Over the past couple days, executives from many of the world’s largest companies converged with those of companies like Seventh Generation, New Belgium, and KEEN in Monterey for the Sustainable Brands 2008 in Monterey, California. Stories were traded by companies of all sizes and stages in their sustainability journeys about the shift in business landscape that is enabling companies to turn real sustainability into real competitive advantage. The conference presented some really insightful information about trends and opportunities in building businesses and products that leave the world better off. Over the next week, Nick and I will share many of these stories with all of you on 3P.
First up is a really cool find on Dole Organic’s Visit the Farm site, where anyone can meet the people and see the farm from which their bananas came. Dole has introduced a radically new kind of transparency, as consumers have become increasing concerned about where their food comes from, before it is packaged and displayed at our local grocery stores, thanks to Michael Pollan and others. To use the site, consumers simply select the three digit farm code from the stickers on the bananas and click go, and the site literally takes there–complete with a description of the farm and its certifications, pictures, and even a Google Earth link to the exact location of the farm, in case you want to fly over it, virtually, like Superman.
What’s next, friend your organic banana farmer on Facebook?
Recently, Patagonia also launched its Footprint Chronicles, letting you behind the scenes of the factories on the other side of the planet in which its products are manufactured. You can literally watch a slideshow of ten garments’ travels from design in California to fabric production in Japan, sewing in Vietnam, and finally distribution in Reno (a.k.a. Dirty Vegas), Nevada. If pictures and a cool map weren’t enough, the site also features the energy, waste used, and even carbon emissions that results from the making of every item. The Eco Rain Shell Jacket, for example, results in 15 lbs of carbon produced as it makes its way to Reno–ten times its weight. The icing on the cake is the objective analysis of the good and bad implications of the garment’s ingredients and production.
In an increasingly flattened world, efforts like Dole’s and Patagonia’s enable us to create a more personal connection with the people and organizations who supply the food and things that we buy. And it’s actually great marketing–how many products do you buy because of friends’ recommendations or because you want to support a company at which a friend works? Well, say hello to the Ecuadorian banana farmer who wants to be your friend.
The community (filter) still rules
Obviously, Dole has taken a tremendous step in sharing a deeper version of their supply story than ever before. Yet, the information lacks the objectivity and filter of a community platform like Wikipedia. The pictures and stories shared on the site are just about as candid and spontaneous as a sermon at a wedding. Imagine the power of pictures, video, and stories from consumers who actually visited the farm and lived to talk about it. Now that is radical transparency.
And it’s already happening.
Ryan Mickle works with many of the consumer brands you know to advance their social responsibility through engaging stakeholders online (we’re not talking CSR reports, either). He lives in San Francisco and can be reached at hey at ryanmickle.com.