Prod a Product Into Double-Duty (Profit and Social Good) With 3 Questions It's possible to broaden your startup's mission with an added corporate responsibility push.
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Even those who never leave home without a tablet pick up a newspaper from time to time.
When done reading, they toss the paper or perhaps even recycle it and never give it a second thought. Imagine, though, if that same paper had the ability to save a life -- not by the information it provides but literally through the ink used to print the news.
Mawbina, a Sri Lankan daily, in collaboration with advertising agency Leo Burnett Sri Lanka, did more than just imagine. Its public-education campaign to help prevent the spread of mosquito-borne dengue fever included printing the paper with special ink infused with citronella, a natural mosquito repellent. Readers at bus stops and outdoor cafes or sitting on park benches were protected from the bug's potentially lethal bite, as shown on a Leo Burnett Asia's YouTube video.
Consumers in the developed world who expect products to have intrinsic usefulness and quality are also increasingly demanding that they contribute to the betterment of those involved with or affected by their production. In a developing nation such as Sri Lanka, not all consumers may expect a business to be socially aware but honoring this principle provides entrepreneurs with an opportunity for business growth. Consider that Mawbina's circulation jumped 300,000 and sales rose 30 percent the day the citronella-ink issue was printed, according to The Independent.
Whether Mawbina will continue using the mosquito-repelling ink is uncertain. But it stands as a shining example of how out-of-the box thinking can result in a simple solution to a vexing social issue -- something I advocated in my book Red Thread Thinking.
By thinking not just about consumption but also how goods and services can affect the quality of life now and in the future, business leaders can redefine a company's relationship to consumers to include social and environmental responsibility. This reframing expands in number and kind the products and services created and has them do the double-duty of meeting consumers' need and serving the common good.
Here are three questions to ask that will help reveal if an idea, a service or a product can do double-duty by incorporating a social purpose (and perhaps even increase profits). Begin by thinking about possible conditions to improve and causes worthy of support. Then ask the following:
1. Can the product add to the well-being of untapped, underserved or marginal communities? Consider how the device could fulfill an unmet need or add value, as with the citronella newspaper ink.
2. Can the item call attention to an issue associated with its production or use? Tom's of Maine has long been a leader in responsible environmental stewardship, especially in the area of creating low-waste, recyclable packaging. The company consistently incorporates this message in its vision statement, website and products.
This is a message that has resonated with buyers. Tom's of Maine concluded after its recent consumer survey, "People are more inspired to try a product that does something good for themselves, their family and the planet (40%) than taking a recommendation from a trusted friend (24%) or a medical professional (12%)."
3. Can the supply chain or manufacturing process be made more resource renewable? Cork floors have surged in popularity over the last few years. They are natural, durable, renewable and -- relative to hardwood -- inexpensive. Plus cork-floor producer Nova Distinctive Floors has found a way to make its product more sustainable: The company uses all the manufacturing by-products as fuel.
Entrepreneurs are uniquely positioned to take on the challenge of doing well to do good -- and to reap the benefits.