It’s a great time to be a mission-driven business. Why? Because consumers want to spend their money with you. Four-out-of-five Americans say they buy from brands supporting environmental or social issues they’re passionate about. The conscious consumer market is surging.
To help entrepreneurs and small business owners hoping to target this growing market, we brought together three women CEOs of mission-driven organizations for a conversation. They talked about how to integrate a mission into a business, take meaningful steps to be more sustainable, and market a company’s values.
They have plenty of insightful advice to share. But first, meet the CEOs and learn about their mission.
What's your advice for business owners who are new to sustainability?
Kate: Start by taking one step. It could be joining 1% for the Planet. Just pick one small thing and learn how to do it, and then do it. The amazing thing is if you break it down, you will accomplish that one step or you’ll learn things that you need to learn in order to accomplish that step. You get an amazing lift of energy. That fuels you to take the next step and then the next step.
Valeria: Just try to reduce a little bit of your packaging. Switch to recyclable, compostable, or paper instead of plastic. We’re all about reducing the plastic and looking to carbon offset any shipping. Those are things that can be done easily.
Amy: Talk about your mission every day. Talk about it when you go to get a coffee with your colleagues in the break room. When you go out for a glass of wine with your friends, talk about it. Talk to your suppliers. Use their great brains to come up with great ideas. Because the more you get it into conversation, the more important it becomes to everybody, and then it takes on a life of its own.
Recently, a group here at A to Z decided they really wanted to reduce our water consumption. It takes a lot of water used in cleaning to make wine. They’ve achieved more in the last four months with their own ideas and initiatives than if I’d given them a spreadsheet with 10 things to do. I believe it’s because we talk about these initiatives all the time.
How have you made your supply chain more socially or environmentally conscious?
Valeria: Number one by reducing the packaging and going plastic-free. And number two by caring for the people who work with us. We pay fair wages. Our artisans have flexible schedules and can work remotely. We only work with fair trade cooperatives.
We also partner with the Carbon Fund to offset all our shipping throughout the supply chain. From shipping the raw material to us to shipping the product to the end consumer, it’s all offset.
as your mission helped recruit and retain employees?
Valeria: As a disabled woman myself, I know what it means to have a job and provide for your family and how hard it can be. So when we created Friendsheep, diversity and inclusion were core principles. We’re 70 percent women, more than 70 percent BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), and disabled as well. Being environmentally friendly, a mission-driven business, we attract employees.
Kate: We think a lot about how to care for the team who are caring for the planet. Getting pay and flex time and benefits right creates the foundation, and we have transparency around titles and salary bands. The pandemic gave us an opportunity to get good at remote and flex work.
What tools can a business use to track its impact?
Amy: The B Corp assessment is a great place to start. You don’t have to be a B Corp member. You go online and try the assessment and see where you stand. Once you certify, you can run a gap report, and you can see where you can improve.
We recently went through our whole carbon inventory. Having that inventory helps you understand what you need to do to become carbon neutral.
Amy: We buy from about 40 different vineyards in Oregon, and our main supply chain is those grapes. About 85 percent of what’s in the bottle of wine is locally sourced grapes. We also have different certifications on different vineyards. We farm several of our estate vineyards as biodynamic. That means farming based on the phases of the moon and giving the plant what it needs when it needs it, rather than when we decide it needs it as humans. We have different philosophies that guide how we farm the grapes, which we believe is present in the wine that’s in the bottle.
Wineries are really working on distribution. Wine is heavy. Heavy freight is really a concern when you’re thinking about carbon footprint. Jackson Family Wineries and Familia Torres Wineries have recently started an initiative called International Wineries for Climate Action. A to Z is again trying to pave the way with that in Oregon. We’ve joined that race to zero by 2050.
Have you thought about the role your money in the bank plays in supporting your mission?
Kate: There’s some switching costs if you move banks, but it’s money that you already have that’s sitting somewhere. Putting it to work in alignment with your values is an opportunity. You don’t have to generate a new revenue source to do that. You just need to ask some questions and think about where your money is living.*
1% for the Planet focused on our employee retirement account because we realized that was where we had the most assets just hanging out. They were not working in alignment with our values, and that felt really uncomfortable for us as a mission-driven nonprofit. We found one of our member companies to help us set up a retirement plan with a values alignment that’s so important and works really well for our employees.
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How do you use your mission to attract new customers?
Valeria: Our mission is our main marketing asset. We’ve been in business six years, and we’ve seen a steady increase in eco-conscious consumers. It’s a growing market. Because of the pandemic and people working remotely, doing more research online, there’s even more people who are interested in putting their money into mission-driven companies whose values they share.
Amy: During the first year of the pandemic, we did a lot of advertising using a mission-driven message. We did a campaign where we didn’t even put a picture of our bottle in the ad, which is unheard of in wine marketing. We got more responses to those ads…than we ever had for a picture of a wine bottle. It really proved the point that mission-based marketing works.
Kate: We have some great examples of cases where members have leaned into their mission message and seen great results. One is from Patagonia. In 2016 they decided to give 100 percent of sales on Black Friday to environmental nonprofits. It was an idea from a person low in the hierarchy at Patagonia. The powers that be listened to this idea and went with it, and sales were beyond what anyone would’ve expected that day. They got a lot of new customers, and through the holiday season, they continued to have strong sales.
Continue the conversation with us this fall and get insights into starting or growing a business by joining one of our upcoming events.
*Bank of the West is a proud member of 1% for the Planet.