Money Talks: The Collective Power of Personal Impact
Words by Lisa Cugnetto
Illustrations by Ken Smith
This article has been edited. The full article can be read in issue 1
From where we work to the toilet paper we buy, our everyday decisions have the potential to make the world a better place. But in a society spoilt for choice, it can be hard to put your money where your mouth is. We talk to the industry leaders creating products that give the power back to consumers.
“Truly, at the centre of this movement are people. People who are tired of checking their values at the door when they go to work, people who are looking for meaning and purpose in their careers, who want to align their values with their purchases, who want to invest in a way that makes a return and also betters the world,” explained co-founder of B Lab, Bart Houlahan in his 2014 TEDx talk on how people are central to driving businesses to change.
B Lab is the non-profit organisation that assesses and verifies for-profit businesses to ensure they meet the required standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability required to become a certified B Corporation. Houlahan established B Lab with friends and Stanford peers, Jay Coen Gilbert and Andrew Kassoy, in Philadelphia in 2006. Their hope was to create an organisation “that serves a global movement of people using business as a force for good”.
At the time of writing, there were 2,339 B Corporations in 50 countries across 130 industries. Mindy Leow is Community Builder at B Lab Australia and New Zealand and says that the vision is that one day all companies will compete to be best for the world, and as a result society will enjoy a more shared and durable prosperity.
Leow believes a cultural shift led by consumer action is pushing businesses to redefine their place and purpose within the communities they operate within and serve. “We are in the early stages of a global culture shift that is transforming our vision of the purpose of business from a late-20th-century view, which was to maximise value for shareholders, to a 21st-century view that the purpose of business is to maximise shared value for all stakeholders of society,” she says. “Significantly, this shareholder to stakeholder transition is being driven by market-based activism, not by government intervention. Rather than simply debating the role of government in the economy, people are taking action to harness the power of business to solve society’s greatest challenges. Business – what we create, where we work, where we shop, what we buy, who we invest in – has become a source of identity and purpose.”
Studies reflect this societal shift towards ethical businesses with The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2017 finding that, globally, 76 percent of Millennials regard business as a force for positive social impact.
Simon Griffiths, co-founder of B Corp-certified Who Gives A Crap – a forest-friendly toilet paper, paper towels and tissues company known for its brightly-coloured packaging and light-hearted approach to marketing – agrees. “We’ve found that our social impact is the reason that customers remember us, even if they first found our product because they wanted to save money (our toilet paper is great value!), loved the design, or wanted the ease of home delivery,” he says. “We know this not only from talking to them and listening to their feedback, but also from seeing how they engage with our website, social media and email-based impact updates. We also see the way they talk about our brand and products to their friends and family, especially on social media. Using 50 percent of our profits to help build toilets is always front and centre of their conversations about us.”
The loyalty of Who Gives A Crap customers has helped shift the company’s early niche customer base to a more mainstream one. “Our big overarching goal is to ensure that everyone in the world has access to a toilet, and [to] show that profit-for-purpose businesses and products like ours can achieve scale, widespread appeal and become the ‘new normal’. In order to do that, we need to appeal to absolutely everyone, but we know that’s incredibly hard, if not impossible, in the early years of a business,” explains Griffiths.
Australian social enterprise ThankYou – who make food, water, body care and baby products –donate 100 percent of their profits and provide customers with accessible, long-term transparency around how funds are being used to combat global poverty.
“‘Where does the money go?’ is probably one of the most commonly asked questions in the social enterprise, charity and not-for-profit sector – and it’s an important one. Track Your Impact™ is our answer. We built it because we give 100 percent of profits from our products to our impact partners and we wanted to prove it,” explains Wesley Rodricks, Digital and UX Designer at ThankYou.
“Every Thankyou product has a unique tracker code (Tracker ID). This unique code, when entered at thankyou.co/projects, shows you the exact project a product is assigned to fund, complete with GPS coordinates. Once the project has been completed, we send a personalised Final Field Report, which details how the project solutions have been implemented, complete with photos. Our aim is to give users a similar level of reporting that you would receive if you gave away hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s an unprecedented level of reporting for consumers – it’s radical transparency.”
It can be hard knowing where to start when considering how your personal impact can drive change, but it can begin with small actions that you can build on. “LN Smith is credited for saying, ‘Every dollar we spend is a vote for the world we want’, which I firmly believe is true. It’s easy to think about this quote in terms of the smaller daily transactions that they’re making, say on coffee, food or maybe an item of clothing,” offers Griffiths of Who Gives A Crap.
“But I think it’s also important (possibly, more important) to think about the bigger institutions that are a less visible part of our daily lives – banks, superannuation funds and utility companies are three that come to mind. The great thing about switching to, or away from, one of these large institutions is that once you make the change you usually don’t have to think about it again for quite a while – it’s almost a ‘set and forget’ personal impact, so it’s worth putting some thought into getting it right up-front.”
Griffiths cites Bank Australia as an example of a great customer-owned bank, Powershop’s green electricity option as ‘really good’, and notes that Who Gives A Crap team members use Australian Ethical (“and there are lots of good ethical funds popping up”) as their preferred superannuation fund.
“Each of us has tremendous influence, and we can influence the way the world is shaped. We can do it with our work (come work with us!), with our actions (give someone a hug today and then go volunteer!) and with our dollars (hint hint… buy our toilet paper!).”
“It’s simple advice but I think it’s really important to be informed,” says ThankYou’s Rodricks on where to start with personal impact. “We see so many articles, posts, tweets and hashtags about a range of issues, but often they only just scratch the surface. It’s important to take the time to understand why something is the way it is in order to find the right way to take action. You often find these issues are complex so the avenues for help are just as varied. It’s important to be curious and to not be afraid to ask questions. The more we uncover, the more clarity we have around a potential solution.”
"Every dollar we spend is a vote for the world we want."