The new generation of entrepreneurial born-in-the-cloud companies aren’t just running their businesses based on a cloud model, many of them are building in “conscious company” models that build on what Raj Sesodia and John Mackey from Whole Foods describe as “conscious capitalism” – a way of doing business that provides benefit not just to stockholders and owners, but to employees, partners, worthwhile organizations, and the communities in which they operate.
Operating a socially conscious business in the cloud is more than just an exercise in feel-good idealism. Conscious companies, according to Sisodia’s book “Conscious Capitalism,” outperform the S&P index by a factor of 10.5. And socially conscious companies tend to be more attractive destinations to work, especially for Millennials, who are looking beyond the paycheck and seeking out a more purpose-driven work environment.
Taking “swords into plowshares” literally, Bullets2Bandages manufactures and sells items like bottle openers and shot glasses, made from real, once-fired military ammunition. Founder Cole Evans offers more than just novelty items in an online store – a portion of proceeds support veterans’ organizations. “We started out as a socially conscious brand,” said Evans. “When we started, we partnered up with the Travis Manion Foundation, and were selling our products with their branding and donating a percentage of the sales. We also provided ‘in kind’ donations in which we supplied the annual Travis Manion Foundation 5K race models at no cost to the foundation. Today, we still supply the medals and sell cross-branded products. We also work with many other veteran-focused charities in a similar manner. Our motivation in doing this was to create a for-profit business that contained a charitable component, thus allowing us to give back to the veteran community while growing our business.”
Selling sustainable, recycled, or fair trade items online is more than a simple trend, it’s a big part of many of the newest born-in-the-cloud retailers. Online retail is particularly challenging because of the intense competition, the ease with which consumers can comparison shop for the lowest price, and the difficulties in engendering customer loyalty. But competing based on lowest price is a race to the bottom, and differentiating on price alone gives online retailers a temporary advantage at best. Some of the newer retailers are instead differentiating their brands based on conscious models. Elborne, a sustainable fashion eCommerce site, is one such company.
“I was motivated to prove that fashionable women do not have to sacrifice style for sustainability,” said Elborne founder Ashley Suttle. “Our collections are emerging designers with the most modern aesthetics – always ethically produced and cruelty free. The benefit to elborne customers is a single online destination where they can find beautiful clothing and accessories that are sustainable. Our customer loves fashion first, but she also cares about its impact on the world.”
CREDO Mobile, which began life as Working Assets in 1985, was created from the very beginning with a social mission. Their first product was a credit card that generated donations with every purchase, and allowed customers to vote on the progressive organizations to receive those donations. “We used this same model to launch a long-distance phone service and then a mobile phone service,” said CREDO Mobile co-founder Laura Scher. “We started with philanthropy and added activism early on. So now, we’ve not only donated more than $81 million to progressive causes, but have also grown to a member base of more than 4 million activists, signing petitions, making calls and fighting for peace, economic justice, environmental justice, women’s rights, voting rights and civil rights.”
“CREDO has been a win-win for all our stakeholders,” said Scher. “CREDO Mobile customers get all the most popular smartphones, the largest and most dependable network and simple, affordable plans. They also get the benefit of knowing with every call, with every text that they’re causing change. They get a product that reflects their values.”
Alter Eco was intentionally founded as a conscious company by Edouard Rollet and Mathieu Senard in 2005, becoming a Certified “B” Corporation in 2009. The company operates on four pillars, according to Senard: “Sourcing using Fair Trade principles, producing only organic and non-GMO foods, creating minimal waste by working towards 100 percent compostable packaging, and in-setting carbon emissions by means of large-scale reforestation programs in the cooperatives that produce its crops.”
Alter Eco belongs to 1% for the Planet, they are one of the first registered Public Benefit Corporations, and have been recognized as a Best for the World company three years in a row for creating the most positive overall social and environmental impact. Senard notes, “Whether it be paying $1.2 million in fair trade premiums to small-scale farmers since 2009, transparently sourcing 1.7 million pounds of non-GMO and organic ingredients in 2015, planting 28,639 trees to offset our carbon emissions since 2008, or developing new technologies like our Gone4Good™ compostable quinoa pouch to reduce the millions of plastic pouches in our landfills and waterways, we’re 100 percent committed to making a positive impact – from people to planet.”