On a mild Thursday night in downtown New York, IVY, the social university, hosted a conversation with the CEO of FEED Lauren Bush Lauren about how social business has become a way of life for companies. Amongst a full auditorium of hopeful entrepreneurs, rising leaders of sustainable startups and other socially conscious people, the co founder of IVY Beri Meric and Lauren Bush talked about everything from “green washing” and sustainability in the 21st century, to consumerism, world hunger, and what celebrating 10 years of growth looks like. In a new economy of doing business, companies are finally seeing the benefits of consciously shaping their strategy and operations with a more sustainable approach to how their products are manufactured, how their employees are treated and how their overall contributions to capitalism are good intentioned. “I didn't know the rules of fashion and retail and marketing and in some ways I'm grateful because I started a for profit business,” Lauren Bush explains to the crowd. Just because we may not know the small steps to get there, FEED proves that a clear vision is much more powerful and has lead the way for social business as a mindset and pro-rated business strategy for success.
Over the years, FEED, a company that was created to end world hunger, has been deemed the pioneer of shaping what is today known as social business. Though her interests which developed studying abroad in Kenya, Bush explained that her big idea turned reality when she realized that she wanted to do something more meaningful with her budding career fashion. Years later, she used her the utility and eternal popularity of bags to feed children in Africa. As cliche as this may sound today, especially with thousands of organizations existing with this very same goal, FEED has managed to connect consumers with buying their products, tackle a world hunger (or a super small percentage of it) and be the change the company has set up to create since its beginning stages. Since then and what dozens of other young businesses have started to do, the company has managed to successfully form and execute million dollar partnerships with top corporations like TOMS, Whole Foods, Target and other non traditional companies who don’t necessarily fit into the sustainability category, but want to contribute to a good cause. Bush shared with the audience that these strategic partnerships are what grew her business into what it is today because it attracted many big corporations. So in theory, the products that FEED produces are burlap sack bags that are sort of fashionable, but the idea of buying a bag for a reasonable price point that will literally feed a few children in a third world country is what resonated to her target audience of young college-aged or new grads who could see the value in their purchase. Today, this is what makes social businesses more successful. And in essence, that’s what should motivate all of us to buy a product in this new economy. That small incremental donations could evoke change and subsequently consumers would feel good about themselves was revolutionary in the early 2000s and what’s just starting to trend now.
Social business, leading change from within, creating something positive in capitalism has become the standard. Yes, sustainability is a new idea and we are still shaping the rules and regulations in characterizing what really is “sustainable” but everyone can agree that if you have a better grasp on production (i.e. warehouse conditions are fair), that your employees are paid on time and are healthy, and that your product actually fits a good price point (i.e. you’re not ripping people off by calling it luxury but it really only costs one dollar to make), than these basic principalities are sufficient enough to survive. Happy chicken produce better eggs, and so the same above applied to many leadership mindset.
Furthermore, this whole sustainable movement has a way with bringing to light bogus companies who use green washing to get ahead. Greenwashing means exactly how it sounds. It’s when companies use the term “green” to promote an environmentally conscious image, but nothing about the company’s practices are actually green. As social media continues to contribute to transparency, companies who use greenwashing to get ahead are more susceptible to their own downfalls. The rise of the conscious consumer is rapidly taking over and perhaps ignorance is not really bliss; it’s damaging. These days consumers really do care about where their products come from and its proof from how much the world “organic” is thrown around to drive sales, yet currently the FDA is still trying to figure out how to make characterize the notion of “organic.”
What’s even more interesting is that FEED has paved the way for entrepreneurs to emphasize the importance of using ethics and morals even at the beginning stages of turning an idea into reality. For example, RUNA, a company that produces and sells guayusa-infused teas and energy drinks, has manufactured and managed to make popular the Ecuadorian/Amazonian super leaf plant by harvesting and selling it in the US. In turn, RUNA has set up a foundation in Ecuador to support, build and provide revenue for the local communities. The founder even studied Shamanism in South America and has subsequently improved the quality of the land by empowering the local communities to farm and sell their own crops.
Overall, FEED’s business ethics are becoming widespread and they are not just a trend anymore. It’s a key ideology that rising entrepreneurs want to do something positive in tandem with making a lot of money.