Lessons in Integrity for Small Business from the LOHAS Conference

In my first post on the LOHAS Conference, I talked a bit about integrity as a core business principle for businesses looking to cater to the LOHAS consumer.  It’s important not just to the customer, of course, but to the small business owner.  Many of us in the green business community could not operate a business we didn’t believe in.  Such is the case with Lauri Rae Wirichs, a green business owner in Boulder whose business, Licious Organics, is in the growth phase.  Wirichs is a beekeeper and a maker of organic, raw cookies that are being sold in many health food stores, have a low glycemic index, and perhaps best of all, come in a totally biodegradable plastic wrap.

I’ve often looked at Clif Bars, one of the best, most successful eco-friendly companies in the world, and lamented its packaging.  While they have made efforts at improving the environmental impact of its packaging, the fact remains, the wrappers on Clif Bars and other Clif products is not biodegradable.  What suprised me most about Wirichs’ product was not just the biodegradable plastic wraps, but the fact that Wirichs battled so hard to stick to her principles in the packaging design, and the fact that not only did she succeed, she also found a lot of other benefits of sticking to her values along the way.  Among them?  Product repositioning, customer loyalty, and a great sense of satisfaction in a job well done. 

“We lost a lot of money in the beginning,” Wirichs said.  “People kept telling me that as a small company I couldn’t afford to be wasting time and money trying to find a more sustainable wrapper.  At the beginning we were baking all our cookies for 5 minutes, then using a porous biodegradable material as the wrapper, and it just didn’t work.  The products became hard, which was not palatable.  Once we went raw, we found we could use better, more eco-friendly packaging, and the products stayed fresh and delicious.”

The move to raw has also helped catalyze growth in Wirichs’ company.  Raw is healthier and lower carbon footprint, as well, since it doesn’t need to be cooked, and Wirichs’ story is an inspiring one of a small entrepreneur sticking to her values.

Wirichs is attending the LOHAS Conference to promote her business, and potentially find an investor to help her manage growth.  “We’re in that stage where there is a lot of demand, and it’s hard to keep up,” Wirichs said.  “We’re good at making a great product.  We’re good at marketing it.  We’re good at keeping bees and using delicious local honey in our products.  What I’m not good at,” she added with a smile, “is asking for money.”

The LOHAS Conference has several workshops on the subject, which is what attracted Wirichs to the event.  I’m reminded of Woody Tasch’s Slow Money.  We do need to invest as if farms and fertility mattered.  Wirichs’ vertically integrated company is making money, growing, has achieved operational efficiency and success, and has strong demand.  Seems like this is exactly the kind of business Mr. Tasch was talking about.  Any takers?

Scott Cooney is reporting live from the LOHAS Conference in Boulder, Colorado.

Scott Cooney, Principal of GreenBusinessOwner.com and author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill, November 2008), is also a serial ecopreneur who has started and grown several green businesses and consulted several other green startups. He co-founded the ReDirect Guide, a green business directory, in Salt Lake City, UT. He greened his home in Salt Lake City, including xeriscaping, an organic orchard, extra natural fiber insulation, a 1.8kW solar PV array, on-demand hot water, energy star appliances, and natural paints. He is a vegetarian, an avid cyclist, ultimate frisbee player, and surfer, and currently lives in the sunny Mission district of San Francisco. Scott is working on his second book, a look at microeconomics in the green sector.In June 2010, Scott launched GreenBusinessOwner.com, a sustainability consulting firm dedicated to providing solutions to common business problems by leveraging the power of the triple bottom line. Focused exclusively on small business, GBO's mission is to facilitate the creation and success of small, green businesses.