BetterWorld was honored to speak recently, as part of a panel at Net Impact’s annual conference, Net Impact 2012, in Baltimore, Maryland.
Net Impact is a global nonprofit that works to inspire the next generation to work beyond business for a more sustainable future through chapters, events and professional development. Nearly 2,800 attendees converged to help celebrate Net Impact’s 20th anniversary conference. As an organization that apparently started in a hot tub as a conversation between visionary business leaders, Net Impact has grown up considerably, with over 30,000 members and widespread recognition.
Our panel, Small Business, Big Engagement: Using Social Media to Tell Your CSR Story was led by Julie Dixon, of Georgetown University and featured Josh Helland, CEO of Sleep with a Purpose, and Bonnie Shaw, Engagement Specialist and faculty at Georgetown University. Sleep with a Purpose operates with a similar model to TOMS Shoes, buy a bed, give a bed to someone in need.
The overarching theme of the conference was aligning good business with good works and speakers ranged from Teach For America Founder Wendy Kopp, whose organization has grown to have lasting impact in inner city schools, to Auret Van Heerden, CEO of the Fair Labor Association, who shared a searing tale of his experiences as a labor organizer and surviving torture in South Africa.
One of the most intriguing panels highlighted business partnerships between sustainable brands and mainstream partners, with two case studies of Honest Tea and Coca Cola, and Waste Management and Recycle Bank. In the realm of sustainable brands, purchase by large household brands is a common story. In this panel, both companies set about convincing the audience that the benefits of distribution and resources of a large corporate partner outweigh the potential for watering down purpose and/or altering quality. Honest Tea is a BetterWorld customer and a fellow Benefit Corporation, and we love what they do. However, the contradiction in purpose was highlighted in an audience question regarding the recent California proposition 37 (regarding labeling of genetic foods), which Coca Cola campaigned against, and Seth Goldman, TeaEO of Honest Tea, admitted that if they were an independent company, Honest Tea would likely have supported.
Net Impact has a broad reach and the companies interested in recruiting sustainably minded MBA’s in the event expo included brands not necessarily known for their sustainability credentials, such as Monsanto, Disney, Pepsi, Target, Verizon, and Dupont. The question remains whether passionate business students will tip the scales within those companies or assimilate into the business status quo.
Perhaps the most encouraging theme at this conference was that when it comes to risk management and longterm planning, it turns out corporate citizenship is not just the right thing to do, it is sound business practice. One striking example of this was Coca Cola, who has hired researchers around the world to thoroughly evaluate watersheds that impact their supply chain, threats to those water sources, and features of those ecosystems. In some regions of the world, that research is the first and only resource for government planners and local communities.
Sustainability conferences can fall into an echo chamber of self congratulation and lauded case studies, but this one contained substance. We applaud Net Impact for furthering the conversation, inspiring the next round of business leaders, and helping push sustainability into the mainstream corporate sphere.