Companies with a Real Social Responsibility: When Giving Back is Part of the Business Model

Green Living — By on May 1, 2009 11:40 AM

By Alix Shutello
 I was intrigued when a friend told me she’d emailed a company and told them she’d love to work for them.  “Look up TOMS,” she said. “It would be great to be able to go to work everyday knowing that I am giving back.”
 
Inspired by my friend’s motivation, I went to the TOMS shoe website (www.tomsshoes.com) and took a look around. The founder, Blake Mycoskie, has an interesting business model – inspired by a trip he took to Argentina where he saw children without shoes -Toms Shoes gives away a pair of shoes, to a child in need, for every pair of shoes they sell. 
 
Since starting his company in May, 2006 the company, which has  donated over 130,000 pairs of shoes, has been featured in magazines like Elle, Vogue, People, InStyle, and Time. With this type of publicity, I decided to interview a representative at the company to find out more.
 
Green, Without Hypocracy
 
For me, there is nothing worse than a company that touts its social or green activism and then operates sweatshops or pollutes rivers. So in an online interview, I asked the tough question – “Do you guys operate in sweatshops?”
 
My question came after asking where the shoes were made. The representative I interviewed told me TOMS shoe manufacturers are located in Argentina, China, and Ethiopia – and that sent a chill down my spine – those countries are synonymous with sweatshops.

“We require that the factories operate under sound labor conditions, pay fair wages and follow local labor standards,” the representative said.
 
If that’s true, this company is truly walking its talk.
 
The company definitely survives on two principles – executives are not bringing home big muli-gazillion dollar paychecks, thereby sucking up the company profits (if there are any), and there are interns (free labor) wanting to help. Those two factors help bolster the company’s growth along with paying for labor overseas and forgoing marketing expenses. This company, I am coming to learn, lives off its own good will.
 
For the Greater Good
 
And good will is, if you can believe it, actually alive and kicking.   TOMS is not the first company to adopt what business leaders are calling “creative capitalism,” though we could learn a thing or two from Mr. Mycoskie.
 
At the 2008 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, urged business leaders to focus on finding new ways to turn a profit while benefiting the world’s poorest residents. Was this what truly inspired Mycoskie? Gates left Microsoft for a year to explore this concept and to possibly convince more business leaders to become philanthropists. To date, however, I have not seen his progress report in this arena and I don’t think it was covered at this year’s Davos meeting.
 
But there are success stories – Office Depot has made a green commitment – I have been getting their press releases on their new business practices for over a year now. The office superstore has made some changes in its operating model to work with green vendors. On April 16, 2009, Office Depot announced its partnership with New Leaf Paper,the nation’s leading sustainable paper supplier.  According to the latest company press release, New Leaf Paper (www.newleafpaper.com) will launch a new assortment of 60 environmentally friendly stationery, resume paper and envelope products which will be distributed exclusively through more than 1,000 Office Depot retail stores across the U.S.
 
Target is another company who strives to do good things for the community, check out their website, www.target.com and click on community. The company donates 5% of all proceeds to charity.
 
Ok, so that’s at least two companies!
 
Commercial Success; Student Marches
 
I cannot imagine Mr. Mycoskie’s excitement when cell phone supergiant AT&T came calling, this past April, wanting to feature TOMS in an ad campaign. This is the big time – national recognition.
 
The account is told on the TOMS company blog, http://www.tomsshoesblog.com/?p=2255. AT&T approached the shoe company to appear in a commercial and the spot ended up airing in the middle of the Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia. For a small company like this there can be no greater honor.
 
Then again, you know you’ve hit the big time when there is a nationally coordinated effort to promote your cause. Campuses across America came together on April 17 to host a TOMS “Day Without Shoes” campaign. The effort was spearheaded by Harriette Baker, a junior advertising major attending Texas Tech University. Ms. Baker organized the event as part of her interview process, as she was a finalist for a TOMS internship.
 
While Ms. Baker coordinated efforts in Texas, seventy-five students from Kansas State University and colleges in Oklahoma contributed to a barefoot walk-a-thon as part of the campaign as well.
 
April was a big month for TOMS. The company was approached to do a national commercial; students marched and more shoes were sold.  It’s no big coincidence that these things happened in April, the month of Earth Day, Spring, and new beginnings. 
 
The article was written in memory of Rocky and Foxy Rauschman. Two of the best dogs I have ever known.
 
Write to me with your questions, concerns, comments, and ideas:
ajshutello@msn.com
Twitter – AlixJShutello
 
Read interesting Green news at The Mother Nature Network
http://www.mnn.com/gclid=CIK8g8Pa_ZkCFQFHFQodl0xXGg 
Read more on the TOMS/AT&T ad campaign at
http://adweek.blogs.com/adfreak/2009/04/att-spot-introduces-nation-to-toms-shoes.html

Toms One Day Without Shoes Campaign
LINK

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