The phrase “corporate responsibility” sounds dry and boring, but an increasing number of people today are looking only to work at companies that have established practices for giving back to the community and minimizing their impact on the environment. In turn, entrepreneurs are starting up with social good policies in place from the get-go.
Not only that, but consumers increasingly are choosing companies that have social good practices over those that don’t. In its 2015 Global Corporate Sustainability Report, Nielson found that 66 percent of “global consumers say they’re willing to pay more for sustainable brands—up 55 percent from 2014.” Additionally, the report found that 73 percent of Millennials are willing to pay extra for sustainable goods, which was up from 50 percent from the previous year.
We asked the founders of The Town Kitchen, Bitsbox and Leesa Sleep about how they approach corporate responsibility at their companies--each of which was named a Startup to Watch last year by Staples and Entrepreneur.
Here are their thoughts about social good policies and how to enact similar practices at your own company (edited slightly for length and clarity):
Do you think it’s important that startups have at least some element of giving back to the community, sustainability, etc.?
The Town Kitchen co-founder Sabrina Mutukisna: Definitely! The Town Kitchen is incorporated as a public benefit corporation because we believe in creating opportunity for young people in urban cities. While most people think that we're just really nice people, investing in corporate responsibility is also a great financial move.
The majority of today's consumers will not only choose companies that give back but will pay more for their product. And if you're hiring millennials, having strong community values helps with recruiting and retention.
Leesa Sleep co-founder David Wolfe: At Leesa, we don’t see this as a corporate responsibility, we see it as a human responsibility. Two years ago, when we were only six months old, our head of marketing and I had the great honor of meeting Richard Branson and Jean Oelwang, the head of Virgin Unite. In talking to a group of highly successful startups, Jean described what it takes to build a company that drives social, environmental and economic benefit. She asked the attentive audience what we felt our companies needed to do to incorporate this ethos into our businesses and to my great pride my head of marketing, Matt Hayes raised his hand and said, “just carry on doing what we are doing.”
Our social impact program is not an element of our business, it the very heart and soul of our company. We don’t do this because it’s good for business, nor do we use it heavily in our marketing. We do it because it’s simply the right thing to do. We set aside a dollar amount from every sale to fund our mattress donations, our tree planting and our community involvement.
The impact of our giving gives everyone in the company a sense of purpose that is much greater than our financial success. We have an audacious goal to end bedlessness in North America and make a dent in the problem of world homelessness.
Bitsbox co-founder Scott Lininger: In the case of Bitsbox, giving back is part of the core business. By baking "impact" into your business goals, it does more than just make you feel great. It gives your customers, investors, and partners a reason to root for you and stay loyal. That opens doors and helps your bottom line.
How does your business practice corporate responsibility?
Mutukisna, The Town Kitchen: The Town Kitchen and our non-profit arm, Youth Food Project, provide urban youth with entrepreneurial training, access to college course credit and fair-wage employment.
As a for-profit, The Town Kitchen employs a workforce of 46 percent foster youth and provides them with an entry-level wage of $15.65 per hour. This practice has allowed us to maintain an employee retention of 81 percent. We also practice giving back in smaller ways like donating lunch to Hidden Genius Project and Hack the Hood—non-profits that teach coding skills to Oakland, Calif., youth.
Lininger, Bitsbox: Bitsbox constantly donates free coding kits to teachers, schools, and after school programs. As we grow, we look forward to giving more.
Wolfe, Leesa Sleep: From Day One we have donated a mattress for every 10 we sell. We donate to organizations providing shelter for people seeking refuge from homelessness, domestic risk and human trafficking. We also plant a tree for every mattress we sell in a partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation.
We also give all our staff time off to support our local community and we make financial donations to support many of our giving partner organizations. To date, we have donated over 15,000 mattresses. We are now replacing hundreds of old mattresses with new mattresses at shelters all over America every month.
What’s a great example of a startup that gets the idea and practice of corporate responsibility right?
Mutukisna, The Town Kitchen: I'm really proud that The Town Kitchen is part of the B Corp community. There are so many great examples of startups using innovation to do good. Some of my favorites include LittleLotus, Scrumpt and HandUp.
A later stage B Corp that I love is Warby Parker. They've not only disrupted a market but their corporate giving arm works intentionally to provide low-income communities with access to eyewear across the world.
Lininger, Bitsbox: There are too many to pick just one! Every ed-tech founder I meet inspires me, because they're all trying to teach. The way I see it, teaching the next generation is our biggest collective responsibility.
Wolfe, Leesa Sleep: We look at companies like Virgin, Patagonia and Seventh Generation for inspiration. We are proud of the impact Leesa Sleep is having on the homeless community and humbled by the recognition we have received. Giving back is a privilege that we will never take for granted. The truth is that we get back more than we could ever give in the smiles and gratitude of the brave people who sleep on our donation mattresses on their pathway to a better life.