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August 2012

August 29, 2012

Making Environmental Achievements Count for Consumers

by Janiece Greene, Guest Blogger

The age of the triple bottom line and responsible business is upon us.  Financial, environmental, and social sustainability are hot topics within the media, business, and development communities.  Everyone from oil and gas industry execs to the swashbuckling, rebel billionaire, Sir Richard Branson is talking about the importance of sustainable development.  The recent emergence of social enterprises with their business drives development ethos has helped to further the discourse, making it difficult for corporations to take a business as usual approach when it comes to the triple bottom line.  Multinational corporations are beginning to feel pressed on all sides to take action or lose out to the new kids on the block.  Yet within the three pillars of sustainability, the financial and environmental elements have received the most play from big business.  Both are generally easier to measure in terms of the traditional ROI metrics of cost and asset utilization, and involve less reputational risk [than their social counterpart].  The social element, which encompasses the ethical, moral, and philanthropic responsibilities of a business, has typically been housed within CSR and public relations departments of large companies rather than integrated into the core business.  The end result is that social impact initiatives remain on the outskirts of the business, making it that much more difficult to integrate it as a core part of the sustainability strategy. 

That said, integrating environmental standards into the supply chain management, operations, and corporate governance structure is a complex undertaking for any company regardless of its size or regulatory structure—ask any Chief Sustainability Officer.  Additionally, the approach to environmental sustainability and definition of ROI can differ widely across business sectors making it difficult to create unified standards for measuring impact.  However, many companies, particularly those in the retail, apparel, and energy sectors have managed to do the hard and complex work of understanding the monetary costs of their operations on the environment.  Others have set themselves apart by achieving what some deem as the “holy grail” of sustainability:  being “green” and turning a profit.  Marks & Spencer, whose aim is to become the most sustainable global retailer by 2015, brought in $73M in profit in 2010 through its Plan A sustainability program, all of which was invested back into the company[1].  Environmental savings that generate profit is music to the ears of shareholders, senior management, and governing boards. Yet translating environmental achievements into something that is tangible for consumers has remained elusive for most companies. 

There is a growing demand among consumers to be assured of the environmental sustainability of a company’s production processes, particularly for multinationals operating in the developing world.  Unfortunately, much of the environmental reporting data, with statistics on indicators such as carbon emissions and waste, are too abstract for consumers to relate to in practical terms, and only tell part of the story.  

Human beings are by nature emotional creatures, and emotions are remarkably important for influencing purchasing decisions.  In fact, the phenomenon of emotion-driven purchases exists within almost every culture, country, and person.  From mobile phones to handbags, consumers are willing to make a purchase if those items make them feel a certain something.  Rallying consumers around environmental sustainability will require companies to humanize statistics.  They must show consumers how environmental achievements have positively impacted people in the communities in which they operate.  How has the use of natural inks and dyes revived the livelihoods of local craftspeople?  How has the reduction of the use of harmful pollutants created greater access to clean drinking water for the community?  Embedding social issues, such as poverty reduction, job creation, and workers’ health into environmental strategies will not only help companies address social sustainability concerns, but will also help them to bridge the emotional gap between environmental statistics and making a purchase. Dutch artist and social entrepreneur Siegfred Woldhek said it best, “most people want to contribute towards something meaningful, to fill the voids in their soul.”[2]  Business needs to find a way to help consumers do just that.

[1]Marks & Spencer’s Plan A Update Highlights Profits, Progress on Going Green”, GreenBiz.com, June 10, 2010

[2] Siegfred Woldhek, “Five Steps to Growing Your Social Impact:  Lessons from the World Wildlife Fund”, Forbes.com, August 2012


About Janiece Greene

Janiece Greene is a Social Impact Strategist based in New York City. Her background is in management consulting, international development, and technology. The focus of Ms. Greene’s work is on creating revenue-generating activities for disadvantaged and marginalized populations, which are profitable and have a clear development benefit. She has examined issues of migration, race, ethnicity, and gender and its impact on the economic empowerment of the poor, conducting field research and product development engagements in Africa, the Americas, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and Asia.

Ms. Greene is the author and coauthor of several industry publications and blogs on the economic empowerment of women, and is a frequent speaker at academic, business, and policy conferences centered on the issues of financial inclusion, women’s economic empowerment, microfinance, and social impact.

August 16, 2012

Call for Submissions: NYWSE Members Speaker Series

NYWSE is comprised of some of the most inspiring women, both those doing amazing things and those with the biggest of ideas. Our goal is to bring this powerful group of women together, to inspire each other and facilitate connections that will allow for shared support and mentorship, sharing of ideas and the building of new teams.

Over the next year, we will be launching a new, ongoing event to highlight some member stories. Each event will feature a panel comprised of a selection of NYWSE member initiatives, so that we can learn from and be inspired by those in our midst.

If you have a story or initiative you think would be a good fit, please let us know! Complete the form at http://bit.ly/NY0VI7 by August 31, 2012 if you’d like to be considered to speak at one of the upcoming events. We will announce the panelists by September 15. The first panel is planned for late October or November 2012.

We look forward to hearing from you!

August 08, 2012

The Supply Change: Changing the Chain

by Hannah Jang, Chief Blogger

The Supply Change is a for-profit social enterprise that connects global fashion brands with 345_29457474028_195_norganizations and artisans in developing economies to bring socially conscious fashion to the mainstream consumer. By forging long-term partnerships with these brands and enterprises, The Supply Change is fully committed to the Triple Bottom Line: People, Planet, Profits. Chrissie Lam, founder of The Supply Change, shares how the SC is taking fashion to new heights.

How did the Supply Change come into being?

Taylor Krauss is the catalyst that kick-started my desire to go volunteer in Africa. I was introduced to him at a Cinco de Mayo party in NYC back in 2007. We talked about his work and I was immediately inspired and interested in the non-profit organization he started, Voices of Rwanda. After hearing about this, I was blown away: “Wow! That’s really admirable, I wish I could do something like this…” At the time, I couldn’t leave my job as Senior Conceptual Designer at American Eagle Outfitters.  However, we met again in the beginning of April after he returned from Kigali. It was hard not to be captivated and become impassioned by his spirit and focus. This time an idea came to me in the form of connecting creatives with causes for philanthropic collaborations. I had wanted to do something like this for a while, but I had not been able to fully realize a project where my involvement and cooperation of my friends and associates would have so much potential to succeed.

I requested and was granted a three month sabbatical in the summer of 2008 and packed my bags and headed off to Rwanda.  Prior to leaving, I had designer friends of mine create graphics tees/rebrand NGOs and obtain brand donations of clothes and supplies to raise funds and awareness, calling the project Create for a Cause.  Over the past few years, I’ve been assisting various NGOs with creative direction, connections and fundraising.  Friends I have made on that journey are still very much a part of my life, and I’m happy to say that I’m working with some of them today.  The positive reaction I received by activating the collaboration between creative forces and social causes prompted me to think on a larger scale, and thus the Supply Change was born.

What were you doing before that informed your work with the development of the Supply Change?

I've been working in the fashion industry for 12 years in Concept Design/Research & Development/Trend Forecasting for brands like Abercrombie and Fitch and American Eagle, which has given me the opportunity to travel all around the world. Over the past 5 years, through my travels and work with various NGOs in developing countries, I had an increasing desire to merge my passions together: International Development with Fashion Design. 

Where is the SC going?

The Supply Change will continue to consult on and connect more fashion brands with social enteprise partnerships and collaborations. Our new travel initiative, Fashion Designers Without Borders will bring established design professionals through our Immersive Sourcing Safaris.

Fashion Designers Without Borders combines my love of fashion, adventure, and philanthropy. We are curating experiences and enlisting like-minded design colleagues in order to help them realize the potential of sourcing in developing countries.

What are the most pressing sustainable/ethical fashion issues for you?

Economic Empowerment.  Empowering impoverished communities around the world to lift themselves out of poverty. Eco and Re/Upcyling components are very important factors for me as well.

What amazing things are your clients doing?

I'm thrilled to help brands start new groundbreaking social enterprise initiatives within their companies and see them lead with intention and get behind this new exciting way of sourcing. Such clients include Henri Bendel's, Steven Alan, Chico's, Pacsun, and many more.