Since founding Thrive Farmers in 2011, the conversation around sustainability has shifted significantly. It began with the marketplace questioning if being “sustainable” aligns or conflicts with profitability, and today, it’s almost an assumed mandate that business must make an impact in the world beyond profitability in order to thrive in the long-term.
Thrive Farmers was founded to bring economic and social impact to coffee farming families and communities around the world. From day one, profitability has been a means to accomplish our mission of empowering farmers. As the marketplace shifts to compel more businesses to operate holistically, leaders must rethink how they define and communicate success.
John Elkington, one of the first to coin the phrase “triple bottom line,” insists that today’s reality is that business must be sustainable and have an impact for good in the world. In his Harvard Business Review article, “The 6 Ways Business Leaders Talk about Sustainability,” he says business leaders struggle to find the best way to communicate to stakeholders that long-term impact for good in the world is necessary to achieve success beyond increasing the bottom line.
Kenneth Lander, co-founder and chief sustainability officer of Thrive Farmers answers a few questions about how Thrive Farmers internally tackles sustainability efforts.
How do you define success in terms of sustainability?
It starts with how your company frames success.
It’s important that Thrive Farmers is profitable, but our mission is not defined by our bottom line. From the beginning, we framed success in terms of lifting up farmers. By equipping farmers to thrive, our business would thrive as well.
Thrive Farmers is continually reframing what a sustainable company looks like around our management table every week. Our conversations focus on a number of topics, beginning with the struggle of balancing short-term profitable opportunities with long-term value creation for our business and our farmer partners. We also regularly tackle the issue of supporting our coffee farming partners who don’t have sufficient resources while encouraging future customers to help transform this broken cycle by reframing what impact can look like in their beverage program. Any company should experience this internal tension if their goals are to reach beyond making more money and do good in the world, and they are willing to take concrete steps to act on it.
How can other companies incorporate sustainable practices that motivate their stakeholders?
Communicate innovative ways of thinking.
A big challenge is communicating to stakeholders and customers that there is real, non-economic value in making more “sustainable” choices in selecting products for their beverage program. In today’s marketplace, consumers expect their preferred brand to be good for the world. Once companies understand this reality, it becomes evident that shifting a few pennies requires courage but delivers worthwhile rewards.
We’re always looking for new ways to make the case to our stakeholders that there are moral reasons to source and serve coffee and tea that impact farmers and their future supply chains.
This paradigm shift is critical to sales and business development. When executives see that offering a farmer in the supply chain stable, predictable and higher pricing as an alternative to the current volatile market, they realize their company’s support and partnership with farmers diminishes the risk of not having coffee and tea in the future. Giving your sales and marketing team the tools to take stakeholders deeper, beyond the transaction, engages everyone in the lives of the people who grow their products. This authentic relationship with farmer partners enhances the mission of products, therefore enriching the lives of customers and the culture of their organizations.
Where does leadership play a role? How can we build a company culture that values impact beyond the bottom line?
Actions must match intentions.
It’s not easy. Leadership can only navigate this internal tension when success is not defined beyond the bottom line. The procurement team cannot be constrained to make buying decisions based solely on profit and loss if you desire — and even more so if you’re communicating —impact beyond the P&L.
Thrive Farmers’ mission to empower farmers results in our customers achieving a healthy bottom line while doing good in the world. Our sustainable beverage program with a farmer-direct supply chain offers stable income for those who grow the products and offers significant benefits for a company looking to improve its sustainability efforts.
Companies can offer a higher quality products while creating a secure supply chain for their future. Happy employees produce superior products and remain devoted for the long-term. In addition, from the customer’s perspective, the knowledge that the cup you’re drinking is impacting farmers’ lives builds brand equity and loyalty.
Within your company, are you navigating a healthy, internal tension about how to have impact beyond the bottom line? Are you reframing the way you view success for the long-term? A food or beverage program that considers the livelihoods of the people and communities that grow your products is a great catalyst to create a win for your business, your suppliers and your customers.
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