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Doing Good

With a little effort and dedication, these small businesses are making a huge difference in the world.

Did you ever dream of saving an endangered species? Or possibly conserving natural resources while providing an economic boost to a developing country? These altruistic actions are possible, and, best of all, you don't even have to join the Peace Corps or start a nonprofit organization to carry out your vision for a better world. Meet some globally minded business owners who rake in nice profits with their ventures.

An eye-opening experience inspired Jon Stocking to create his Endangered Species Chocolate Co. in 1994. While fishing on a tuna boat in the Pacific, Stocking saved a dolphin and its mother from the fishermen's nets-and vowed to take environmental action on a daily basis. A former caterer, Stocking, 45, focused on making organic chocolate bars with pictures of endangered species on the wrappers because, he says, "[I thought] chocolate would be a great medium for an environmental message-to use [the product] as a vehicle to educate and donate."

With money saved from a previous catering gig supplemented with credit cards, Stocking launched a successful chocolate company in Talent, Oregon, that now distributes worldwide and through natural foods stores in the United States. With sales exceeding $2 million per year, he commits 10 percent of profits toward saving the endangered species featured on his candy bars: orangutans, cheetahs, sea turtles, sea otters and more. Direct contributions are made to such organizations as the Jane Goodall Institute, the Wildlife Conservation Society, Defenders of Wildlife and American Forests.

SILENCING THE CRITICS
Socially responsible companies often face criticism from jaded consumers. It's always a good idea to prepare for such criticism and be ready to refute it. You can avoid PR nightmares by anticipating every possible question and finding out the answers for yourself. For instance:

1. Who are your suppliers? Do they run their businesses in an ethical way?
2. What do you stand for?
3. What lines would you never cross?

Always keep in mind you won't be able to please everyone-a vegan may dislike that you use dairy products in your organic foods, but the fact that your company gets milk from free-range cows with no growth hormones is in line with your core mission. Stand by your convictions and be prepared to defend them honestly when asked.

Mike Korchinsky founded his environmentally sensitive business, Wildlife Works, in San Francisco in 1997 after a vacation to Africa. He was astounded by the beauty of the natural environment, but dismayed to see the destruction of some of the continent's natural habitats. "It was obvious to me that the wildlife I was enjoying so much was in a pretty fragile state," he says. "And it was fragile [because] of competition with poor rural people."

Korchinsky knew that to change the situation, he would have to give the local community a viable economic incentive to preserve the land. A former management consultant, Korchinsky, 40, figured the best way to accomplish this was to create a for-profit business model that created jobs as well as provided environmentally sound products.

At Wildlife Works, this model is dubbed "Consumer Powered Conservation." The line of casual apparel manufactured at the plant in Africa is made by local workers with natural materials. With a slew of newly-created jobs, more money flows into the local economy, thereby lessening residents' need to damage natural resources.

Angel investors who shared his passion helped Korchinsky realize his dream of creating a business model that would benefit humanity yet still reap profits-2002 sales projections are in the $3 million range. Today, the clothing line can be found in high-end U.S. retailers such as Fred Segal and Nordstrom, and is also sold via small-scale distribution channels that reach Kenya and other African countries. Next up: Korchinsky is planning on expanding his Wildlife Works brand by including crafts from co-ops in Africa and building a flagship store that sells a broad array of products made with natural materials, such as clothing and letter openers.

Although these entrepreneurs cite the importance of staying true to your values and core mission whenever you are starting a do-good venture, keeping your gaze steadily on the business of creating and selling the best product or service is important. "The negative side is that [being socially conscious] can create some limitations," Korchinsky says. "There are things we just won't do, [even though] they might be much more lucrative and profitable for us in the short term."

And, above all, don't let the negative public perception of environmentally friendly wares hold you back. Says Stocking, "People just don't expect [organic products] to be good; they automatically think it has to be poor quality." It's up to you to prove the skeptics wrong.

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This article was originally published in the June 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Doing Good.

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