5 Paths to a Mission-Driven Business

BY Nathan Beers Writer, Bank of the West

Apr 14th 2022

If you’re starting or growing a business and wonder if being “mission-driven” is a path worth pursuing, consider this: 82 percent of consumers want to buy from companies that support the environment and social issues they’re passionate about.

Not only do people want to spend their money with mission-driven businesses, they also want to work for them. As the Great Resignation dominates headlines, 45 percent of business leaders in companies with environmental, social, and governance strategies (ESG) or corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies report they’re better able to recruit and retain talent because of it.

All this is super news for entrepreneurs. Why? Because tapping into the strong and growing demand for companies that are “doing good” does not require a global powerhouse brand or a ground-breaking product that saves the world. Whether you are just starting a company or growing an established business, here are five paths to consider for integrating purpose into your company:

1. PUT YOUR PEOPLE FIRST

Many mission-driven businesses consider caring for people an essential part of caring for the planet. Take A to Z Wineworks, the world’s first certified B Corporation winery. In the famed Willamette Valley of Oregon, A to Z’s missions include creating award-winning wine and supporting the workers harvesting the grapes.

“Not only do we support our small team that works directly for A to Z, we also support a couple of different organizations that are providing culturally appropriate health care to agricultural and seasonal farm workers,” says CEO Amy Prosenjak. “It’s where we put a lot of our time, money, and efforts.”

To support the community their company relies on, A to Z supports the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and organizations like Causa, which helps immigrant workers understand their rights. “When a new employee joins A to Z, they get a little card that goes in their wallet and reminds them what their rights are in the state,” Prosenjak says. “It’s pretty important to us to support all the different initiatives.”

Together with the wine’s superb quality and B Corp certification, A to Z differentiates itself as an employer that treats people well. Prosenjak says it’s more than just the right thing to do—it makes it easier to find and keep great people.

2. MOVE YOUR MONEY

Through their business models and brand values, entrepreneurs and small business owners are a potent force for creating an environmentally friendly and socially equitable economy. Often businesses overlook their financial institution as a key link in a sustainable supply chain, but teaming up with a sustainable finance partner can compound the positive impact. Sometimes even large companies are in the dark about the values of their financial institution. In fact, in Bank of the West’s recent Money Matters survey of company decision makers, 42 percent of respondents said they don’t know if their bank invests in environmentally harmful activities.

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For stretched-thin entrepreneurs, completing due diligence on a vendor’s sustainability credentials can easily get short shrift. But in a world of greenwashing and corporate “commitments” lacking concrete actions, you can’t just rely on a company’s advertising. You have to be armed with specific questions to find out where your bank stands and, more importantly, how they are taking action on the values that matter most to you.

Some sample questions: Does my bank have policies that protect the environment? Does my bank maintain policies based on science and tied to global accords? How deeply has my bank incorporated sustainability into its own operations?

3. CONSIDER YOUR CLIMATE IMPACT

The North Star guiding many mission-driven businesses is the desire to be climate friendly. But sustainability conversations can be tough for businesses because measuring and managing your impact on the planet can feel overwhelming. Don’t know how to get going? You’re not the only one.

“Don’t try to do it alone, and don’t try to reinvent the wheel.” That’s the advice of Greg Gausewitz, of outdoor retail leader REI. Gausewitz says organizations like the outdoor industry’s Climate Action Corps can help businesses share best practices on how to measure and manage their impact.

Whether or not your industry has a similar effort in place, understanding your company’s carbon footprint is getting easier thanks to online tools. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) even offers a simplified carbon emissions calculator for small businesses.

Once you’ve gotten a handle on your business’s CO2 impact, you can begin the work to reduce it. From electricity to office supplies, there are more easy-to-follow small business sustainability strategies than ever from trusted organizations like the SBA. And—if you needed one more reason to get started—initial steps like reducing energy use and minimizing waste can also save money.

4. STUDY YOUR SUPPLY CHAIN

When Maria Palacio, a fifth-generation Columbian coffee farmer, co-founded Progeny Coffee, she wanted to ensure growers got a fair cut of the coffee industry’s profits. After all, growers were the ones putting in the lion’s share of hard work needed to produce the world’s second most popular drink.

“There’s so much work that goes into a cup of coffee,” says Palacio. “The farmer is the one putting the most into this cup of coffee in terms of time and effort and being out there at six in the morning until late night, rain, or shine.”

Columbian coffee farmers often live in a “cycle of poverty” whereby middlemen throughout the supply chain realize most of the value creation from bean to cup.

“We started with a question,” says Palacio. “‘How can we create a sustainable coffee chain that actually brings value to the farmers and workers as well as our consumers that believe in high quality?'”

Progeny Coffee set out to form direct relationships with farmers and pay them a better price for their beans than they could get on the commodity market. After building that trust, farmers were then more open to learning sustainable agriculture practices—techniques that improved quality, and also conserved water, and required fewer soil amendments—that would also help them produce specialty grade beans for Progeny and adapt to Columbia’s changing climate.

Instead, Palacio and Progeny’s more sustainable supply chain offered coffee growers a bigger piece of the coffee economy while enabling them to better care for the earth.

5. CARE FOR YOUR COMMUNITY

The potential to foster sisterhood and empower ambitious women was the impetus behind Aishetu Fatima Dozie starting her Bossy Cosmetics beauty brand, but it took on new meaning when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Suddenly, with supply chains disrupted worldwide, Dozie’s go-to suppliers in Italy and China went offline. At the same time, the skyrocketing demand for her signature bold lipsticks wasn’t abating. She faced a dreaded problem: having to list popular products as “sold out” and say goodbye to new sales.

But as Dozie reached out to customers to explain, she discovered an unimagined opportunity. She could leverage her voice and Bossy’s brand to deliver a unique content experience. As a finance executive turned beauty entrepreneur and working parent of three, she was relatable, inspiring, and full of expertise. By leaning into her digital media savvy, publishing interviews with other successful women in business and academia, and offering career coaching, what began as a pandemic-forced pivot turned into a new service model.

With supply chain kinks on the way to being worked out, Bossy Cosmetics continues to expand. Dozie’s doubling down with an expanded cosmetics line for lips—and now, eyes.

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Nathan Beers Writer, Bank of the West

Nathan joined Bank of the West in 2018 as a writer for technology, finance, and green businesses. On weekends he’s often out with his family exploring the California coastline.

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