In a business climate that’s anything but forgiving, standing up for what you believe in can be intimidating. When you run the risk of losing customers or attracting negative feedback, you might think twice about publicly voicing an opinion. However, stakeholders value transparency more than ever. 79% of people say knowing a CEO’s personal values is important to building trust.
But how do you do it? It’s not easy to incorporate your values into your business, but we’ve gathered insights from leaders who have successfully integrated social, political and environmental issues into their businesses. They share the pros and cons of social activism and how they stay true to their values. (Responses adapted for length and clarity.)
FinalStraw — the original reusable, collapsible straw — launched in April 2018, became an overnight sensation, and raised nearly $2 million! Over time, I’ve worked to curate the voice of Final. We approach topics, like plastic pollution, that are overwhelming and often downright depressing with a little bit of sass and a witty sense of humor. By keeping the conversation lighthearted — even when the content is not — we have created a safe space for people who are eager to learn about plastic pollution and are looking for ways to take the next step on their sustainability journey. I’m proud to say my team and I have created a mission-centric company that places caring for people and the Earth before profit.
I created my first fashion brand in the late eighties in Paris. For a long time, business was going well. Overconsumption was trendy and most consumers weren’t concerned with being eco-friendly. But values and priorities change with time. My daughter, Natacha, started to impress upon me the importance of designing bags that are vegan and eco-friendly. For someone who worked with leather for the last 30 years, this was a big change. But I could see that the world was pushing for change, and the fashion industry needed to follow suit. Since the moment I decided to take the step toward sustainability, I’ve only looked forward. Of course, there are risks to being at the forefront of a movement and trying to change the way that people think about fashion — something so deeply ingrained in our daily lives. But we’ve been fortunate to receive only positive feedback from our partners and our customers. We’ve found that people respect and often admire our choice to do right by the planet, and our clients have been extremely supportive.
For more than 40 years, I’ve been both a marketer and an activist. I have always had involvement in various environmental and social causes, and I’ve made it clear that my business supports these positions. It was a very easy choice to weave activism so deeply into the fabric of my business. Starting with my first explorations of activism at age 12, I’ve always been driven by a desire to make the world better. I went into business in the first place as a way of maintaining my ethics and principles in a job market that was not always sympathetic. For decades, I’ve refused work that went against my principles — so it wasn’t that big a leap to start actively soliciting work that supported the world I want to create.
IdeaScale considers itself a values-based business which means we try to take a stand on a number of things, but one of our key concerns is climate change. We’ve been working on this from a number of angles (discounts for campaigns addressing climate change, pay for training on this issue, have become carbon neutral, etc), but when we heard about the Global Climate Strike, we felt that it was really important that we supported this movement by demonstrating that business-as-usual will no longer work. So we closed our offices that day and told our clients that they couldn’t expect the standard services that they were used to receiving from IdeaScale for the duration of the strike. We also asked our employees to participate by attending a climate talk in the morning and joining a rally in the afternoon.
Creating a new business and food production model based on aquaponics was an intense experience that ran the full gamut of ups and downs. Launching Urban Organics took thousands of hours and it was a learn-as-you-go experiment with an indoor, sustainable farming method that uses 2% of the water required by conventional agriculture. It was a year-round farm that eliminated long distance shipping. It was a boots-on-the-ground attempt at bringing new vitality to a food desert. And most of all, it sent a clear signal to other businesses that this part of St. Paul was worth investing in. Food deserts are jobs deserts, and to date, more than $200 million dollars of economic development have been invested in the area leading to new jobs.Taking a stand on something as serious as better access to healthy food is too important not to. Business is iterative. Progress isn’t always linear.
Speaking out on social, political or environmental issues can come at a cost — but that cost is almost always worth it. People want business leaders to share opinions and more than ever, and people want to support businesses that take the step towards change. Who’s a leader or business that you admire? Let us know in the comments!