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A Sustainable Design Blog

Give Back to Gain Profits

by Jennifer Stewart | Jun 17, 2014 | Advice

This past weekend I had the pleasure of indulging in the dreams of a 20 year old fresh out of his first year of college. “I want to use my double major in marketing and finance to consult with companies who develop partnerships with non-profits to help them improve the world,” he explained to my sheer delight. “Because you can’t just make a ton of money and not give back. Companies can’t do that anymore.”

This, ladies and gentleman, is the voice of your new generation.

Though it hasn’t happened very often, I have had the opportunity to tell a potential client that they are out of their mind if they don’t intend to be ethical and transparent. My argument is always that companies who choose to be secretive and compromise on ethics can enjoy the slow demise that comes with being antiquated and unappealing to the younger generation.

They have the money. You want it. Ethics and transparency are how you get it.

Now this doesn't mean that the millennial generation will end it’s love affair with small, exclusive brands that you’ve never heard of. So long as we are able to keep net neutrality, this is unlikely to change anytime soon because small home-based craftsman can sell their goods and services across the world so long as their social media is savvy and their design taste is good. Young’uns love this type of business because they are dealing with a person and a face rather than a large mega-corp that, they assume, is likely doing something nefarious.

However there is a way for the large corporations to gain a foot hold with these whipper-snappers, and that is exactly what my young friend was alluding to – giving back is how you get profits. The younger generation wants to buy products for what it says about them. Brands with a voice and a purpose give their buyers a voice as well. When I buy Patagonia, I'm saying that I'm also a no-bullshit-tell-it-like-it-is-even-if-it-seems-crazy kind of environmentalist.

This idea of giving back some profits to charity isn't new, but it is becoming more of a driving force than ever. Younger people don't expect companies to sit on a pile of money, or dole out huge salaries to their CEOs. They expect company profits to be used for ethical purposes and for CEOs to not live high while their workers, in this country or another, scrape by.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve complimented someone’s scarf or bag and then heard the story from them about how the scarf supports a small collective of Indian craftswomen or how the bag is made from recycled billboard canvas. They tell me because they want me to know that it’s not just a gorgeous scarf or bag, it’s also a conscious choice to support those doing some good in the world – and thereby do some good themselves.

Perhaps past generations wanted to rule the world, but it appears that the millennials want to save it. They are not anti-capitalist hippies, but they do have a new standard for those they buy from, and a habit of outing those who attempt to hide their dirty secrets. We suggest your company align it's values with theirs before you go extinct.


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Jennifer Stewart is the Office Manager and wanna-be organizational psychologist at Modern Species. For more posts from her, click here.

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Every profession bears the responsibility to understand the circumstances that enable its existence.- Robert Gutman