3p Contributor: Mary Catherine O'Connor

Freelance writer Mary Catherine O'Connor finds that a growing number of companies are proving the ways that they can make good financially, socially and environmentally (as the triple bottom line theory suggests).With that in mind, she contributes to Triple Pundit, as well as to Earth2Tech and other pubs focused on sustainability. She also writes The Good Route, an Outside Magazine blog that addresses the intersection of sustainability and the active/outdoor life.To find out more, or to reach her, go to www.mcoconnor.com.

Recent Articles

Corporations With Benefits

| Thursday December 1st, 2011 | 0 Comments

We have teamed up with Abbott to produce an article series on the future of corporate philanthropy. Please read the rest of the series here.

Triple-bottom-line businesses are getting legit.

It started in Maryland in April, 2010. Well, that’s not really the beginning — it all really started in 2006, when three friends and business associates started a nonprofit called B Lab, with the aim of creating a foundation for businesses that wanted to do more than make money.

Since 2007, B Lab has been certifying companies that pledged to meet comprehensive standards for social and environmental performance (in addition to running viable businesses, of course). Through a vetting and auditing process, B Lab began certifying some applicant companies as “B Corps” and today there are more than 475 of these firms across 60 different industries.

But B Lab’s end goal has always been to go deeper. That started taking shape when B Lab began working with sustainable business advocates in a number of states to draft legislation to push this concept from a certification to a legal designation. And so when Maryland passed a Benefit Corporation bill into law in April 2010, it codified this effort.

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Volcom’s Give Jeans a Chance Campaign Sparks Charitable Youth

| Thursday November 10th, 2011 | 0 Comments

We have teamed up with Abbott to produce an article series on the future of corporate philanthropy. Please read the rest of the series here.

Action sports-focused apparel company Volcom has been developing a grassroots, catchy and growing donation program called Give Jeans a Chance for the past three years. It’s part of the Give Back series of programs, spearheaded by Derek Sabori, Volcom’s director of CSR and a 15-year Volcom veteran.

Buoyed by youthful exuberance and the endorsement of a range of Volcom-sponsored professional skateboarders, surfers and snowboarders, the Give Jeans a Chance program illustrates the power of a brand to reach out to its audience and spark a philanthropic spirit.

We talked to Sabori about the Give Jeans a Chance program, which is specifically focused on donating jeans to youth in need — since as much as 40 percent of the homeless population has been under the age of 18 in recent years — and Volcom’s overall New Future sustainability platform.

TriplePundit: Tell us about the Give Jeans a Chance program. How did it start?

Derek Sabori: The program is in its third year and stemmed from our Give Back series, in which we designate certain products each year and a portion of the proceeds from those styles goes to select non-profits. For example, we did a t-shirt design with Talk About Curing Autism (TACA) and we raised $20,000 for them through the sales.

The Give Back series is all about raising awareness and funds for groups that are doing great things in our community. It’s about telling a story with our products. We focus on the demographic we speak to — youth involved in action sports.

With Gives Jeans a Chance, we partnered with the National Coalition for the Homeless. Jeans are our biggest product and a marquee program. So how can we give back? Well, every community has a homeless program that needs clothes. So we’re collecting used jeans and jackets that are then donated to homeless shelters.

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Evolution of Philanthropy: Giving Your Products Away

| Thursday November 3rd, 2011 | 2 Comments

We have teamed up with Abbott to produce an article series on the future of corporate philanthropy. Please read the rest of the series here.

Many firms ask that employees carve out some of their time to volunteer for organizations such as Habitat for Humanity. It gives the company some community outreach cred and boosts its philanthropic record as well as giving employees an opportunity to give back on the company dime.

But IBM is in the midst of a three-year program that amounts to a gift of technology and assistance to cities that can can make a compelling case for a helping hand.

The data and consulting giant’s Smarter Cities Challenge is a three-year, 100-city, US$50 million grant program in which IBM’s top technical experts and consultants help cities solve vexing problems through data analysis.

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One for One Makes Consumers Feel Like Philanthropists

| Thursday October 20th, 2011 | 4 Comments

We have teamed up with Abbott to produce an article series on the future of corporate philanthropy.  Please read the rest of the series here.

In 2006, Blake Mycoskie started as a shoe company. He also started a movement. Well, at the very least, he trademarked a movement: One for OneTM.

Having witnessed extreme poverty during a trip to Argentina, Mycoskie was inspired to start a footwear company in which, for each pair of  shoes sold, he’d donate a new pair to a child who, like so many he met in Argentina, is in dire need of shoes. TOMS was born.

By September of 2010, TOMS had given more than one million new pairs of shoes to kids in need around the world and had pushed “one for one,” (sometimes also called “buy one, give one” or BOGO) into the lexicon of socially-progressive entrepreneurs — and consumers.

Today, you can buy one pair of rain boots and give one, you can buy one backpack and give one. You can even…uh, buy a pair of shoes exactly like TOMS, but called (no kidding) BOBS, and made by (no kidding) Skechers, and give one (for $2 less than TOMS, thank you).

With TOMS eyewear, which the company launched this year, one pair of purchased sunglasses doesn’t necessarily equate one pair of prescription glasses for someone in need in a remote land, but it does add to the eye treatment, glasses and eye surgery that’s enabled through TOMS’ “Sight Giving Partners.”

But competitor Warby Parker built its eyeglass company on the true one for one foundation that TOMS laid. For each pair of $95 (Rx glasses or sunglasses) it sells, Warby Parker partners with NGOs to give a person in need a pair of glasses. Plus, as you’ll learn in this great BBMG Green Room interview, it’s looking to make a run against the $16 billion eyewear monopoly market.

There’s another important difference between the TOMS and Warby Parker approaches to addressing global vision needs.

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Stakeholder Engagement Only Works if You Stay Engaged

| Monday June 20th, 2011 | 0 Comments

This post is part of a series on Stakeholder Engagement sponsored by Jurat Software.

On those occasions when I find myself in front of a television, flipping through stations, I love finding those short, low-budget commercials that small businesses cobble together. Here in the Bay Area, the spots produced by Dr. Jang and his unreasonably-smiley patients are a great example.

The commercial is silly and cheesy, and there’s probably a million ways that it could be better. But it features real people–real customers–and that’s compelling.

In 2004, Dove took a step forward with its Campaign for Real Beauty, which also featured real people (that is, not models…well, I’m not saying that models aren’t real people, but you know what I mean). The campaign featured print ads that show women of all shapes and sizes with a feel-good-about-yourself theme. It was smart and bold. More recently, the company took two steps back, with a poorly-executed print ad that connotes that white skin is better than dark skin.

Dove, through its parent company Unilever, issued a mea culpa of sorts, explaining that its intension was to convey all three women in the ad–an African American, an olive-skinned woman (one might guess Latina) and a Caucasian–have supple skin. That is to say, they convey the “after” image from the before-and-after images that hang above them….despite the fact that the “before” image of dry, cracked skin is positioned above the African American.

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Seeking Traction with Investors? You’ve Got Two Minutes

| Tuesday March 15th, 2011 | 1 Comment

Last week, Triple Pundit enjoyed fly-on-the-wall status at a pitch session between cleantech entrepreneurs and a panel of cleantech investors from leading Bay Area firms. Thirteen entrepreneurs took their pitches to the podium, each were given two minutes to describe their product or service, and each then fielded questions from the panel. Once the Q/A ended, the investors gave each entrepreneur frank assessments of where the pitch worked and–more importantly–where it failed.

The tension in the air was palatable.

Interestingly, the investors’ chief complaints were about elements that seemed pretty, well, elemental. Sometimes the pitch failed to show, up front, what the product is, or who the intended user would be. Interestingly, sometimes I, as an observer, failed to notice these missing elements in a pitch. Why? Well, I’m not a VC, so perhaps I don’t have a trained ear.

But then again, I’m a journalist. I do have (or at least should have) a trained ear. What it came down to, I think, is that there were just so many details crammed–by necessity–into each pitch. The technology or service, the economics around its production, the target market, the cost of the solution, the IP that needs protecting, the longevity of the product, the marketing plan, etc. I often found that I was honing in on the novelty or the potential of the product or service, and not on its likelihood of being built into a viable business.

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Startup America Gives Cleantech Entrepreneurs a Leg Up

| Thursday February 17th, 2011 | 0 Comments

U.S. Small Business Administrator Karen Mills on Wednesday revealed details of a pilot program through which it is working with four cleantech business accelerators across the country to provide mentoring to 100 entrepreneurs in the cleantech arena. The pilot is the inaugural program of the Entrepreneurial Mentor Corps (EMC), a component of Startup America, a White House initiative that was announced two weeks ago to promote innovation, entrepreneurship and job creation.

Remember President Obama’s rally call for the U.S. to “out-innovate, out-educate and out-build” as a strategy to pull ourselves up from the bootstraps and get the recovery underway? This is an early step toward that goal, noted Mills during a conference call to announce the pilot program.

This initial component of the EMC pilot will provide mentoring for 100 small, clean energy companies. These firms were culled from a group of 400 companies that the Department of Energy has already supported through its loan program (a program which Obama’s recently-announced DOE budget would bolster further). And the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program is also helping to fund the pilot project. (At press time, the Small Business Administration had not responded to my request for the amount of funding going into the program.)

CleanTECH San Diego, the Clean Energy Trust in Chicago, the CleanTech Open in the SF Bay Area and the Nevada Institute for Renewable Energy Commercialization are the four business accelerators that will take these 100 cleantech startups under their wings. Each entrepreneur will be paired with two mentors that the business accelerators identify. The mentors will give advice on everything from finding funding sources to hiring new staff to how to commercialize new technologies and grow successful businesses.

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Getaround.com: Tesla for the Rest of Us

| Friday January 21st, 2011 | 0 Comments


It’s a good guess that most Tesla owners are jet-setters. But the Tesla Roadster owned by one anonymous Bay Area man might get around even more than he does. That’s because he’s sharing his $157,000 EV two-seater. With you. Or with whomever would like to drive it (as long as he or she has a clean driving record). All you have to do to get behind the wheel is join Getaround.com, a car-sharing service that was founded in 2009 and launched last month in San Francisco.

The Tesla isn’t typical among most Getaround rigs–which range from late-model Volvos and Subarus to trusty Toyotas. And if you’re looking for a roomy car to haul gear or handle an Ikea spending spree, the Roadster is an unwise choice. But it’s a nice little attention-getter for Getaround.com, which is emerging along with a handful of other, similar personal (aka peer-to-peer, aka neighbor-to-neighbor) car-sharing services in the Bay Area, such as RelayRides and Spride Share.

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Want to Get Outta Dodge with an EV? Start in Seattle, Turn East.

| Friday January 14th, 2011 | 0 Comments

The Obama Administration wants to see one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015. Reaching that goal will take more than a commitment from carmakers. They could pump out five million EVs, but that wouldn’t solve one major hurdle to adoption, the dreaded “range anxiety” that drivers feel over full electric vehicles. Take the first EV out of the gate, Nissan’s Leaf. It will get 100 miles on a single charge. That’s great for a daily commute, but what about weekend trips to the country? Enter, anxiety.

There are many large efforts afoot to build out the much-needed charging infrastructure to support EVs and address that consumer anxiety. And as with any disruptive technology, there’s no clear, all-hands-on-board solution. It will take lots of incremental efforts. But for EVs to really penetrate the auto market, many of those small efforts will need to take place outside major cities, and on or near remote roads.

One such road is the Stevens Pass Greenway, a 130-mile section of US Highway 2, which traverses Washington’s Cascade Mountains (and, as it happens, holds a special place in my heart, as I spent most of my 20s living and working at Stevens Pass Ski Area). Washington’s departments of commerce and transportation announced on Wednesday that this stretch of road will be the first National Scenic Byway to be outfitted with fast-charging EV stations.

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Mi Coche, Su Coche? A New Kind of Car-Sharing Seeks Traction

| Friday December 17th, 2010 | 1 Comment


Forget about a cup of sugar, your neighbor might just be eyeing your ride, instead. And thanks to a crop of car-sharing services that put a twist on the Zipcar model, you may soon be able to pimp out your Plymouth.

RelayRides, a Boston-based startup, announced this week that it is expanding its car-sharing service to San Francisco. It’s doing so backed by Google and August Capital, which have invested (undisclosed funds) in the company.

The company connects those who have cars with those who need cars and it makes money by taking care of all the sticky business, such as insurance and access to the cars.

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Bill Nye’s Climate Scouts: Our Great Green Hope

| Tuesday November 23rd, 2010 | 1 Comment

photo: Chabot Science Center

First off, the scary and bad news: During a speaking engagement at the University of Southern California last week, Bill Nye collapsed. He was reportedly mid-sentence when he collapsed, and though he tried to continue his talk, his speech became strained and he eventually left the stage. We’re sending him good vibes and hoping he’s on the mend.

You know Nye, most likely, from his science-is-fun TV show called Bill Nye The Science Guy. But Nye is now turning his energy in a new, science-is-fun-but-also-proves-that-we’re-in-trouble theme. In other words, he’s now Bill Nye The Climate Guy. And he’s bringing his message to Bay Area kids (and grown-ups) through Bill Nye’s Climate Lab, a new exhibit at the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland.

I visited the exhibit on November 20, its opening day, and came away from it with a renewed sense that our future generations might just save us–assuming we bribe them.

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Weekend Photo Essay: Clif Bar’s Sweet New Digs

| Saturday November 20th, 2010 | 1 Comment

Kit Crawford and Gary Erickson, hanging out at Clif Bar HQ

From its smart employee stock ownership plan to its tasty, organic products, Clif Bar offers plenty of employee benefits. But until recently, daylight and elbow room didn’t rate very highly on that list. That’s because its original Berkeley, Calif., location became snugger and snugger with each new hire, and the industrial setting didn’t allow much sun to shine in. That all changed last month, when Clif Bar’s new headquarters opened in Emeryville, Calif. Triple Pundit recently stopped by for a little tour. And we’re more than a little jealous…

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Curbside Recycling & Energy Management: The Gov’s Latest Tools of Oppression

| Wednesday November 10th, 2010 | 1 Comment

Fountain Hills, a master planned community of roughly 25,000 in the mountains northwest of Scottsdale, Arizona, has well-appointed (if homogenous) homes and public art and beautiful mountain vistas. With lots of park space and golf courses, it seems like a lovely place to live…except that the town government is launching a plot to start etching away at the resident’s freedoms, starting with their freedom to choose a garbage collector and their freedom to not recycle! That’s right, it’s Obamatrash!

OK, here’s what really happened: The town voted to award Allied Waste Services (part of Republic, the second largest waste management company in the country, after Waste Management) a five-year contract to become the single waste and recycling collector in Fountain Hills, which currently works with five different waste-collection services. None of these current services offer curbside recycling (or if, they do offer these services, they are not used in Fountain Hills, but Allied will collect recyclables, as well as yard waste, from residents’ homes.

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Coca Cola’s PlantBottle: Digging Up the Roots

| Wednesday November 3rd, 2010 | 2 Comments

Packaging, because it’s ubiquitous and because it is tied irrevocably to our purchasing decisions, is very personal. Branding has made packaging more than just the housing for the products we buy—in many cases, a product and its package are forever married. (The square Fiji Water bottle, for example, is much more than a vessel. To some, it’s a status symbol. To others, it’s a symbol of inefficiency.)

And so major consumer packaged goods manufacturers, including Coca Cola, are putting a great deal of effort into lightening the environmental footprints that their packaging leaves in its wake. I recently spoke with Scott Vitters, sustainable packaging director for Coca Cola, about the steps it has taken to improve its packaging.

As I’d explained in a post about the Odwalla bottle, I’ve heard some dubious information about what PlantBottle is and what its lifecycle looks like. Vitters tried to set the record straight.

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Greenhome.com Acquisition Highlights Growth in Social Commerce

| Thursday October 28th, 2010 | 0 Comments

Lawrence Axil Comras

Back in 1998, way before the word “green” was widely bandied around as a verb, Lawrence Axil Comras set off on a new venture to develop a rating and certification system for eco-friendly home products. It kind of flopped. “It was a small, difficult market and the suppliers wouldn’t deal with me,” he says. “But then it occurred to me that I could use my website to sell the stuff I wanted to certify. So I started a hybrid site that had a rating system and also sold goods.”

With that, Greenhome.com was born. Over the years, Comras developed his product approval policy, using a combination of his own criteria as well as certification labels from agencies such as Green Seal, while also growing the e-commerce aspect of the business. And as “green” became part of the consumer lexicon, Comras started speaking at many conferences and became a go-to expert whenever the news media needed an affable spokesperson for green products (as these CBS, Fox News and Today Show clips reveal).

Starting early in the 2000s, sales at Greenhome.com, which is based in San Francisco, doubled each year, before flattening, in lock step with the recession. And earlier this month, Greenhome.com was purchased for an undisclosed sum by Jane Capital Partners, LLC, a merchant bank based in San Francisco and Houston. Jane Capital has funded or founded multiple cleantech spin-offs, including CarbonFlow, and it operates the clean tech community site cleantech.org. It’s also behind the blog CleanTechBlog.com.

I asked Neal Dikeman, a principal at Jane Capital, why the company decided to move into consumer products.

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