Tag Archives: corporate social responsibility

Starbucks’ “Race Together”: Am I the Only One Who Thinks It’s a GOOD Idea?

Starbucks has been getting a lot of flack since announcing its “Race Together” initiative. People are mostly either calling the company self-serving or questioning why a cafe chain would want to take on an agenda that seems so unrelated to its core business.

Now, I’ve certainly criticized companies for cause marketing that seems to have nothing to do with its purpose. For example, I’ve publicly questioned why Ford has chosen to support a breast cancer charity rather than something related to, say, transportation access.

And I’ve given space to Starbucks critics like Dean Cycon of Dean’s Beans, who says the coffee giant could be doing a lot more on sustainability, fair trade, and organic.

But I actually think this time Starbucks did something sensible and good, and I was really pretty shocked at the negative media firestorm.

Consider this:

  • In the post-Ferguson climate, where black communities are showing righteous anger about police violence, race is back on the agenda
  • Many legislative bodies are imposing onerous barriers to registering and voting, ostensibly to stop “voter fraud” (which is close to zero)—but whose deeper agenda seems to be denying the vote to people of color and those with low incomes
  • As a culture, when we want to talk things over, we do so over coffee—so what better place to start a national conversation?
  • Starbucks has thousands of locations in cities—Ground Zero for the recent race incidents; thus, the company has a vested interest in de-escalating tensions and opening dialog so those stores continue to thrive, in addition to the moral grounds it cites

While writing the message “Race together” on cups ends today, Starbucks continues to see fostering dialog on race as a priority. In a public letter yesterday to the company’s employees, CEO Howard Schultz wrote,

We have a number of planned Race Together activities in the weeks and months to come: more partner open forums, three more special sections co-produced with USA TODAY over the course of the next year, more open dialogue with police and community leaders in cities across our country, a continued focus on jobs and education for our nation’s young people plus our commitment to hire 10,000 opportunity youth over the next three years, expanding our store footprint in urban communities across the country, and new partnerships to foster dialogue and empathy and help bridge the racial and ethnic divides within our society that have existed for so many years…The heart of Race Together has always been about humanity: the promise of the American Dream should be available to every person in this country, not just a select few.  We leaned in because we believed that starting this dialogue is what matters most.  We are learning a lot. And will always aim high in our efforts to make a difference on the issues that matter most.

If this is self-serving, I say we need more of that kind of self-serving.


Game-Changer: Unilever Considering Becoming Certified B Corp

This is big: The Guardian reports from Davos that Unilever is actively considering going for B Corp certification.

If you’re not familiar, B Corp is a legal definition of a profit-making corporation set up to promote environmental and social responsibility rather than a primary goal of maximizing short-term shareholder value and damn the torpedoes. In other words, it is legally allowed to pursue the greater good, even as most corporations are restricted by law and their charters. Maryland became the first of 28 US states to pass B Corp enabling legislation, in 2010.

It’s still a new movement. Only 1203 certified B Corps exist in the world, as of late January, 2015. Unilever’s Ben & Jerry’s unit was one of the first B Corps, back in 2012—and Ben & Jerry’s CEO Jostein Solheim is leading the effort, apparently with strong support from Unilever’s sustainability-minded CEO, Paul Polman.

The B Corp certification process is long and arduous for an entity as complex as Unilever, one of the largest consumer products corporations in the world; it’s likely to take years. But just the act of engaging in the conversation is a game changer:

  • Unilever’s tacit endorsement of the B Corp movement confers legitimacy; if one of the largest and most successful business organizations in the world can embrace it , other companies will say, “perhaps we should look into this.”
  • The B Corp movement is still not very well known, compared to similar movements such as Fair Trade. With Unilever coming onboard, a lot more people in the business world will hear about it—and take it seriously.
  • It will provide Unilever with substantial marketing advantages for several years. If the company is able to harness them properly, it can expect to sway many now-neutral customers to Unilever’s vast portfolio of brands. (As a marketing and profitability consultant to green/socially conscious businesses and the primary author of Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green, I can speak with some authority on this :-). )
  • Most importantly, it will show the entire business world that corporations don’t have to be rapacious; they don’t have to put short-term gain above the earth and its citizens (human and otherwise). It could even provide major leverage to overturn the body of corporation law that says corporations are legally required to put short-term profit ahead of all other considerations. And since most business people actually do want to do good in the world and many have felt burdened by this charter, this could create a seismic shift throughout the entire business community. (Some on the hard left will disagree that most business people actually want to do the right thing. Go ahead; the comments field is waiting for you.) Of course, there are a myriad of profit-making opportunities out there for activist companies willing to create and market goods and services that meaningfully reduce hunger, poverty, war, catastrophic climate change, and other suffering—you don’t need to be a B Corp for that. But as B Corp certification slowly becomes the default, it will speed that change.

In short, I’m heartened and excited by this news, and wish them success.

Panera CEO: Corps Can Use their Strengths to Right Wrongs

“Imagine Walmart doing distribution for food banks…in which The Gap runs thrift shops…in which The Home Depot is involved in rebuilding.”

This challenge comes from Ron Shaich, CEO of Panera, as he closes a wonderful talk at Sustainable Brands about Panera Cares, a series of pay-what-you-want stores aimed at alleviating hunger. So far, his first charity store, in St.Louis, is more than self-supporting, and they’ve opened a second location in Dearborn (metro Detroit)—both in economically diverse neighborhoods. The idea is that some who can afford it will pay more than the suggested amount, subsidizing those who pay less. And so far, it seems to be working.

Great to see this sort of abundance-based thinking from the CEO of a major restaurant chain.