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The efforts to restore and regenerate the planet must not only fall upon the shoulders of the consumers. Corporations that use the earth’s resources in huge quantities must also actively participate in building a healthy environment for everyone. Corinna Bellizzi dives into this topic with Forbes contributor Esha Chhabra. She talks about her book, Working to Restore, which showcases mission-driven companies who achieved success in their regenerative approaches. Esha explains how to make such solutions mainstream to fix the broken sustainability model and the confusing certification industry.
About Esha Chhabra
Esha Chhabra has been a writer and journalist focused on global development, environment, and business for over a decade. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Economist, Guardian, Forbes, The Washington Post, Fast Company, Wired, and more. She goes beyond the greenwashing to determine if companies are actually pushing the needle. Her work has been supported by the UN Foundation and the Pulitzer Center in Washington, DC. Esha’s a graduate of Georgetown University and the London School of Economics and Politics Science. She calls southern California home.
Guest LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/eshac/
Guest Website: https://eshachhabra.com
Additional Resources Mentioned: https://www.audible.com/pd/Nutrition-Without-Compromise-Podcast/B09ZPPTB6M, https://orlonutrition.com/
00:00 – Introduction
03:20 – Esha’s origin story
07:42 – Working to Restore
13:01 – Feature photos
18:11 – Fixing the broken sustainability model
26:00 – Improving the certification industry
33:26 – Mission-driven and value-oriented business
38:32 – Closing Words
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Transforming Businesses To Restore And Regenerate The Planet With Esha Chhabra
I want to start with a simple question. What do you think the role of a business should be if we want to create that better world, restore the way our environment is shaped and build something that can create equanimity and equality for everybody, one in which all earthly beings can enjoy individual freedoms and pursue their dreams?
We have spent a fair amount of time talking about the regeneration on this very show from telling the stories of featured guests like Paul Hawken who authored Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation to our connection with Tom Newmark who founded The Carbon Underground and who focuses on bringing carbon back home to the soil beneath our feet. We have likewise connected with entrepreneurs who seek to solve critical operational problems to be businesses for the greater good.
You heard from Carlo Mondavi of Monarch Tractor and how their fully autonomous and fully electric tractor can change the future of farming. There are those seeking to change how we store and use energy too but the bigger question behind all of this is somewhat simple. Can we harness the power of a more regenerative business model or economy so that we can heal the world?
I’m joined by Esha Chhabra. She’s a Forbes contributor and author of the new book, Working to Restore, which has released on March 21st, 2023. Esha has been a writer and journalist focused on global development, the environment and business for over a decade. In addition to Forbes, her work has appeared in the New York Times, Economist, Guardian, the Washington Post, Fast Company, Wired and more. Whether you know it or not, you’ve likely already read her words.
She goes beyond greenwashing to determine if companies are pushing the needle. Her work has been supported by the UN Foundation and the Pulitzer Center in Washington, DC. Esha is a graduate of Georgetown University and the London School of Economics and Political Science. She calls Southern California home. I’m so happy to offer her the stage. Esha, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much. It was such a lovely intro.
Thank you. I thought a lot about this topic as we were commiserating about the current state of the world and how there is yet hope, whether you’re experiencing temperatures that are over hot on parts of the globe or far too much water as I’m presently experiencing here and you as well in Southern California. We see the ravages of what’s happening in our world and our daily lives. This is something we all have to confront.
One of the topics that I’ve touched on a lot throughout this show is simply that while we can try to take personal responsibility for certain things, it’s not appropriate to constantly push it back on the consumer. What is your carbon footprint? What difference are you making? The way we have structured capitalism has promoted an extractive business model where we’re looking to save a dime here and there. Everything is the power of the new god, which seems to be money and Wall Street. How do we change that? You’re seeking to answer that in part with your book. It’s a big question. Before we dive in, I would love to hear a little bit about your origin story so that our audience can get to know why you chose to undertake this effort.
Those are all very big questions. We will try to answer them. My origin story is I always wanted to be a journalist. I went to undergrad at Georgetown. I was working in DC and doing political news at the time as an intern and a student. Some of these stories that I felt were more important were not getting front-center attention. I went off. I was given a fellowship by Rotary, which is an incredible organization that I didn’t know much about to be honest as a 17 or 18-year-old because most Rotarians are much older. That introduced me to the world of humanitarian work throughout the world.
These organizations that are coming together of civic leaders and doing incredible humanitarian work landed me in the center of the global polio eradication effort. Rotary was involved with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, WHO and UNICEF. I started traveling and writing about global health stories. That got picked up by the Guardian and some of these other places. I started realizing I could work as a freelancer writing about these mission-oriented stories and solutions and getting them into major publications.
I then came across David Bornstein who’s this incredible journalist who started something called the Solutions Journalism Network, which you might find interesting, which is trying to write about solutions and share solution-oriented stories in mainstream media but in a critical way. It’s not celebratory, “Here’s a solution.” It’s like, “Let’s talk about it and break it down. Does it work? Does it not work?” That was the schooling that I got in journalism. Through his guidance, I then started to focus on writing about companies, individuals and social entrepreneurs that were bringing solutions to many different industries.
For the last few years, I have focused a lot on mission-driven companies. We have seen that evolution. In the early days when I was writing about it, it was called corporate social responsibility. Microfinance and financial inclusion were big parts of that movement. You’ve seen it with B corp and benefit corporations changing the whole overall structure of a business. That’s me in a nutshell for the last few years.
I do believe that as journalists, we do have the opportunity to also highlight the solutions like the IPCC report that came out. There are a couple of them that are mentioned in this book. I’ve gotten feedback from people. It makes you wonder. Can you make a dent? You keep hearing these reports, “We’re not making much progress. We have a shortened timeline.” I’m like, “There are people out there that are doing this work. You can get behind them. You can support this movement.” Business does have a very big role to play in this.Journalists have the opportunity to highlight solutions. Click To Tweet
When you and I first connected, it was through my work with Orlo Nutrition. I was so pleased to be able to have the story told through Forbes because few of these leading-edge publications that are so well-known like to cover supplements. This is also present in most mass media. They tend to want to cover foods, things that are oriented toward foods and then topics that relate to health but perhaps less with supplements because it’s bridging toward drugs and that’s a little scary.
It has been a harder story to tell but one of the things that we have worked so hard and diligently to do is address packaging and plastic. Beyond the product being truly sustainable and going to algae for a nutrition source, which has the potential to grow exponentially and use fewer resources to do so, packaging has become so ubiquitous.
This is even something that I talked about on an episode for Nutrition Without Compromise, the other show I host where we were talking about vegan egg replacements. This was one of the most exciting products that we came about at Expo West because it stood out. It looked exactly like an egg that had been cut in half but then it’s packaged in this dish to display it so that people can appropriately want to buy it. Half of an egg is displayed six wide in a plastic tray that is ubiquitous for the purpose of marketing the product but marketing is so expensive.
We have to look at all of these things, these pieces of the pie and the puzzle pieces to design the best way to bring a product to market, the most economic way to do it and then the most responsible way to do it. A lot of these pressures come in from the outside that could dictate that you don’t buy the most recyclable or regenerative inputs because it’s simply not feasible and then use the excuse, “We’re a startup. We will change it later.”
I hear this from entrepreneurs all the time but you showcase in your book ways in which you stood out and you were able to identify specific leaders in these categories that are doing it right even from the cotton perspective when we talk about the first things to be regeneratively farmed from a textile perspective. I would love for you to talk about how you organize this book to help provide people with that hope because it can feel daunting like, “The sky is falling.”
Expo West is fascinating. I was there too. For those who don’t know, it’s the Super Bowl of the natural food industry.
That’s a good way to put it. I’ve always said it’s Disneyland.
There were so many packaging companies there this time that were trying to unravel this whole challenge. You’ve said this, I’m sure and I will reiterate this. Sustainability is not something you’re going to do overnight. It’s going to take years for a brand to step in the right direction. In terms of the companies that are featured in the book, the publisher and I thought about what companies to feature. There have been books that have been written by entrepreneurs themselves in this space.
We wanted to do something that was more journalistic and covered the landscape of all these different industries and what was going on. A lot of the other books in this space were written with a very theoretical or academic lens. This was designed to be more mainstream. I wanted to showcase companies that had shown some success with their models. That means that they had been around for about a decade or coming up on a decade. These are not startups or corporates. That’s the other thing.
There had been a couple of other books that had already covered the corporate landscape. Many of these companies have refused to take on funding for specific reasons because they want to be able to experiment and do some of these things that are slightly crazy. It’s easier when you don’t have investors. I could write about so many more companies in this book. I wish we had more space and time to do that. We try to showcase a few different not just industries. Even within the chapter on soil, it’s not just food companies. We also have a footwear brand and what they’re doing to source rubber from the Amazon and what they’re doing to work with cotton farmers.Many companies have refused to take on funding. They want to experiment on their regenerative and business models, some of which are slightly crazy. Click To Tweet
It’s to get people to understand that these issues can affect a variety of consumer products that you might be interacting with daily. We can dig into each of the chapters how you would like to. That is the framework. The UN Sustainable Development Goals were always in the back of my mind as some of the big targets and the big goals that we’re trying to get at. That’s why there’s a whole chapter devoted to women, for example.
You’ve said a few things that I would like to touch on on an elementary basis. If you listen to sustainability podcasts that cover ESG or Environmental Sustainability Goals, you already know what they are generally speaking. You might go, “That’s one of the early numbers like number three on what they’re addressing.” Can you quickly summarize what the UN Sustainability Goals are and how you have covered them in the book?
The UN Sustainable Development Goals are far broader. We only have nine chapters. The target was to focus on these specific core topics by 2030 to make some progress. Many of them overlap. The environment is a big one but it also overlaps with how women and soil work in that story. In that sense, we use them more as a framework rather than saying, “Here’s all of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We will go down them one by one.” We tried to also keep in mind that some of them can be a little bit jargon-heavy and more geared toward the industry. How do we make this more palatable for a reader who may be interested in these topics but doesn’t live and breathe it perhaps as you and I do? We wanted to make it also conducive to them.
I enjoyed specifically even piecing through your introduction because you do lay all of that out. In a few pages, you’re running through why you designed the book the way you did and what people can expect from each of the chapters, which is a best practice that many nonfiction books miss. They might use the introduction to simply tell you about why they wrote the book briefly and then dive right in but in a book like this, similar in a way to how Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation by Paul Hawken is architectured, you could say, “I want to read about the workforce.”
You can jump to that section and it’s not like you’re going to be missing some critical context from the earlier chapters to be able to dive into that. This means that you can choose your adventure without missing a beat. If you’re looking into something specific, use it as a reference tool. I appreciated that about it. I did not get the chance to read it in its entirety but I plan to do so. Your writing style is very accessible. I want to applaud that. This became available on March 21st, 2023. Anybody can pick it up.
I like having physical copies of books like this even though I appreciate my Kindle. I use it as a crutch because I will load books onto it. I have an ancient one, the Kindle Touch, that still has an audio jack. I will do speech-to-text to speed through books and get to know them when they aren’t released as audiobooks when they were early in the game. There’s something else that you do here too. You do have this section that includes some photos, which I didn’t anticipate. Can you talk about why you selected them?
I had an opportunity. This book was kindly supported by the Ford Foundation. They gave me a grant that allowed me to go and meet many of these entrepreneurs and see their work firsthand. I felt like that was an important part of it. We can do all these interviews over Zoom and that’s fantastic but to go to my core roots as a journalist, I wanted to see it firsthand. When I was seeing it, I saw that this is also a visually stimulating story. These are supply chains in the Amazon, the Himalayas and the Serengeti.
To be able to bring a little bit of that to the book so that the reader can also visualize it, “These are the landscapes that we’re trying to preserve. These are the communities that we’re trying to support,” was important to me. Publishing is a business like any other business. They have tried to accommodate as many beautiful pictures as possible. We would have loved to have done many more pictures but that does become costly. You will get to see some of the coffee farmers in this.
You will get to see this beautiful hotel in the fjords of Norway that’s bringing an approach to slow travel that’s needed. You will get to see the amazing conservation work of Singita, which is a safari company in Africa. There are a couple of other photos there of this fun startup that has flourished and grown over the last decade in the UK called Toast Ale that’s using leftover sandwich bread and turning it into beer. It’s addressing the food waste problem. You will get to see perhaps one of my favorite stories in fashion lately, which is Veja. I had an opportunity to go to the Amazon and see their work as to how they work with rubber toppers.
You see the rubber tree and also the Veja shoe there. They are extracting rubber in a sustainable capacity and utilizing that rubber for the textiles and materials they’re using in their shoes.
It’s an interesting example of fashion. Two guys started it with €5,000 years ago and decided they were going to make a shoe in Brazil. They went and built that supply chain from the ground up. They have refused to put money into traditional marketing. They don’t do influencers and celebrities. They’re like, “We’re going to invest that money in our supply chain and our people.” They have made it work. They’re a very successful brand. They’re becoming quite trendy. Everybody is seen wearing them. You will get a glimpse of the folks behind all these stories.
I’m a bit jealous. I would love to interview those founders on this show. If you will make a referral, I would very much appreciate it. I’m one of those individuals that seek to buy the most sustainable products possible and often go to use but one of the things that you simply can’t do that for is shoes. I might go through, as far as my running shoes go, 1 pair every 6 months. It has been challenging to find daily kickers that I love and can get behind.
I do also enjoy the brand Allbirds. I like what they’re doing to mark the CO2 impact of every shoe to see more players succeed in that space that are doing it right is in all of our best interests. That gets back to the core purpose of your book. It’s to show that we can do this. We can make the commitment to do this right and still succeed. That’s fantastic.
That’s such an important point that you said. Sébastien, one of the cofounders of Veja, said, “The world needs more medium-sized businesses like this that are committed to these values.” This question of scale often comes up that I’m sure you’re familiar with. Have you scaled the business? The answer perhaps is not to have a global scale or even national scale in some businesses. It’s to do it effectively. Hopefully, we get a replication of this. Somebody else comes along and builds something similar for different geography. That’s such an important point.
I have to bring up a conversation I had at Expo West with Miyoko Schinner. You may know her. She was the leader behind Miyoko’s Creamery. She took on outside investment and was ultimately exited from her company in June 2022. As it stands, after she was up on a panel with four other business people in the space of vegan nutrition primarily, including one spokesperson from Danone, she had said this.
“Instead of one national vegan creamery that’s available on every single health food store shelf from coast to coast with the same assortment from North Carolina to Southern California, why can’t we have 5,000 regionally successful vegan creameries and get back to more of this artisan perspective where we’re supporting local economies and we don’t have all of the money tied up in supply chain, middlemen and ultimately distribution costs?”
It’s nuts that we will send a product like that from 5,000 miles away to somewhere else to feed people when it could be regionally or locally produced and sustain a community within it. Perhaps the number isn’t 5,000 vegan creameries but it’s to build a world where we are appreciating the craft a little bit more and connecting with the brand in a more real way.
The same thing applies even when you’re looking at simple fresh food procurement. You will hear a lot of doctors and medical professionals say, “Eat food that’s in season. When it’s in season, you’re going to get more nutrition out of it,” but we like apples and we want to eat apples year-round. We’re going to get the apples that are coming from South America or wherever. They’re being shipped and trucked over vast differences in refrigerated containers. The cost of the apple from a carbon perspective increases and we’re not eating in season. How can we ship things?
I like to point to farmer’s markets. If you are able to go to a local farmer’s market and buy locally sourced foods and even in those cases often locally supported crafts because there might be a stand that’s selling ceramics that they make that you could use to serve your food to your family every night, we can get to a space where we’re supporting a maker economy and still have capitalism thrive if we want to or we can unmake it. If we unmake it, what does that look like?
That’s something that we’re still working through with models like the proposed Doughnut economy or something to that effect with social benefit corporations and how they’re constructed. This is all an untold story. We’re not necessarily working to do that within your book cover to cover but I would love you to comment on that and perhaps what is already broken in sustainability that can be fixed.
This goes beyond food. Food is the natural example that we think of but what these companies are saying in this is that whether you’re a small boutique hotel in Norway and you’re doing it just in Norway to preserve that ecosystem, you replicate that across different ecosystems. You end up with the same effect. The food analogy is great because a lot of this in a way has stemmed from the food movement. Even if you look at organics in the ’60s and ’70s, it started with food and expanded beyond that.
Most of the companies I interviewed were not fond of the word sustainability. They all didn’t like it. A lot of them said, “What are we sustaining? This is a broken system,” which is why I looked at the words restore and regenerate. When I started working on this book back in 2018, regenerative wasn’t as popular of a term as it is in 2023 but the concept made sense. When you look up what restore and regenerate mean, it’s about bringing life into something. It’s about replenishing something, which is far more appropriate than sustain, which is sustaining a broken system.
That’s why we use those words in terms of a restorative and a regenerative economy. All of these words can often be misused. That’s a whole other conversation that we have to be wary of but I’ve had this conversation of enough scale many times with people. That means we have to change our mindset. The big problem is funding and investors.
If you have an investor, they’re going to push you to scale because that’s how they’re going to be able to profit at the end of the day, which is why I mentioned many of the founders made an intentional choice not to take on investors or at least not to take on investors initially to see if they could do it the old fashioned way of bootstrapping it or friends and family. That does give you far more flexibility then.
I have examples from my history where we did not take outside investments built from loans. One key example is Nordic Naturals, which is in the fish oil space. I worked with the CEO over the course of a decade to build the market penetration and brands to the point where we were in 37 markets around the globe and over $100 million in annual revenues, which was a huge success at the time for the natural products industry.
Here’s one of the comments that Joar Opheim shared with me early on and is something that I took with me even as I chose to go to business school and get my MBA from Santa Clara University, which is also his alma mater. He said, “The moment you take outside investors, you’re not building a 150-year-old company. You’re building a company that will survive now and maybe for the next couple of decades but it won’t survive in the same stretch, the imagination or the dream of what you would hope to build.” He’s right about that.
Ultimately, when you go public, market pressures change the company. When you sell to another organization, market pressures change the company. We have already seen that happen in the natural channel many times over with so much consolidation occurring. Amazon owns Whole Foods. How has that changed things? I could create a laundry list for you if you wanted to read it but I don’t think anybody cares. They want to get their whole foods at a reasonable price and conveniently. I shouldn’t say that. I know some people care. It’s harder to shift the patterns than it is to go with the flow.
As it stands now, when we talk about bootstrapping companies and doing it differently, we can also be building companies that can sustain the same vision and concept for generations to come. Patagonia is a great example. Not everybody is going to be Monsieur Chouinard but they are aspiring to potentially follow in his footsteps in some small way. Are there specific companies that you see leading that charge? How would you like to highlight them from the book as part of this conversation?
B corp is probably the place to go if you want to find companies that are leading the way in different industries. In apparel and outdoors, Patagonia is one of the big names but there are also many others. There’s Vivobarefoot, which is mentioned in this book. Since you’re a runner, you might find it interesting, which is this barefoot shoe concept.
The founders of Vivobarefoot, Galahad and Asher from the Clarks family, were part of the Clarks shoe business but they wanted to do things a little differently. They started Vivo. They tried to champion many of the various bent aspects of building a sustainable or regenerative business in the sense that they do have a repair program. They think about their sourcing. They work with artisans to get many of their materials as well. They have a foundation that does philanthropic work.
There are some of these other players that are out there. They were one of the first companies to innovate with this material that’s made from an algae bloom, which is featured in the book. We have excess algae bloom happening in all kinds of water systems. There’s an innovative company out of Mississippi that’s trying to turn it into a foam material that can be used by the footwear industry and other industries as well. They took on some of that innovation.
That’s BLOOM. I’ve talked about them before on the show. I love what they’re doing. It’s wonderful.
They’re another example that’s in here. In the food landscape, there are quite a few. There’s Lundberg Family Farms, which is mentioned in the opening chapter with soil. They’re an interesting company too because they have this amazing heritage, their multi-generation farming family. They made a ubiquitous consumer good. You can get it everywhere from Trader Joe’s for their rice crackers to more of the health food stores. There are quite a few examples in here of brands that you may have heard of also that are leading the way and then some new ones that you can discover.
The B corp movement is at the core of it. While there has been some discussion also about whether or not we like the direction that B corp is going because they’re allowing some of the bigger companies to come in, at its very core if you look at the score that companies are getting through B corp, which you can do online, then you can see their commitment because B corp is far more holistic. It’s not just about one supply chain certification. That’s a good place to start if you’re not as familiar with the landscape.
They also size their fees for your organization. It’s not going to be something that a smaller company is blocked from attaining. This is one of my beef with much of the certification industry. It is an industry. You want to get Regenerative Organic Certified but you have to employ people to manage that process. It can add a layer of administration but it’s also a check and balance. I understand that but we can also enter a world where suddenly, you have a product package that has got sixteen icons on it and confuses the customer. That’s where going to a few key certifications, paying attention to them and saying, “What does it mean,” can matter.
I agree with you. B corp is great. I also love this concept of a tri-sector approach. I had brought Jens Molbak on this show to talk about social benefit entrepreneurship and how you can harness the power of public as well as private and social to create enterprises that are for the common good and which can benefit from public support, meaning government support and funding. We need to be looking at all of these solutions and rethinking how we create the new world of business. Perhaps it can get to more of this Doughnut economy where we’re all more a part of it and so much of the power and the compensation isn’t concentrated at the very top.
People often ask, “Is there a one-shot solution to this?” There isn’t. It’s going to be far more collaborative from different angles. In terms of certifications, several of the companies that I interviewed don’t like certifications as well. They focused more on traceability instead. Veja, for example, has put up the receipts for how much cotton they’re buying from their farmers on their website. You can see the transactions.
Falcon Coffees, which is in the chapter that’s about supply chains, has been very transparent with their buyers about the entire cost involved with the supply chain. They’re on a mission to map out their carbon footprint. They brought on a climate scientist to help them do that. They’re a middleman. They’re a trader in the coffee industry but they have worked with Allegro, Stumptown and Blue Bottle which you would have heard of. There is a real frustration with certifications in general but there’s also an understanding that if you don’t do some of them, then anybody can claim anything and then we end up in this greenwashing space. It’s that middle ground that works for both.
I’ve looked at chocolate and coffee. One of the complaints that I’ve heard from small chocolate makers who are trying to work in this farm-to-table perspective with chocolate is that Fairtrade doesn’t go far enough. They don’t feel because they’re besting Fairtrade practices that they should bother with the certification as they use it like, “We’re doing things a lot better. If they don’t go far enough, then I’m not going to put their seal on my package because it’s going to market what they’re doing, which in my opinion, isn’t far enough.”
They’re perhaps relying on their guerrilla marketing tactics to communicate the message but the same reality remains true. Confused people aren’t going to make a decision to buy. If your chocolate bar is $4 more than another one on the shelf next to it that has a Fairtrade symbol and that consumer hasn’t understood your message, then what’s the impact you’re going to make?
My sense when it comes to these sorts of things is that when there is a leader in the space that is doing a pretty good job and they’re raising the bar, join them and then lobby them from within to raise their standards because you can do that and it can work. If you keep communicating about that, then you’re going to push the industry to change. I have done prior walks with the fish oil space. For many reasons, I’ve gone to the algae space because I don’t believe we have a sustainable world when it comes to the way commercial fishing operates but that’s another discussion for another day.
That’s a great suggestion. A constructive and helpful suggestion is that if you want to make change happen, do it from within because scrutiny does help. Scrutiny is good. Sometimes when we talk about media scrutiny on a specific topic, certification or organization, it could lead to change. It could lead to something better at the end of it. It’s not a dead end in that way.
I also hear from a lot of marketing folks who will be like, “A customer has 10 seconds or 30 seconds to look at your product and get a sense of whether or not they want to try something new.” It’s hard to communicate if you are that small chocolate maker everything that you’re doing on the front of your package. That’s where marketing goes into play.
Here’s another great example from this show for anybody interested in diving into the world of coffee. I interviewed Mokhtar Alkhanshali of the Port of Mokha. He is going to Yemen to get his coffee. He is paying farmers three times what the typical rate is for the coffee beans that he then roasts and offers for products out there. His product is a lot more expensive. He’s also one that was like, “Fairtrade is so far below what I’m doing. I’m not going to bother.” With that being said, we need to be able to understand the messages that are in front of us. Attention economies are wearing thin. How long? It’s ten seconds to make that decision. Sometimes that’s being generous.
It also depends on whom you’re speaking to. I feel like I live in this bubble because I live and breathe this stuff and I’m speaking to these folks every day, much like yourself. I talked to a group that didn’t know what a B corp was. I’m still explaining that concept to them because that’s not part of their everyday lexicon. It is a balancing act. If we want to get these concepts to be more mainstream, we have to start somewhere. Part of that is also affordability and accessibility, which have been a big criticism of this space. It’s not affordable enough. I was trying to be sensitive to that in this book as well.
In the travel chapter, people will say sustainable travel is more expensive. We have three different price point travel experiences that you can do starting with something very affordable and reasonable and then going to something that’s in line with what the others are offering and then one that’s premium. That’s another thing to keep in mind. If we want more people to come on board, we’ve got to make it as affordable and accessible.
My friend, Riva Bacquet, has a South American travel agency called SA. At any rate, she hosts ecotourism experiences that go even to the Galapagos Islands. I have never been on that type of trip but with 2 young children, you’re paying for 4 tickets. I haven’t made it work yet. Most of our ecotourism has been somewhat local, discovering areas in our backyard.
I realized when I traveled to Australia halfway around the globe and drove all over the place there to access beautiful points that I would probably never get back to visiting the Twelve Apostles on the South Coast or going to the Grampians and hiking their Grand Canyon that I had never been to the Grand Canyon in the United States and I still haven’t. Even looking a little more local and seeking out these experiences can be a greener way to travel. That’s presently what I’m doing with the kids because we’re not in the passport range yet. I’m not doing that. I made that decision.
Every time you get on a plane and do international travel to Europe, South America or something, it comes at a cost too. I’ve so enjoyed this conversation thus far but our time is limited here. I wanted to offer you the floor. If there was a question I haven’t asked that you wish I had, I would love you to ask and answer it. If not, then what closing thought might you leave our audience with?
The closing thought that I would share is that when I was putting this book together, you have 30 companies. They may not all succeed. We might pick up this book 5 years or 10 years down the road and a couple of them may have failed or shut down but that’s not a reason enough to not do it and not try to do it. That’s the important message of this book. These are companies that are trying. They’re starting from a place of, “How do we solve a problem?”
I’m often asked, “Do you see a common thread between all of these entrepreneurs?” The common thread I would say is that they’re not coming from a place of, “Let me build a business that will accrue wealth.” They’re coming from a place of, “Let me build a business that will solve a particular problem that we see as valuable and important.”
That is a different lens for business. Oftentimes we are building businesses, whether it’s for personal wealth or the wealth of others but can we start from a place of such strong values where we’re looking at, “How do I solve this one issue through my one business that may only impact a couple of hundred people and stick with it through the ups and downs for a longer period?”
That was something that I saw throughout this book with all these entrepreneurs. They’re very mission-driven and values-oriented people. That change is then trickling down through their organization. They may not be successful in the long run but it’s a worthwhile exercise to look at what they’re doing because there are lessons to be drawn from that.
The other closing thought that I would say is what we have iterated in the beginning. This is not something that comes with a checklist that you can check the boxes and say, “I built an ethical business.” It’s going to be a journey and a process. There are going to be a lot of hard questions some of which will be brought up as to whether or not you decide to use certain certifications, supply chains, materials, packaging and all of that.
I see a lot of scrutiny online. Sometimes that’s helpful. It can be a bit harsh to someone who has spent months thinking about something before they launch a product. They’re like, “You have a little plastic thing on top that seals it. Therefore, it’s not sustainable.” It’s not all or nothing. They’re trying and making their best effort. For consumers to know, sometimes it’s hard because the materials or the price is not there yet. Give them a little leeway on that. If this book helps you think about how businesses can do better and then apply it in your daily life, it has been successful.
I’m going to give one example because I have to. In working with Orlo Nutrition, we’re sharing our story, the packaging and all of that in social spaces. I had someone comment, “Stop with your woke agenda.” I’m like, “We’re going to get these critics.” The reality is that there are going to be trolls in every effort. Most people that are working in the world of brand building, whether it be for their personal brand or a product they’re bringing to market, rely on social media for a lot of this stuff. There are always going to be naysayers.
I’ve worked for a while in this space. I’ve known a lot of people whom I might call influencers that simply say, “You have to remember that they have their agenda too and let it fall like raindrops off your back. It’s no big deal.” It can be hard sometimes to not take these things personally, especially when you’re emotionally invested in what you’re doing but we can also use those moments to say, “How could I communicate about this differently? What else might I do to make this a little better and not respond to comments that are perhaps negative with emotion?” That’s it. When you do respond, choose wisely. If you’re second-guessing yourself, sleep on it.
You can never make everyone happy. That’s for sure. We have learned that.
Sometimes polarization helps a company succeed. Think about Nike and Colin Kaepernick. They doubled down with him. They faced some criticism but overall, the brand continued to grow and thrive. They made a social choice for the things that they were going to back. I want to close with one more thing since we may have captured some business people for this episode in particular. It used to be that people were afraid to become B corps because they were afraid that they wouldn’t be able to go public. That is a thing that has been put to bed. You can still go public as somebody who’s a certified B corp. Why don’t we continue to push in this direction, push for positive change and build businesses better?
What we have learned in the last few years is that there is no perfect model. You find what works for your business. I’m sure that there’s a way to fuse purpose into it if you would like.There is no perfect regeneration model. Find which one that works perfectly for your business. Click To Tweet
Thank you so much for joining me, Esha. This has been my pleasure.
Thank you so much for having me.
To connect with Esha Chhabra and get her new book, visit EshaChhabra.com. You can sign up for our newsletter and receive weekly tips such as the #BeBetterChallenge. Subscribers also receive a welcome gift, which is our five-step guide to help unleash your inner activist. If you have feedback or a suggestion for a future episode or topic that you would like to see us cover, please send me an email note to Hello@CareMoreBeBetter.com.
You can click on that microphone icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the website and leave me a voicemail. It’s easy. I would love to hear your voice too. Thank you, readers, now and always for being a part of this community because together, we can do so much more. We can care more. We can be better. We can even build regenerative businesses to help heal planet Earth. Thank you.
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