This series on Cause Marketing has begun the important work of defining the distinctions between cause marketing, cause-related marketing and corporate social responsibility, revealing subtle differences of each and highlighting the short- and long-term impact of those endeavors.
But waxing philanthropic will only take us so far. Viewing these concepts in practical application to assess market penetration, consumer response, and revenue are critical in truly understanding the potential that each one has to offer. It also helps in creating a blueprint for other conscious entrepreneurs and companies who seek to effectively infuse these elements into their business practices.
While there is no ‘One Size Fits All’ approach, there are examples of companies who are doing it successfully, the common thread of which is authenticity, implementing programs that benefit the community and the environment – not just the shareholder’s dividends. While sales are a necessary outcome of these efforts, the value extends beyond the mere lining of pockets to the greater good.
One company that exemplifies this is Yellingbo Gold, an olive oil company based in Australia whose profit is fed continually back into the charitable organizations they support, as well as those they helped to create. Under the direction of founder, Jeremy Meltzer, Yellingbo demonstrates a Return on Integrity, launching without a CSR, or even formal business model, in place; only a deep, underlying commitment to creating a quality product that serves an everyday – as well as higher – purpose.
An inspiring individual, with an even more inspiring story, Jeremy Meltzer takes us through his journey as a philanthropist-turned-olive-farmer-entrepreneur in building a company that is having significant impact on the people and planet it supports, offering a roadmap for those seeking to do the same.
Yellingbo Gold is the epitome of a socially conscious company but you didn’t start your business with a formalized CSR-type structure in place. How would you describe the process by which you created such a successful environmental and cause-driven company?
The process was definitely ‚Äòorganic’ in every sense of the world. Forgive the pun, as we are a food business, but ‚Äòdoing good’ was not a conscious goal when we began. Our desire was simply to create a premium, artisanal product. The philanthropy, in our case, came later, as life happened to us and drastically impacted our priorities. Suddenly, business for the sake of profit seemed hollow. In order for me to continue, I needed the day-to-day to be about something greater.
What is your business philosophy?
Our philosophy is quite simple; to transact with integrity. We are all so inextricably connected; the integrity of the product and honesty in every communication must permeate each transaction. From this beginning, everything else flows.
The causes that Yellingbo supports are those that are close to your heart. Tell us a little more about the program and how you integrated them into the sales of Yellingbo Gold.
We were intimately affected by the South Asian Tsunami of December 2004. I almost lost my two sisters to the waves. After almost five days of not knowing if they had survived, we heard their voices and could breathe again. I then stayed in India and later Sri Lanka to work in relief camps. On one occasion, I almost lost my own life in a misguided attempt to give aid. Back in Australia, we decided to create a foundation for orphaned children as a result of having witnessed so many children who had lost both their parents.
The program itself is simple. We have committed, in perpetuity, 5% of all profits from Yellingbo Gold to The Jasmine Foundation.
Your 100% recyclable cask was also developed with your commitment to the planet in mind vs. a sustainable business practices plan, but your efforts are significantly reducing your company’s carbon footprint. I think this effectively demonstrates that an organic/authentic approach to conscious entrepreneurship can yield dramatic results. Can you share with us a little more about your decision to develop this cask, how you managed development/implementation, and how it is positively impacting the environment?
When planning our packaging, the easiest option would have been to use a tin, as every other olive oil company does. Tooling up to fill the cask’s bladders was to require a significant investment in special equipment. Although we believed, in time, as we introduced the cask and communicated its advantages, it would yield results. We sensed we could become a leader in environmentally-friendly packaging for olive oil and provide a win-win-win outcome for all parties; the customer, the environment and eventually, us.
We now know that the Yellingbo Gold Cask, compared to a tin, minimizes environmental impact by up to 95%. This fact alone has made the cask decision worthwhile.
There is a lot of chatter in the space about the need to tailor your business focus under a unified CSR approach, but you are proof that it works with just a genuine intent to give back to the world through your sales activities and an omni-present company mission. What advice would you offer for those seeking to follow in your footsteps? Where would you recommend that someone begin on this path?
I think our intentions are transparent. I think we must not only act but think with sincerity and integrity and allow our actions to flow from this place. There is nothing at all wrong with creating a business with a unified CSR approach in mind as the driving force that shapes a new endeavor, although it must be sincere. As long as someone, eventually, rather than key stakeholders benefit, then good work has been done. The incorporation of CSR principles that are manageable and sustainable in the long term, although it may appear costly, will almost always yield dividends over time.
I would start with the end in mind. What do you want to create? How do you see your product or service impacting the wider community and environment? Based on this vision, build your company backwards.
How are you able to effectively manage the multiple programs and daily operations as a small business owner? What tips can you offer for other sole-proprietorships/small businesses who want to take on large scale initiatives as you have?
Ah, one needs to tap dance and do so wearing many hats! From down and dirty on the farm to cooking and singing on television, it is important to know your strengths. Play to them and delegate the rest. If you are not yet in a position where delegation or outsourcing is possible, you may then be forced to grow very quickly. You will be tested. Unless there is significant capital behind the launch of a new business, be prepared to tap dance. If you can’t, you will learn. You may just surprise yourself.
What has been your biggest challenge to date? Your greatest achievement?
The greatest challenge was to have to helplessly watch babies cry in Indian relief camps, that had been breast feeding just days before, and experience the futility of knowing our efforts would ultimately achieve so little.
One of the greatest achievements was to cross the Atlantic Ocean on a small yacht, as part of a small crew. This was one adventure that brought a great sense of achievement.
Can you share your business model? Do you have a set percentage of your profits that you want to feed back into your cause-related initiatives?
We have no business model. We simply strive to do the very best we can each day, and try to make the smartest decisions with the available information at the time. It is though, important to know where you are going… to be able to envision yourself there. Once again, it is critical to start with the end in mind.
We donate 5% of Yellingbo Gold’s profits to The Jasmine Foundation and 10% of CD proceeds to the United Nations Trust Fund To End Violence Against Women.
What conscious companies do you most admire/emulate?
Yellingbo Gold is a prime example of people, planet and profits in equal priority yet there are still so many companies who have not embraced this approach. What do you think is the biggest hurdle for business in adopting this concept?
I think that people, planet and profits in equal priority is, for most, still perceived as quite radical and ultimately unsustainable. But the days of Gordon Gekko are over. The days of me, me and I are (as we’re beginning to learn) ultimately unsustainable (not to mention miserable).
These are exciting times of great change. I believe that unless communities are offered vested interest in the companies for whom they toil, where only short term profits remains the order of the day, companies will eventually lose their competitive advantages.
My impression is that many large US corporations rule with fear. Employees are made to feel grateful they even have a job. How dare they ask such probing questions of management; where do all the profits go? What percentage, if any, goes back to the community, the environment?
It would seem that for CSR to become the norm, the impetus must come from the workers and be infused in the entire corporate culture, not just the upper designs of management.
Do you have any predictions for how social responsibility will evolve? In your ideal world, what does commerce look like?
Perhaps we can quietly hope the spirit of the new presidency will act as a catalyst. Perhaps, over time, as the self indulgences over the past century catch up with us, a new era of social responsibility will be born. As globalization forges stronger links between disparate nations, and distances merge with the immediacy of the internet, a world in which commerce understands its ripple effects may become the norm. I don’t think this is the unrealistic utopia it may have sounded like twenty years ago. Human nature, being what it is, will ultimately remain self interested. Although in time we may realize, profit and self interest does not have to be a zero-sum game, where everyone else, including the environment, must lose.
Do you believe that consciousness and capitalism can happily co-exist? Or, do you think it requires a re-engineering of the commercial aspects of our society?
Capitalism serves the individual well and caters to our personal differences in abilities and motivations. While capitalists create employment, when done so with only the short-term profit motive in mind, conscious business practices can never be fully realized. The sooner business realizes that CSR, as a matter of fundamental business practice, may be an investment but will result in a sustainable win-win-win for everyone, the better off for us all.
What’s next for Yellingbo Gold? Where do you envision taking the company?
We hope to make the Yellingbo Gold Cask a permanent fixture in the kitchens of foodies across both the USA and Australia. The downturns in our economies, coupled with the value of the cask, its packaging and its premium EVOO, may make this a possibility.
Will you expand the causes you support, or increase contributions based on growth?
Yes, we plan to continually support the Jasmine Foundation. As we grow, I want to become more personally involved, to explore how we can help more holistically, beyond just the giving of financial aid. I have also begun to become more personally involved in The UN Development Fund for Women and its important work of tackling the issues surrounding violence against women.
What are your best nuggets of wisdoms you care share with our readers who hope to embark on a similar journey?
Be bold. Don’t listen to the crowing masses who will only say what cannot be done. Respect and listen, with great humility, to those who are older or more experienced, or simply have sincere advice and generous thoughts to offer. Inspiration and clarity often strike at the rarest of times. Be open to this. Recognize these moments. Treasure them. Record them in your mind or on paper. Then act. Don’t over plan. Life never responds accordingly. Be audacious. The universe definitely rewards the bold.
Yellingbo Gold demonstrates the possibility of running a profitable, socially responsible business outside of a formal CSR structure while still producing dramatic results. Their success lies in the intention, and an inherent personal connection with the causes they support, which permeates everything they do from product development through communication.
Over the next several weeks, we will explore other companies who are leading change, each of which highlight a different – yet effective – platform for integrating cause marketing activities. In Jeremy’s case, a strong personal connection served as the springboard for success but noteworthy return also comes in the form of natural product tie-ins and mission-based efforts.
Above all, the results generated are in direct proportion to intention, and in an increasingly transparent space, launching a program without an authentic one is easily spotted and any short-term gain is far outweighed by the loss of social capital needed to drive real change – and sustainable revenue – in the long term.