“Sustainability is the Opportunity”
-Jeff Mendelsohn, Founder and President of New Leaf Paper
Last evening Triple Pundit founder Nick Aster and I attended one of the series of “Business Conversations” presented by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and SF Works in partnership with Net Impact, Sustainable Industries, the Social Venture Network, and Pacific Community Ventures.
The program focused on “building a socially responsible brand for the conscious consumer”.
The panel included Matthew and Terces Engelhart of Cafe Gratitude, Lori Ann Thrupp, manager of sustainability and organic development for Fetzer Vineyards, and Jeff Mendelsohn, founder of New Leaf Paper. Kim Davis, currently a managing partner with BBMG and whose resume as a marketer and consultant in socially conscious branding is too long to list here, moderated the discussion.
50% of American consumers purchase from socially conscious businesses. According to CO-OP America’s Green Business Network and Conscious Media and Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS), “green” consumers put $230 billion dollars into the economy, and the number is on the rise.
The panel discussed issues and challenges of creating and maintaining a socially conscious business, from Fetzer’s sourcing of grapes to Cafe Gratitude’s lawsuit with a vendor who refused to provide bleach-free napkins, but throughout the discussion the message to me was one of aligning business with values.
As Cafe Gratitude’s Matthew Engelhart said, there is a growing feeling in America that business as usual “just isn’t working”. Greenwashing is inevitable as the “green” marketplace grows into the mainstream and the buzz words surrounding it are bandied about with increasing frequency, creating a challenge not only for consumers but for socially and environmentally minded businesses as well.
Through the clutter, those entrepreneurs, managers, and owners that align their own values with their business practices will ultimately reach their market and thrive. Not from a nifty sounding tagline or a highly-produced ad campaign, but from their own expression of value and values brought to the marketplace. The market is, after all, about people and what they value.
This isn’t to say there aren’t challenges in creating a socially responsible and sustainable brand. But as Jeff Mendelsohn simply and eloquently said, therein lies the opportunity.