Give Something Back: Turning Paper Into Food

Paper=FoodGive Something Back Business Products consistently upends my preconception that office supply companies must be boring.  If you can be remarkable and generous selling paperclips, then the sky is the limit when it comes to social business.

GSB has long been a leader in, well, giving something back to the community.  Since launching in 1991, it has given $4 million plus to charity, which accounts for over half of after-tax profits. And customers choose which community organizations receive the donations. (Check out previous coverage and an interview with the co-founder, Mike Hannigan.)

Paper = Food is GSB’s newest campaign, addressing local hunger issues.  For every case of 30% or 100% post-consumer recycled paper purchased in California, Portland, and Seattle, GSB and Boise Inc will donate $1 to a food bank in your county.  Each dollar can provide up to 7 meals at a food bank. This initiative has raised about $80,000 for food banks in less than one year.

I think this is just brilliant – it’s a triple win for the customer who gets to support the environment through recycled paper, support her community through food bank donations, and save money with GSB’s competitive prices.  AND it’s a great way for GSB to bring on new customers and keep them.  Check out a great short video about the program here.

This model tees up the question in my mind about how a business is best poised to give back.  I see two general categories.

  1. In one case, a business provides social value through its operations, so investing profits in the business creates more value.  This is the typical social venture, as I define it, and examples include TerraCycle, Recyclebank, Earth Baby and so many more (those are just a few that I’ve written about).
  2. Then there are more traditionally philanthropic companies, that have well established business models and either give their profits to charity, like GSB, or devise cause marketing campaigns to drive social value, separate from the core operations, such as the Virgin Mobile RE*Generation campaign I wrote about recently.

I love the way that GSB pushes the boundaries – by giving back 50 times the average, and by making the process customer driven.  Perhaps option one above is best suited for innovative new business models and option two best suited for tried and true businesses that would like to go above and beyond benefiting shareholders.  In any case, it’s exciting to see companies like GSB blend the boundaries between these models.

What do you think is the best way to drive change using business?

Amie runs Cobblestone Solutions, LLC, a consultancy focusing on business development, marketing, communications and strategy for mission driven companies. Previously, Amie served as Director of Business Development for Viv (a Bay Area environmental start-up), Program Manager for Social Venture Technology Group (a boutique consulting firm focused on measuring social and environmental impact), and Associate Consultant at Bain & Co (a global management consulting firm). She is particularly interested in innovations that reduce waste, altering consumer behavior for good, and leveraging the power of business to solve the climate crisis. You can read more from her on her blog, on, and on JustMeans.

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