Vermont business people discuss plans for a better future...

While traditionally Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility (VBSR) has had an active circle group that met regularly to discuss issues over lunch, busy schedules have made the noontime meetings difficult. This year, VBSR has revived the circle group, and kicked off the first of monthly meetings for 2007 with vigor and a healthy turnout of over 30 attendees. Leigh Cole and Amy McLaughlin of Dinse, Knapp & McAndrew hosted and facilitated the first meeting with guest Jeffrey Hollender, president and CEO of Seventh Generation. Cole, a director of the firm said, Who would be better than Jeffrey Hollender to talk to us and help us get our thoughts together for the next year? The high attendance and enthusiastic discussions at the meeting attested to the good choice. Hollender, also a resident of Charlotte, is known nationally for his work in socially responsible business practices, and also for work that extends to businesses that are not inherently socially responsible. In recent meetings with the president and CEO of WalMart, Hollender has been involved with a new corporate responsibility policy the super store is developing. In his blog at Seventh Generation, Hollender wrote of this recent collaboration, I am not a supplier. I am not a paid consultant. I do not represent an NGO. But I am a friend, informal advisor, critic, occasional cheerleader and bridge between the behemoth and its most adamant disbelievers. Hollender began the meeting describing the drastic change of landscape in the world of corporate responsibility within the past two years. Responsible business practices, he said, will increasingly become the expectations of businesses. The last 24 months have brought more change than the last 28 years. The fact that the president of a small, forward-thinking company in Vermont is meeting with the president of Wal-Mart about ways they can help alleviate world poverty is a testament to that fact, Hollender told the group. As to what the tipping point in the corporate responsibility scale was, Hollender said it could have to do with the fact that until recently, there was not enough research to support that a socially responsible business could not only do as well as other similar businesses, but could actually exceed them. However, the drastic changes in the landscape lately have left groups like Green Peace with an identity crisis, said Hollender. Organizations such as Seventh Generation and Green Peace define themselves based on what they do differently than other companies, he explained, but recently Green Peace has felt fundamentally displaced in the dialogue about global warming. Part of this may come from a current lack of a standard definition for corporate responsibility: Everyone is allowed to create their own definition... said Hollender. He told the group what he thought were some of the major components that help to define the term, with transparency as the leading goal. You cant seriously talk about your self as a responsible business if youre the only one privy to the information on what makes you responsible. Transparency, he said was the challenge he gave to Walmart, who will be releasing their first corporate responsibility study this spring. Participants in the re-energizing VBSR circle group included representatives from a wide range of local businesses that included, Recycle North, United Way of Chittenden County, Key Bank, Viva Espresso, and many more. Megan Munson-Warnken, of Burlingtons newest coffee shop Viva Espresso, talked to the group about the important link of education between business who provide responsible products and the customers who consume them. Viva Espresso uses locally produced and organic products in everything they sell, and while the products may cost more than Dunkin Donuts, Munson-Warnken said, I would rather shut down than serve you Philadelphia cream cheese. Although the conversation wandered from local to international issues, Hollender gave everyone present some advice they could put into action in their own work place. I believe strongly in starting on the inside and moving out. I think theres too much corporate responsibility placed on the environment and not enough on employment practices and the interior culture. He said, To me, its absolutely clear that thats the most important thing you can do. For more information, check out VBSR at www.vbsr.org, or contact Jon Harris at (802)- 862-8347 or email at jonh@vbsr.org for info.

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