Companies Taking Environmental Responsibility
Two terms that for too long have been at opposite ends of the spectrum — commerce and conscience — are coming together.
Act Now, an upstart coalition of 18 environmentally aware corporations, is giving its roughly 15 million customers a chance to carry political clout through a partnership aimed at promoting environmental and social change.
“We want to help provide an easy route for our customers to make their views known to politicians,” said Ben Cohen, chairman and co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s Homemade Inc., a Vermont-based ice cream producer. “We’re committed to the idea of using businesses’ power to work to increase the money and effort put toward environmental and human needs.”
By placing messages and petitions for lobbying the nation’s policy makers on companies’ packaging, a powerful avenue for change can be created, he said. While American companies have traditionally lobbied Congress with a firm gaze set on their bottom line, Act Now members have joined forces to lobby in the public interest — with public participation.
“Business is the strongest sector of society — more influential than government or non-profits,” said Scott Buckingham, coordinator of Act Now. “If corporations can find a way to prosper while promoting responsible social and environmental action, then our society may have the strength to solve truly pressing problems.”
The consortium’s first campaign is aimed at reducing the nation’s oil consumption by supporting a bill that would raise auto fuel efficiency standards. Customers return signed petitions to Act Now companies, whose executives then deliver the petitions to Washington in time to affect targeted legislation.
Along with Ben and Jerry’s, other founding members of Act Now include, among others, The Body Shop, a natural cosmetics manufacturer whose products are sold in 38 countries; Seventh Generation, a mail-order company selling environmentally sound household products; Rhino Records; and Utne Reader magazine.
On a smaller but equally significant scale, 33 Vermont businesses have joined together to form the Vermont Business Association for Social Responsibility. It’s the first attempt on a state level to create a business trade association geared toward environmental and social efforts, said Glen McRae, the group’s executive coordinator.
“The intent of our members is to bring business into a new age by having a dual bottom line — be a well-run, profitable business and improve the environment and quality of life at the same time,” he said.
The Vermont association has three areas of focus. An education component involves creating a network to share information and resources. For example, one company’s in-house recycling program can be shared with others without being re-invented each time. A second area, public influence, takes Act Now’s goals and directs them at state government. And lastly, an emphasis on workplace quality centers on demonstrating that human resources now represent the basis of successful businesses.
“While certain businesses on their own have done good things in the past, there hasn’t been a collective sense of doing good,” McRae said. “We are creating that.”