The power of collective movements became apparent to Cullen Schwarz as a college student, when he ed several progressive campus organizations, including one that called for an end to apparel-producing sweatshops. I thought, even back then, if you could galvanize a large of individual consumers to use their purchasing power to get businesses to pay better wages or produce more sustainably, we could collectively have a really huge impact.
He carried those lessons with him as he launched a career in politics and policy advocacy in Washington, D. I just always had this idea that there should be a way to make it really easy for people to know whether the money they were spending was supporting their values. DoneGood has seen steady growth since its launch in as it provides a platform for these companies and meets growing consumer demand for brands that operate with the well-being of the environment and employees in mind. On the DoneGood website, shoppers can find a wide range of goods — from apparel and home goods, to food and drinks, jewelry, personal care items, and more.
Schwarz and I spoke recently as part of my research on purpose-driven businesses when he shared more with me about his hopes for the future of DoneGood and the enormous potential of conscious consumerism to create lasting and meaningful change. Highlights from our conversation follow. Chris Marquis: Since launching DoneGood, how has the business grown? How do you screen and select the companies on the platform?
Cullen Schwarz: The company has grown in size and sales, and therefore the positive impact our community has on the world has grown too. Our mission is to help people make purchases that do good for people and the planet, so the more the business grows, the more of an impact we our customers make. When we started, we were a Yelp-style app for local brick-and-mortar stores in Boston. There were a of problems with that model. Even though we had 1, businesses in the greater Boston area on the app, once you put on just a few search filters in, the universe of businesses gets really small.
So we said online shopping is the direction we need to go. We even looked at the impact of online shopping versus shopping local and a lot of times, online can be better for the planet. The carbon emissions of shipping to your house are often actually lower than shopping local. A lot of the items you buy in a local store are still shipped from around the world through a global supply chain, so they can have equivalent carbon emission as something shipped to your house. But if you also drive your car to the local store to get the item, you actually create a larger carbon footprint overall than if you had the item shipped to your home.
So we felt like, at least on the whole, the environmental footprint was a wash. And now we offset the carbon emissions for every order made through DoneGood, so ordering through DoneGood is even more sustainable. We also considered other impacts of ordering online versus buying local.
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Ultimately, I would rather buy from a shop that is in another town if that business is investing in that community and paying living wages and fighting climate change and operating with eco-friendly practices, rather than shop at a store in my own town paying minimum wage and using styrofoam.
I want to support the best businesses that are making the world better, rather than supporting a business paying poverty wages and killing the planet just because it exists in the town I happen to live in. For us doing good for people means paying living wages, providing safe working conditions, no child labor or trafficked labor.
Doing good for the planet means being highly more eco-friendly than the big-name counterpart in your industry. To select brands, we aggregate data from independent third-party certifying organizations, then do our own research, then we actually have interviews with people at the company.
We ask them to follow up to demonstrate that their claims are accurate, and we have them an affidavit that everything they're saying is accurate. B Lab has done a great job with their scoring. When we started, we said we never want to make any subjective value judgments, we are only going to look at data from independent third-party certifying organizations like B Lab and Rainforest Alliance and Forest Stewardship Council and various Fair Trade certifications and similar programs.
But we realized there are so many great businesses out there who are not certified, for a variety of reasons. But they're not certified, so we can't let them be on DoneGood? We also realized that it can be confusing for consumers to get a lot of s thrown at them—this business gets an 8. And what do the s really mean? With too many data points, your head starts to swim and you wonder what does this all mean. On the other, the folks making dog collars are removing waste from the waste stream and probably have a lower carbon footprint overall.
How would you score each of them? So now we just tell you that this clothing company is running purely on renewable energy and describe their other sustainable practices, and that the other company is making dog collars out of upcycled cowboy boots, and you can make your choice about which companies you want to buy from. Related to that, are you seeing growing consumer interest in buying from sustainable and good companies? Schwarz: Conscious consumerism is exploding. Nielsen puts out a report every year that shows that consumer focus on sustainability continues to increase, especially among millennials and Gen Z.
They said this is the beginning of a fundamental shift in consumer spending, and brands that fail to recognize it will be left behind. You see the explosion of social enterprises in the past decade. You also see it in Morgan Stanley marketing a sustainably index mutual fund. You saw it when Nike stood up for Colin Kaepernick—their marketing team knew that was a move for which their core customer base would reward them. You see it when all these companies speak out for Black Lives Matter or turn their logos to rainbow during pride month.
You see it in the rise of impact investing as more and more people realize where they invest, where they choose to work, and where they spend their money makes a huge impact on the world. Speaking out is increasingly important.
What is better - if we get new customers and offend no one, or we get new customers and offend 10, people?
Especially when you consider the customers you got are going to be more passionate and love you more and tell their friends about you more, while the 10, people you offended were never really going to shop with you in the first place. When I started, I didn't plan on having us be political whatsoever, I thought I was leaving that part of my life behind.
Taking a stand is better for business too. We don't have to make a choice, there's no choice to be made between doing the right thing and what's in your business interest. Now people increasingly understand that our actions in the business world have probably even more impact than do our non-economic decisions.
More and more of us want to know that we are using our time on Earth in a way that has some purpose, some meaning.
Companies then recognize that they have to be a business that has some more purpose behind it other than maximizing profit so they can attract top talent. So we give our money to a business that is empowering people and helping them lift themselves out of poverty and fighting climate change, we get more people out of poverty and a stronger fight against climate change.
In a market economy, consumers have total power. More and more people are starting to demand not just a good product at a reasonable price but they're also demanding that companies give a damn and act a little bit moral in the world. I wrote a paper back in school for one of my philosophy classes about the new Utopian ideal. In the 21st century, the new Utopian ideal is a market that provides a living wage for everyone and protects the environment.
However, every time we choose to use our money to support businesses that are doing good for people on the planet, we take a step closer to that world. So if even a tiny fraction of that huge amount of consumer spending can help alleviate global poverty, address climate change and do other things to make the world better the impact is huge. And I think that impact will likely be bigger than most or all of the things that are going to come out of D. Elections are important, and everyone should vote. Public policy matters.
All the work that NGOs are doing is incredibly important.
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Marquis: How is your business run in a way that distinguishes it from other online retailers? In addition, one of our investors paid for me to go to conscious capitalism boot camp.
All of our partners are screened for social and environmental impact, and all our workers are earning a living wage. Our governance incorporates things like transparency and an equitable pay structure. I actually make less than I used to in my old career. There are also the more intangibles of conscious capitalism that are more about how you feel, how your team feels, and really ensuring that you are always set up to truly make your customers and your suppliers and the lives of anyone your business comes in contact with better.
Or constantly asking ourselves whether we are always creating value for our partner businesses that sell products on our site. They take 15 minutes, they hook up to DoneGood once, and then orders that come through us automatically go into their existing fulfillment process. The payment to them is handled automatically, so they spend 15 minutes of time and pay us zero dollars upfront, and then they just get more money because of the sales that we make for them on our website.
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They always win. I truly believe that keeping in mind those thoughts about your product being a gift to the world and truly creating value for every other business or organization that you come in contact with helps your business be more successful. And helps you feel better as a human about your work. I am the Samuel C. Johnson Professor in Sustainable Global Enterprise at Cornell University and I research and write about how businesses are creating a more resilient. Johnson Professor in Sustainable Global Enterprise at Cornell University and I research and write about how businesses are creating a more resilient and sustainable capitalism by focusing on the elusive triple bottom line of environmental, social and financial performance.
I have authored over 20 peer reviewed academic articles and over 50 Harvard business cases on topics related to sustainable business, earning awards for scholarly achievement from the Academy of Management and the American Sociological Association.
My latest book, Better Business, focuses on the potential for the B Corp certification and stakeholder governance models to reform capitalism.
This is a BETA experience. You may opt-out by clicking here. More From Forbes. Oct 4,am EDT. Oct 3,am EDT. Oct 1,pm EDT. Oct 1,am EDT. Sep 30,pm EDT. Edit Story. I write about how companies are creating a more resilient and sustainable capitalism. Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn.
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