As protesters regularly disrupt meetings of the World Bank and the World Trade Organization, it’s becoming apparent that many consumers want their goods to come from companies that practice environmental and social responsibility. And those same consumers also object to international agreements like the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which puts profit ahead of environmental protection.
"When businesses can roam from country to country with few restrictions on their search for the lowest wages, the loosest environmental regulations and the most docile and desperate workers, then the destruction of livelihoods, cultures and environments can be enormous," writes The Body Shop founder Anita Roddick in Business As Unusual. "You can’t stop business from going global, but you can make it listen to the responsibilities that go with jumping on the globalization bandwagon."
Creating jobs with fair wages. Making products that respect the health of the Earth and its people. Protecting land and wildlife. A business that does any one of these things is a step ahead of the rest. But some companies are finding ways to do all three.
Working for Wildlife
In 1995, Mike Korchinsky, CEO of Wildlife Works, sold his management consulting company and went to Kenya. "I had one of those clichéd experiences where the meaning of life seemed right in front of me," he says. But he also noticed the wildlife was in a fragile condition. A growing Kenyan human population competing for scarce resources made for slash-and-burn agriculture and widespread poaching. "When you see the poverty first-hand," says Korchinsky, "and see that these people aren’t getting any benefit from the wildlife, you wonder why the wildlife has survived so long."
Korchinsky decided to make it in the community’s best interest to protect wildlife. He founded Wildlife Works, an eco-friendly clothing company, and then bought the 80,000-acre Rukinga Wildlife Sanctuary to create a migration corridor within Tsavo National Park. "The only reason we’re there is because of the wildlife," says Korchinsky. "We told the people, "If you don’t honor the boundaries, the wildlife will go, and so will we." They were surprisingly receptive."
Though some t-shirts are being produced at the 20-acre eco-factory at Rukinga, most of Wildlife Works" clothing is made in San Francisco. Once the company has trained more workers, created a solid market demand and established African sources for their organic, hemp and eco-fleece clothing, production will be augmented in Kenya. Nevertheless, U.S. production and sales pay for the Rukinga sanctuary and the jobs for the people there.
Sporty graphics and clever environmental slogans adorn Wildlife Works" line of clothing, which includes t-shirts ($31) and tank tops ($24) for women, a safari jacket ($175), lightweight jackets ($64) and men’s jersey tees ($32). The clothes can most easily be found in trendy fashion boutiques.
When Alex Pryor came to California from Argentina for college, he brought yerba matte, the drink of his country, with him. He began sharing it, and a few years later, he started Guayaki Sustainable Rainforest Products with a group of friends.
Sales of tea made from certified organic yerba matte leaves support a rainforest reserve in Paraguay.
Yerba matte is a tea native to South America. It contains 196 active compounds, nutrients and amino acids and is touted as a healthful alternative to coffee. Grown on the Guayaki Rainforest Reserve in eastern Paraguay, where Pryor’s extended family runs the project, the matte is certified organic, shade-grown and smoke-dried.
With 272 species of birds and 36 species of mammals, the whole forest reserve is second only to the Amazon for the world’s highest biodiversity, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Guayaki aims to make it more economically valuable to keep the standing trees on the land rather than chop them down for timber and cattle grazing.
Guayaki has donated 2,700 acres to the 34 families who live on the reserve. The project also helps provide for the health center and school in the area. "From the beginning, our mission was to sustain forests," says Guayaki CEO Chris Mann. "Now, it’s to cultivate sustainability to preserve the culture of the people while promoting market-driven conservation."
Guayaki has been hosting "tea parties" from its 35-foot RV, decorated with a bright mural of the rainforest, and it is serving up matte lattes and smoothies in stores across America. Plans for a café are in the works, which would incorporate matte-based munchies and other rainforest-grown foods, such as brazil nuts, into the Guayaki mix. The tea ($1.75 for a three-bag sampler; $5.91 for 16 bags) is also sold at coffee shops and natural foods stores in traditional, orange blossom, chai and mint flavors.
Some of Maine’s Beeswax
Between August 2000 and June 2001, Maine-based Burt’s Bees, maker of natural body care products, spent $5 million on preserving the largest surviving area of the great North Woods, which once stretched from Maine to Minnesota. Some $2 million of that went toward helping The Nature Conservancy acquire 185,000 acres along the St. John River in northwestern Maine—the biggest conservation acquisition in Maine’s history. Burt’s Bees, along with the group RESTORE: The North Woods, has proposed using the land to create a new 3.2 million-acre Maine Woods National Park.
"I believe the North Woods was a big set of lungs creating fresh air for this part of the ecosystem," says Burt’s Bees co-founder Roxanne Quimby. "We have more need of that set of lungs than ever because we’re creating a lot of pollution south and west of here. It’s important to restore and preserve these trees, if for no other reason than to keep our air clean."
The land, bought back from logging and paper companies, is still intact, with only about 100 people living in camps off-and-on throughout the year. It plays host to moose, bear, Canada lynx and the second-highest concentration of rare plants in Maine. "It’s a miracle [preserving the area] is even possible in this day and age," says Quimby. "There just isn’t this kind of land left."
Burt’s Bees, whose latest line of products includes a refreshing Rosemary Mint shampoo bar ($6), vivifying Wild Lettuce toner ($9), all-natural facial powders ($16), crémes ($9) and moisturizers ($11), has always included the environment in its economic equation. "You can have a successful business without compromising your values, and one of my values is the environment," says Quimby. "I’ve not had to compromise anything."