve.

I came away from my first SMC event feeling pretty darn inspired. Folks were extremely friendly and forthcoming, sharing with me their experiences navigating forks in the road here in Chicago. I talked to people working in both corporate and non-profit marketing, bloggers, and those who had recently started their own public relations business. With each person I met, I got the sense that this group of people was a supportive bunch, continuously encouraging one another to make the leap from a panic-stricken “I can’t do this” moment to a “I’m going to do something” affirmation.

It’s these kinds of connections that help move me beyond the nitty-gritty feeling of doing nothing in my job search to doing something. And this is why my first time at SMC will not be my last. When I grab a cup coffee with some of the people whom I met at SMC, I might falter between deciding on a latte or an americano, but it’s conversations like the ones which I have in SMC which help move us forward.

Click here to learn more about how fabulous this group is nationally and (call me biased) here in Chicago!

I’ve already confessed my newfound love for Levi’s jeans to my friends. And now I’m confessing my crush on their new (well, relatively new) interactive, social media campaign that started in the fall of 2010.

Scene 1: Let’s start with the tag line. “Shape what’s to come. For you. For your community. For your world.”

Why do I love thee? And why do I put thee on my blog? Because these words ignite in us a desire to make something better, to dedicate ourselves to a larger social cause. As one of my favorite feminist poets Audre Lorde said about her power, and the power of what I see as Millennial women redefining their purpose in the context of social good, “When I dare to be powerful – to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

Scene 2: How does the campaign develop around this theme, and why do I care?

I’ll admit. Sometimes I drag my feet. There are definitely expectations which I get from society that say I should be getting close to being married; I should be having kids soon; and I should already have dedicated my 30 or so years to a long-term career path that I’ll be doin’ forever. At the same time, I’ve got another track playing in the background of my life. It is promoting my strength as a young woman who carves her own path.

Shape What’s to Come research sheds light on how women around my age are changing the meanings of womanhood which our mothers grew up in and we still internalize to an extent. What the research says is that Millennial women prioritize independence and shaping their own futures as independent women more than they prioritize marriage, being mothers, or having a long-term career plan early on in their careers. But like our mother’s generation, who began to challenge limited ideas of womanhood, Millennial women need mentors to help them be who they are and want to be. Essentially, we need mentors to help us challenge these internal voices that impose limiting expectations on us.

Lindsey Pollak, a lead collaborator on the Levi’s® Shaping a New Future study, says in a press release announcing the launch of the campaign that the traditional paradigm is being replaced with “a web of opportunities that Millennials sample throughout their twenties, representing a different approach from previous generations. These women are challenging long-held beliefs about success as they navigate a complex world.”

And so it’s not necessarily about us looking up to women older than us for mentorship. It’s about us reaching out to each other globally and locally regardless of age and location that helps us realize who we are in a world that provides with a sometimes overwhelming amount of choices.

Scene 3: The video…

The following video is so good that when I first saw it, I thought it was simply a creative collaboration of Millennial women. It tapped into ideas of who I am and what I want so well that I had no idea it was a commercial.

Here is the video that first lead me to this advertising campaign.

The video rides the successful bandwagon of “movement marketing.” It positions the Levi’s brand as the centerpiece (and at the same time “not in the center”) of a demographic’s thoughts, beliefs, and visions. The campaign is like Dove’s Campaign for Beauty, which I was very proud to be a part of when I worked with girls doing programming about self-esteem with Dove’s cause marketing partner, the Girl Scouts.

In other words, movement marketing is a social movement of sorts. And in this case it’s Millennial women reshaping how they envision and contribute to the world.

Scene 4I am a story. You are story.

“I am a story. You are a story.,” painted on one of the women’s hands, weaves together everyone’s vision of the future and their place in it. They push the envelope and find a creative spark within. In the video you can see how the “higher benefit” of a Levi’s product is like any good advertising copy. It inspires Millennial women to know and contribute to the world.


The campaign’s website content, online community, events (like the launch event this past October in London in the above photo), and videos are driven by Millennial women redefining who they and expressing this to each other. Millennial women who are leaders in music, art, fashion, and social change serve as mentors and help guide conversations between Millennial women in the online community. These women range from celebrities like Zooey Deschanel to Millennial leaders like youth advocate Ashley Rhodes-Courter.

The conversations range from the simple, “What is your favorite photography website?” to more complex issues, like conversations about a video on the site about one of Levi’s cause marketing initiatives with WAGES (Women’s Action to Gain Economic Security, a nonprofit that empowers women to own their own green businesses).

Curtain Call: The following video is from the first Women’s TED conference which got quite a bit of buzz in Washington D.C. this past December; TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It’s a nonprofit which is dedicated to spreading ideas that push the envelope of how we envision society and the future.

Since Millennial women are like TED in that they are envisioning new ways which they contribute to the world, Levi’s created a strategic relationship with TED.  The video has more than 150,000 hits so far. It helps wrap up this blog post with final scene and curtain call.

This blog post is featured as a guest blog post at See3 Communications, a Chicago online marketing firm that works with social causes. It is also a guest post at Millennial Mafia, a project from Ragan Communications.

I had the pleasure of meeting with nationally recognized corporate social responsibility (CSR) consultant James Epstein-Reeves a few weeks ago for one of my informational interviews that I do as a part of my job search and my ongoing professional development about causes connecting with profit.

Ever heard of Burt’s Bees Zero Waste goal by 2020 or eaten a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream (you know you have) knowing that all of their flavors will be sourced Fair Trade by 2013? These brands, owned by Unilever and Clorox respectively, might not be owned by the ideal face of America to some, but they embody a movement to providing consumers with what they want. And that’s what corporate social responsibility is geared to- meeting the demands of the market (us- the consumers)- and having a signficant  impact on society, the environment, and profit.

It’s triple bottom line economics- people, profit, and society- that drive this effort.

James, a CSR consultant here in Chicago, helps companies address the triple bottom line. He comes from the Washington D.C. think-tank world, beginning his research about CSR and public policy there, before becoming Director of Community Affairs at OfficeMax. He is now founder and president of Do Well Do Good, LLC, a CSR, corporate philanthropy, and cause marketing consulting firm here in Chicago. James is a writer for the Forbes.com Corporate Social Responsibility blog and a video commentator for CSR Unscripted through 3BL Media.

He agreed to a more formal interview beyond our early morning, “No, I”m really wide awake.,” cup of coffee and informational interview. I’m delighted to share his insights about this growing part of American business. It is increasingly a part of some of America’s most highly sought after business schools like Harvard which is preparing the Millenial generation’s future business leaders.

Here is the interview.

As I talk to more people about cause marketing,  I learn more about how it’s just one part of a larger paradigm shift in how companies are “doing good” in their day-to-day operations. For example, I met a woman at the Cause Marketing Forum here in Chicago last year who directs a hip-hop clothing company’s employee volunteer program by connecting employees with volunteer opportunities.

I know that you lead in getting OfficeMax’s employee volunteer program off the ground. Can you talk a little about the role of volunteerism and employee philanthropy in CSR?

Thanks, Anna. This is a great question as it hits on a number of issues. There are a lot of business opportunities in engaging your employees in the company’s CSR efforts. But first, it’s vital to draw a distinction between volunteerism and philanthropy and CSR. A lot of people get confused by this, but CSR is basically a synonymous term with sustainability.

I define CSR as a set of actions a company takes to change business operations to improve, maintain, or mitigate a company’s impact on society and the environment.

Yes, this includes volunteerism and philanthropy as one of many tools to do this – but volunteerism and philanthropy by themselves do not constitute a CSR program. CSR also includes issues such as procurement policies, human rights screenings of overseas factories, conflict of interest policies, diversity & inclusion, carbon footprint analysis and reduction, the management of landfill waste, materials used in manufacturing, and stakeholder engagement – to name only a few.

So having said all of that, yes, a key business driver of a company’s CSR strategy is to get employees involved. And indeed getting employees involved in their communities and in causes they care about is a terrific and rewarding job or career path.

It was a team effort when I was at OfficeMax and we did many things that effectively engaged our employees such as marrying the company’s philanthropic activities with the volunteerism from employees. The company also matched employee donations through the annual employee giving campaign.

But what was most exciting, rewarding, and what had the largest impact was A Day Made Better. This single-day event was the company’s flagship community & cause-marketing effort. It united the company by surprising, on one day, usually at 10 AM in each time zone, a deserving teacher with essentially a year’s worth of school supplies. Oh yea, by the way, we did this times 1,000. The surprises were Publisher’s Clearinghouse-ambush-style – balloons, flowers the whole bit!

The company did this because teachers spend on average over $600 of their own money on school supplies. This is wrong and OfficeMax decided to do something about it by engaging its employees and bringing the media’s attention to the effort to “erase teacher-funded classrooms.”

Through these efforts, we got over 4,500 associates to volunteer nearly 11,000 hours. It was a massive initiative and truly helped get employees engaged in their local communities, and engaged every part, department, and location of the company.

Beyond companies engaging employees in volunteer projects, what do companies and nonprofits often ask you about when they sit down with you to develop their corporate social responsibility programs?

It depends on the company and nonprofit. But usually it’s about how to bring their existing efforts to the next level. Sometimes it’s a matter of just having a fresh perspective, sometimes the work involved in the project is working hand-in-hand with the client to galvanize internal support for a new direction, and sometimes the project work might be just rolling up the sleeves and getting the hard work  done to help advance “the cause.” That’s one of the most exciting things about a consulting job – you fulfill many different roles. One of my favorite roles is to do research and benchmarking and we’ve really done some cool things. The research we conduct ourselves and don’t involve confidential client information, we make available for free on our web site.

Your background is in working for a think tank in Washington D.C. Are there any ways of conceptually framing corporate social responsibility that you discovered in academia which you find are helpful as a consultant working with companies on these issues now?

Interesting question! Certainly a lot of analytical skills have crossed over from my “think-tank days” to the business world. I would say the research skills have been particularly helpful in both lines of work as well. I think one of the best ways to frame CSR is to fundamentally look at what are the expectations of businesses. Through some research we’ve done, we’ve uncovered some interesting set of consumer expectations of companies in CSR in a public opinion survey we released in December. In short, 88% of consumers think companies should try to accomplish their business goals while improving society and the environment.

This is really important and its something I’ve been pretty black and white about: companies exist to make money. That makes some people uncomfortable, but it’s undeniable. Without a profit motive, our society wouldn’t function. The trick about CSR and sustainability is that it understands the profit-motive, but looks to identify a different means of achieving that same goal.

Is CSR going to save the world? Absolutely not. Companies aren’t either. But businesses do have a responsibility to society and the environment beyond meeting the minimum legal expectations. Moreover, sustainability can be a contributing factor to provide the long-term thinking that helps companies achieve stable growth.

Are there any programs in the world of CSR that you think are spectacularly awesome?

There are a lot of examples, a ton actually. One of the things that’s been really neat to see as the field has developed over the past decade or two is the depth and breadth of companies engaging in these issues.

More specifically, I think Walmart is the “sleeping giant” of sustainability from the consumer’s perspective. Few consumers understand the fundamental shift Walmart is going to cause through its efforts in the Sustainability Consortium. The company is leading the effort to quantify the sustainability impacts of products at the individual product or unit level. This will likely be a huge shift in the information available to suppliers, consumers, and companies and could wind up being a game-changer for all businesses beyond those that supply Walmart.

Otherwise there are a ton of examples of companies doing incredible things. I’m a big fan of companies that announce goals related to CSR/sustainability: Walmart is moving to zero waste by 2020. Both Coke & Pepsi have amazing efforts behind their Live Positively and Performance with a Purpose programs, respectively. P&G is working toward a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions, water usage, and disposed waste.

Note, these aren’t “hippies” and these aren’t marketing fluff promises. These are real deal, capitalist companies that have the “Wall Street street cred,” but are making significant changes to their business operations that go beyond “feel good” and corporate programs that are the “right thing to do.”

Any advice that you would give to someone like me who wants to work in areas where social causes are connecting with profit? For instance, are there any trends in CSR that you think will lead to a significant amount of more jobs and responsibilities in the near future?

Another good question. I think one mistake I see people make when they try to enter the field is to argue for CSR from a moral or principled standpoint. True, that’s a part of my perspective as well, but you have to find the ways to influence an organization beyond taking a moral stance. That’s where business acumen really comes into play. If you can speak the language of business and if you truly understand your company’s operations, it’s going to be much easier to create the change needed in a company.

I think green energy is the trend to latch on to. I just can’t imagine that field not taking off more than it already has.

But the best advice is to just do it. Seriously, don’t just wait around and try to connect with a mega-conglomerate company to “see the light.” Start your own company and create the change you want. Sure it’s hard, but that’s the best way for you to truly ensure that the future of business looks to improve society and the environment.  If starting your own business isn’t your thing – focus on getting involved. Net Impact is an incredible organization and likely has a chapter near you – anyone interested in sustainability should join the organization. More general advice I give people is that an underappreciated component of a CSR leader is communication skills. Not just writing press releases (although that experience helps!), but knowing how to communicate your company’s efforts and, if necessary, defend your company’s position on a hot button issue.

You can contact James Epstein-Reeves at james@dowelldogood.net.

%d bloggers like this: