Is Your Business Sustainably Sourced?

Of course you want your new business to be successful. But in this age of shrinking consumer demands, disturbing job figures and the persistent reluctance of banks to loan money after the housing debacle, you also want your start-up to reflect the values that used to be considered American.

You want it to be prosperous, not because you have a burning desire to be rich but because successful small businesses are the true backbone of the economy, according to Steve Chabot, a Republican congressman from Ohio.

As Chabot points out, small businesses are responsible for more than 60 percent of the new jobs created in the United States – a highly significant achievement in an economy where adjusted unemployment rates have hovered close to 8 percent for nearly a year and a half, according to Gallup. (Note: Gallup does not seasonally adjust for unemployment like the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).

The U.S. was once the world hub of manufacturing. The Germans, a mere 65 million in 1955 as compared to the U.S.’s 166 million, were more detail-oriented, producing marvels of engineering but not at a scale which could supply all markets or at a cost which middle-income consumers were willing to pay. It took the U.S. to make a very good product in mass quantities at a price tag affordable to most inhabitants of developed nations.

As Chabot notes, the recently proposed bipartisan effort to provide more capital to start-ups – called the Small Business Investment Company Modernization Act of 2012 (H.R. 6504, and backed by the Small Business Investor Alliance, or SBIA) – attempts to achieve one of those American ideals; a job for every able-bodied adult regardless of age, sex, race or political persuasion. The SBIA is the leading organization harnessing second-tier venture capital, private equity and investor funding to spur job creation via economic expansion. H.R. 6504 raises the lending limit from 225 million to $350 million.

What about Tomorrow?

You also want your company to provide a product that is sustainably sourced, regardless of where the basic materials come from. This sustainability – defined as living in a manner which ensures that future generations will be able to achieve the same standard of living – operates whether your employees are working with silver from Idaho or diamonds from South Africa.

Along with sustainable sourcing comes investment in the community in which your new business is located. You won’t, of course, be able to fund a new community center right off the bat; the money you have needs to be put back into the firm to help it grow. But nothing prevents you from initiating an employee-based community health and safety movement which aims toward environmental and social sustainability. This could be as simple as organizing employees into litter squads which attract community members and leaders, or setting up a volunteer program that gives employees paid time off for helping deliver Meals on Wheels to the elderly.

 It Can Be Done… One of Many Examples

A prime example would be New Hampshire-based Timberland Company. Starting as a small company, Timberland has grown into one of the more successful clothiers producing shoes, backpacks and clothing for the active wear market. But that isn’t what drives current CEO Jeffrey Swartz, whose grandfather founded the startup. For Swartz, in addition to quality products that were sustainably sourced and manufactured, the goal was establishing a 21st-century business model that gave back to its community.

Working with City Year, an AmeriCorps program, Timberland and Swartz have achieved a community engagement level of $10 million in resource dollars, a management cooperative, an annual provision of quality products as official uniform champion of City Year, and uncounted hours of service in communities where Timberland manufacturing facilities, stores and outlets are located.

Timberland’s most notable program is the award-winning “Path of Service” organization, a City-Year brainchild which lets employees take 40 hours of PTO (paid time off) to serve in their communities.

The initiative has paid off big-time. City Year New Hampshire has expanded to 40 corps members and can also claim the largest number of employee volunteers who stay with the program for the longest period of time.

As social enterprise management Service Manager Patrick Kirby noted in a recent interview, the City Year program is now so integral to the company’s profile that it would likely endure even if the firm changed CEOs.

Not only does social responsibility feel good, say employees, but it is contagious. Shoppers who learn of Timberland’s social programs return time after time, because buying from the company makes them feel they have done the right thing.

In the 21st century, this feel-good motive is going to be one of the strongest incentives driving consumers. Many consumers are fed up with U.S. companies who ship their production and jobs overseas purely to take advantage of low wages and cheap production costs. More and more consumers are realizing the importance of a “living wage” and they want to buy from companies that promote positive social change. If you are thinking of starting a business; having a socially conscious business model can inspire your workers to be more productive.  It can also inspire instant consumer confidence and loyalty.

What is your startup doing to make a positive social change?


Andrew Miller is an experienced Social Media expert and Author. He has worked in marketing for over a decade and finds his passion in bringing concepts to life for the world to enjoy. He is also an avid blogger and currently working on a book with his wife about social entrepreneurship. He is a true Socialpreneur and finds that his goal in life is to be an agent for positive social change through both his writing and business endeavors.

Follow him on Twitter @amillerblog and Google+ 

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