Businesses seek 'greater good'

Burt's Bees is trying to save honeybees from decimation, provide "green" housing for Durham and teach its employees to promote "The Greater Good."

The Durham-based maker of lip balm and personal care products is also trying to make a profit.

The company is part of an emerging trend of corporate social responsibility and social entrepreneurship in the business world-and one with particularly strong presence in the Triangle.

Students interested in business said they had noticed the shift.

"That trend has gained a lot of ground recently," junior Chase Lancaster said. "Instead of focusing on just the shareholders, they focus on all the stakeholders."

The percentage of U.S. business schools requiring that students take a course on business and societal issues increased from 34 percent in 2001 to 63 percent in 2007, according to a survey conducted by the Center for Business Education.

Sophomore Justin Healy, executive vice president of The Duke Entrepreneur, said the social responsibility movement has affected business education because schools design their curriculum to reflect trends in the business world.

The Fuqua School of Business' Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship teaches innovative approaches to addressing critical social needs, CASE Associate Director Matt Nash said.

"In the last 20 to 30 years... there has been greater experimentation and public awareness of social entrepreneurship," he added.

The distinction between a socially responsible corporation and a social enterprise is difficult to define, said Professor of Philosophy Wayne Norman, who teaches a class on business ethics.

"Their outward philosophy may be similar in the sense that they are trying to do good for the community, [but] usually with social entrepreneurship there is a fairly dedicated mission that they are trying to promote rather than making a profit," he said.

Norman added that Burt's Bees would not be considered a social enterprise.

Research Triangle Park has gained a reputation as a center for companies like Burt's Bees that strive for a "triple bottom line"-performance measurements of social, environmental and financial goals, Nash said.

Gabrielle Prohn, public relations and promotions coordinator for Burt's Bees, said its "The Greater Good" model includes social responsibility and environmental sustainability.

For example, Burt's Bees ran a theater advertisement about the environmental phenomenon of Colony Collapse Disorder currently threatening honeybees. They also coordinated last year with Durham Habitat for Humanity to break ground on Hope Crossing, a "green" community. Another of the company's initiatives is to provide employees with "wellness benefits" such as yoga classes and massage therapy.

"Of all the companies that I know in the Triangle, they are the most socially responsible," said Durham Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Miguel Rubiera. Customers raised concerns last year about whether Burt's Bees would be able to continue its environmentally-friendly practices after bleach-maker Clorox bought the company. Rubiera said he was not concerned about the acquisition, and added that Burt's Bees Chief Executive Officer John Replogle currently serves on Durham Habitat for Humanity's Board of Directors.

"Not only the [Burt's Bees] management but also the employees believe in that philosophy," Rubiera said. "The idea [for our collaboration] came from one of his employees."

The Redwoods Group is another RTP-based business that aspires to social responsibility. The company is a specialty insurance organization that insures YMCAs and other mission-driven groups. President and CEO Kevin Trapani said the Redwoods Group follows a business model similar to Burt's Bees.

"To be here in the Triangle and have two companies that are so focused and so well-regarded for corporate responsibility is a great thing," he said. "You don't do this stuff for publicity, you do it because it's right."

Trapani said Redwoods employees are required to fulfill 40 hours of community service per year while on the clock and that around half of the company's income is given away as donations.

"It is a part of overall social responsibility," he said. "It is a growing trend, and I think it will be a permanent state in American industry."


Share and discuss “Businesses seek 'greater good'” on social media.