Doing Business the Socially Responsible Way

By Diana, Tom | Business Credit, June 2006 | Go to article overview

Doing Business the Socially Responsible Way


Diana, Tom, Business Credit


"It's hot to be green," said Tom Arnold, Chief Environmental Engineer for TerraPass, a company that invests in clean, renuable sources of energy. As concerns grow over global warming, environmental pollution, dwindling stocks of fossil fuels, and the role of corporations within society, more attention is being paid to corporate social responsibility. Known by the acronym CSR, more and more consumers and shareholders are putting pressure on corporate board members and executives to care about how their companies impact the environment and society. The recent surge in gasoline prices has sounded a clarion call to many people about the geopolitical risks dwindling stocks of fossil fuels and market price manipulation pose to society in general, as well as to the pocketbooks of consumers. Increasing the use of renewable sources of energy to produce products and to heat, cool and light office buildings is becoming a top priority for more and more businesses. Efforts to reduce reliance on polluting, expensive fossil fuels not only helps businesses reduce costs and enhance profitability, but it also adds luster to their image in the minds of people and businesses concerned about environmental and social issues.

NACM member Tom's of Maine, producers of personal care products such as toothpaste, deodorant and soaps made with all-natural ingredients, is one of the most CSR oriented businesses in the United States. Tom and Kate Chappell started the company in rural Kennebunk, Maine, in 1968. They viewed their company as "a different one" based on their belief that people and nature deserve respect. Not just in words--but also in deeds--the company, over the years, has developed a detailed set of principles it has scrupulously followed. The company has a list of written beliefs that are openly promoted and found on its website, found at www.tomsofmaine.com/about/values.asp. These beliefs relate to the nature of the company's products and its relationship with coworkers, customers, owners, agents, suppliers and community; as well as how the company treats its employees. The beliefs state generally that the company conducts business in a way that leads it to profitability in a "socially responsible and environmentally sensitive manner." Also important is Tom's of Maine's commitment to competence as an essential means of sustaining its values in a competitive marketplace. This competence permeates all aspects of the company, including the credit department, so that best practices are promoted and followed--which helps to enhance the performance of credit department, as well as other functions of the company.

In addition to the beliefs of the company being displayed on its website, their company's "purpose in the world," its "reason for being," its "stewardship model," and how company employees "live our values" are articulated. Susan Dewhirst, Media & Public Relations Leader for Tom's of Maine, said, "The entire company is based on working with nature and being environmentally sustainable. All of us--in every single segment of the company--are looking to ensure we are operating by our stewardship model."

"All the products are sourced in nature," Dewhirst added. "We're trying to use more and more organic materials; and we don't test on animals." As for the founders of the company, Dewhirst said, "Tom and Kate are pioneers in the whole socially responsible movement." This commitment is not just embodied in company and employee practices, as Dewhirst pointed out; "10 percent of pre-tax profits go back into the community." She also mentioned that "all employees are allowed to use 5 percent of their time to volunteer" with the community and other volunteer projects. The CSR orientation of the company also has tangible benefits for the employees. Dewhirst said, "They also gave out $1.2 million in 'loyalty bonuses'," based on seniority. "We have fresh fruit to snack on every day, and we have regular community gatherings," she added. …

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