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Curated experts in sustainability fields who can thoroughly elaborate their view based on their accumulated knowledge and experience

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Christopher Marquis

Professor
University of Cambridge

About

Christopher Marquis is the Sinyi Professor of Chinese Management at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School and the author of the award-winning books Better Business: How the B Corp Movement is Remaking Capitalism and Mao and Markets: The Communist Roots of Chinese Enterprise.

Chris has written over 20 peer-reviewed academic articles and published over 50 Harvard Business cases. He received a PhD in Sociology and Business Administration from the University of Michigan and served as Vice President and Technology Manager at JP Morgan Chase before returning to academia.
Passionate about how academic research can help people around the world address our most significant challenges, he examines how some of the biggest crises of our day —climate change, inequality, and racism — are intimately connected with how our current form of capitalism has prioritized accumulating and concentrating wealth for the few affects the concerns and needs of everyone and everything else. His research and writing focus on the need to rebalance the interactions between corporations, governments, and civil society to deliver socially and environmentally beneficial outcomes to all. 

May 9, 2024

Embracing Sustainable Impact at Dr. Bronner's


In the landscape of sustainable business practices, Dr. Bronner's stands out. Best known in North America for their top-selling natural soaps, the family-owned enterprise recently ventured into the realm of dark chocolate bars. This move, far from being a departure from their core focus, actually fits well with company's commitment to environmental and social integrity as it allows them to foster regenerative practices in global supply chains.  

I discuss Dr. Bronner’s work in my forthcoming book, The Profiteers: How Business Privatizes Profit and Socializes Cost, especially their role in the creation of a new Regenerative Organic Certification.  

My recent discussion with Michael Bronner shed light on the principles that have guided the company’s evolution from soap-making days under his father's guidance to its current position as an important advocate for regenerative practices.  

If you are in Southern California next week on May 14, please attend the book launch for The Profiteers at the University of San Diego where I will share the stage with leaders from Dr. Bronner’s and other San Diego companies.  

Here are some key insights from my Forbes article on Dr. Bronner's

  • The Legacy of Soap and Soul: "We say soap and soul were intertwined at the very beginning," Bronner shares, emphasizing the dual nature of their business as both a provider of quality products and a champion for social causes. Their mission is to uphold the legacy of making a positive impact on both people and the planet. 

  • Commitment to Regenerative Practices: Dr. Bronner's has not only secured Regenerative Organic Certification and Fair Trade status but also vigorously advocated for environmental policies. Bronner explains, "By focusing on regenerative organic practices, we aim to enhance the wellbeing of the soil, which in turn supports the health of the planet and its inhabitants." 

  • Building Relationships with Suppliers: The company's approach to choosing suppliers is deeply rooted in partnership and fairness. "Finding the right partners is crucial to building our supply chain," Bronner states, highlighting their commitment to fair trade principles and mutual growth. 

  • B Corp Certification and Family Values: As a Certified B Corporation, Dr. Bronner's places a strong emphasis on sustainability and community. "B Corp status helps us measure our impact and ensures we remain true to our values as we grow," says Bronner. The company's family-owned nature further influences its long-term vision and practices, ensuring they remain grounded in their founding principles. 

Dr. Bronner's journey from soap to chocolate is more than just a business expansion; it's a manifestation of their dedication to positive social and environmental impact. As they continue to grow and evolve, they set a benchmark for companies worldwide, proving that business success and social responsibility can go hand in hand. 


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May 2, 2024

World Centric: Pioneering Systemic Solutions for Global Challenges


World Centric, a manufacturer of compostable and reusable packaging products was founded in 2004 as a non-profit dedicated to reducing economic injustice and environmental degradation.  In 2009 the company made the unique transition from a non-profit to a for-profit and earned B Corp certification the following year. World Centric gives 25% of its profits to social and environmental organizations and through its products has the mission of being of service to people and the planet. 

I had the privilege of speaking with Aseem Das, the founder and CEO of World Centric and other company leaders to delve into what drove this transition, the company's mission, achievements, and its unique approach to fostering systems change.  

As I discuss in my forthcoming book The Profiteers: How Business Privatizes Profit and Socializes Cost, transitioning to a for-profit business does not necessarily mean a compromise on purpose. On the contrary, as we discuss in the interview below, the transition provides new approaches for World Centric to achieve its mission and goals.  

I am also looking forward to sharing the stage with World Centric leaders at a May 29 at 5pm at SOMO Cowork.

Read more below for some key points from my article on World Centric
  • Commitment to Social and Environmental Impact: Das encapsulates the essence of World Centric's mission, stating, "We hope to create lasting change for people and the planet by partnering with nonprofits committed to community-based development, providing basic needs while addressing the system flaws that created those barriers to begin with."  

  • Strategic Shift from Non-Profit to For-Profit: Reflecting on the transition, Das explains, "Conversion to a for-profit was relatively straightforward as we had not taken any public donations or grants while we were a non-profit." This strategic shift allowed World Centric to scale its impact by focusing on the sale of compostable products, better aligning its business operations with its social mission. 

  • Generosity in Sharing Profits: A cornerstone of World Centric's philosophy is its commitment to donating at least 25% of its profits to grassroots social and environmental nonprofits which shows the company's dedication to leveraging its success for the greater good, supporting projects and organizations that align with its mission. 

  • System Change as a Core Objective: Janae Lloyd, Director of Impact at World Centric, elaborates on the company's focus on systems change, defining it as "implementing a process or intervention to shift the structure and status quo of a particular system." Through this lens, World Centric identifies and works to address the cyclical systems perpetuating poverty and environmental degradation. 

  • B Corp Certification and Systems Change: Lloyd also notes that being a B Corp aligns World Centric with a collective movement focused on a more inclusive and sustainable future which reflects the company's commitment to high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. 

World Centric's journey from a grassroots non-profit to a B Corp is an example of how businesses can drive social and environmental change and work to address systemic issues holistically and contribute to sustainable, long-term improvements for communities and the environment alike. 

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April 25, 2024

Brand Activism Transitions from Taboo to Norm: Insights from Participant


In a time when brand activism transitions from taboo to a norm, and even a necessity in some sectors, the conversation around companies engaging in social issues has never been more pertinent. Recent trends suggest a significant consumer and employee support for corporations taking stances on pressing societal challenges, notably in promoting democracy and voting rights.  

In my forthcoming book, The Profiteers: How Business Privatizes Profit and Socializes Cost, I discuss in depth the power of brand activism and how it can create positive environmental and society impact.  

To delve deeper into this emerging paradigm, I had the privilege of speaking with Holly Gordon, Chief Impact Officer of Participant. This media and film company founded by Jeff Skoll, has won 21 Academy Awards out of 86 nominations and produced impactful films like "An Inconvenient Truth," "Spotlight," "Roma," and "John Lewis: Good Trouble."  

But it has also been a pioneer in using media and culture to affect social and environmental change positively. The recent regrettable news that Participant will be closing its doors made me revisit this article and research. As Skoll put it the “revolutionary changes in how content is created, distributed and consumed” made it a challenge to compete with this model. Participant had a big impact on many societal challenges and offers many positive lessons that hopefully more entrepreneurs and companies will take inspiration from.  

 Read more some key points from my article on Participant

  • Brand Activism: Gordon believes in the power of brands to shape culture and values, stating, "Brands should be making good trouble...They help us imagine the culture that we want." This highlights the role of companies in advocating for change beyond their products and services. 

  • Storytelling: Gordon emphasizes, "It's part of the DNA of Participant...to advance social progress...It all starts with storytelling." This underscores the foundational idea that storytelling has power to inspire action and drive societal change. 

  • Civic Participation: Participant's campaigns, such as Make Good Trouble and Slay The Dragon that focused on voting systems generally, have significantly contributed to increasing voter registration and awareness. "Donations...helped send more than 53,000 registration forms to eligible voters," Gordon notes, illustrating the company's tangible impact on civic engagement. 

  • Support for Employees' Civic Engagement: "All of our employees will get time to vote early, to vote on Election Day, and/or to volunteer at the polls," says Gordon. Participant's commitment to facilitating employee participation in the democratic process is a testament to its values. 

  • B Corp: Achieving B Corp status is a rigorous process that aligns with Participant's mission-driven approach. Gordon explains, "Becoming a B Corp was tough but it's very important...if we're trying to make this kind of change." This certification reflects Participant's dedication to not just profit, but also people and the planet. 

As businesses navigate the complexities of modern-day challenges, Participant's approach offers a compelling blueprint for corporate responsibility and activism. By prioritizing storytelling, civic participation, and a steadfast commitment to social and environmental impact, Participant not only demonstrates the importance of aligning business practices and how leaders across sectors can draw valuable lessons from Participant's endeavors, recognizing the importance of embracing a mission-driven strategy that extends beyond the bottom line to effect meaningful change in the world. 


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April 11, 2024

Navigating Sustainability in the Digital Realm: A Wholegrain Digital Perspective


In a world increasingly moving online, the environmental impact of our digital footprint has become a significant concern.  

Recognizing the urgent need for sustainable practices within the digital industry, I had the privilege of speaking with Tom Greenwood, co-founder of Wholegrain Digital, a trailblazer in eco-friendly web design. Greenwood also publishes the Oxymoronsubstack and in 2021 published the book Sustainable Web Design

Wholegrain Digital is a certified B Corporation located in the UK, and is at the forefront of combining business, design, and technology to forge an internet that benefits both people and the planet.  

Greenwood's insights shed light on the imperative of sustainable web design and the role businesses can play in this vital transition. As I discuss in my forthcoming book, The Profiteers: How Business Privatizes Profit and Socializes Cost, while we cannot rely solely on technology to solve our environmental problems, technology often play important roles in innovative business solutions. 

Here are some key points from my article on Wholegrain Digital

  • Sustainability at the Core: Greenwood emphasizes, "Sustainable web design is an approach to designing web services that prioritizes the health of our home planet." This philosophy underscores the necessity of integrating environmental protection into the heart of business decisions, rather than treating it as an afterthought. 

  • The Sustainable Web Manifesto: In his book, Sustainable Web Design, Greenwood articulates six principles should guide digital decisions: clean, efficient, open, honest, regenerative, and resilient. He states, "These principles guide us in creating web services that minimize carbon emissions and energy consumption." 

  • Hardware and Sustainability: On the topic of sustainable IT practices, Greenwood advises, "Choose equipment from manufacturers with a strong environmental policy and try to source refurbished machines where possible." This approach significantly reduces the environmental impact associated with new electronic devices. 

  • Software Solutions: Greenwood points out the importance of selecting software suppliers committed to energy efficiency and renewable energy. He mentions, "Look for suppliers that talk about energy efficiency and have a commitment to using renewable energy." 

  • Inclusive Web Design: Highlighting the intersection of sustainability and inclusivity, Greenwood shares, "Our mission is to create a web that is good for both people and planet." Efficient and well-organized code not only benefits the planet but also enhances web accessibility for all users. 

  • Vision for a Sustainable Digital Future: Greenwood expresses hope for the IT sector's evolution towards sustainability, emphasizing the need for transparency and collaboration in reducing digital emissions. "I hope to see sustainability become a normal conversation among web designers and developers," he remarks.

  • Client Engagement and Renewable Energy: Greenwood proudly notes, "Over the past few years, we have been encouraging our clients to move their websites to data centers with a renewable energy commitment." This initiative exemplifies Wholegrain Digital's commitment to leading by example in the digital sustainability space. 

Greenwood and Wholegrain Digital's pioneering work in sustainable web design serves as a beacon for business leaders across sectors. By embracing the principles of sustainable web design, companies can contribute significantly to the well-being of our planet while also setting new standards for innovation and responsibility in the digital age. Wholegrain Digital's journey underscores the importance of vision, commitment, and action in driving the transformative change needed for a more sustainable future. 


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March 28, 2024

Banking on Sustainability: How Beneficial State Bank Paves the Way for Ethical Finance


In financial services, the pursuit of profit often overshadows ethical considerations. To counter these trends, Kat Taylor and Tom Steyer founded Beneficial State Bank  with a vision to transform the traditional banking industry. By prioritizing social and environmental impacts alongside financial sustainability, Beneficial State Bank offers a compelling model for how banks can support community development and act as a force for good.  

Taylor articulates the bank's foundational principle: "Banking is really a utility that should be governed in the public interest." This perspective challenges the status quo, advocating for a banking system that benefits all, not just the financially elite.  

I had the opportunity to speak with Taylor and the bank's current CEO, Randell Leach, to gain insights into their innovative approach and how it's shaping a new paradigm in banking. In my forth coming book, The Profiteers: How Business Privatizes Profits and Socializes Cost, I delved into how Beneficial State Bank along with other companies are creating societal value.  

You can also read more some key points from my Forbes article on Beneficial State Bank

  • A Mission-Driven Model: Leach emphasizes the bank's commitment to enduring value, stating, "We’re focused on creating... sustainability, social impact, environmental resilience, and financial prosperity for communities." This approach underlines the bank's dedication to holistic success, balancing profit with purpose. 

  • Redefining Banking for Consumers: Taylor and Leach stress the importance of offering consumers a banking option that aligns with their values. Leach notes, "It’s refreshing to be on the solution side of it and seeing people say ‘Wow I didn’t even know this was an option.'" 

  • Innovative Products with Social Impact: Taylor highlights that "75% of the loans made are mission positive," showcasing the bank's rigorous commitment to supporting projects that benefit both communities and the planet. 

  • Transparency and Accountability: The bank's practice of integrating third-party auditors and certifications ensures a high level of integrity and openness, according to Taylor. This ensures that their mission is not just a statement but a measurable, lived reality. 

  • Championing Fair Practices: By offering financial products designed with fairness in mind, such as consumer-friendly overdraft policies and equitable auto loans, Beneficial State Bank sets a new standard for ethical banking practices. 

  • Advocating for Systemic Change: Beyond its direct banking activities, the bank engages in advocacy and policy reform to promote social justice and environmental sustainability, demonstrating a commitment to broader societal impact. 

Beneficial State Bank's journey offers valuable lessons for business leaders across sectors. By intertwining social and environmental goals with financial objectives, it illustrates that ethical business practices are not only possible but also potentially more rewarding in the long run.  


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