The business world is experiencing a sea change in its commitment to social and environmental impact. With the success of social impact-oriented companies such as TOMS, Etsy, and FEED, a growing number of businesses are seeing the value of striking a balance between profit and positive impact. The growing community of certified B Corps (for-profit companies that meet certain standards of performance, accountability, and transparency) is a testament to the movement towards businesses that can make a pretty penny while fostering lasting social change.
Christopher Gavigan, the “Chief Purpose Officer” of The Honest Company, knows a thing or two about aligning profit and purpose. Gavigan co-founded The Honest Company in January 2011 with actress and activist Jessica Alba. Together, they have built the company around the simple mission of providing families access to products that create healthy, safe environments for children. The Honest Company has developed a successful suite of baby, home care, and personal care products, carving out its space in a competitive consumer goods industry.
IVY sat down with Gavigan in Los Angeles to discuss how to instill a sense of purpose into your company, while also remaining profitable.
Identify the Problem
Step one is to determine exactly what issue you want to dedicate your time, energy, and resources towards impacting. What is the number one societal problem that stokes your passion, grinds your gears, and gets you out of bed in the morning? Then, lay out a simple, clear vision of what you want to accomplish. By identifying your company’s purpose, you can then craft a business model that enables you to stay true to that mission throughout your entrepreneurial journey.
Gavigan’s passion to improve environmental and health consciousness developed during his time as a student at the University of California, Santa Barbara. There he began to peruse the large body of research on the effect of household products on the health of children and pregnant women; from shampoo and skin care products to dishwasher detergent and air fresheners. Unlike foods, beverages, and cosmetic supplies, federal law does not require cleaning products to provide lists of ingredients.
“The environment is not out there,” Gavigan said. “It’s actually in, on, and around us. So it’s what you put on your skin, it’s what you put in your mouth, it’s what you’re sleeping on…. The leadership position in Washington does a horrible job at really assessing for human health. There’s no guardian at the gate for who’s really keeping you safe: FDA, FDC, EPA. There’s no specific agency.”
The Honest Company was developed with the mission of determining the environmental triggers that negatively impact people’s health. To achieve its mission, Gavigan and his team create products that reduce levels of chemicals that cause harm, and thereby improve the health of the most vulnerable populations.
Foster a Solution
Next Gavigan encourages you to identify the measures you can take that will have the biggest impact on your chosen issue. Map out the specific skills your team brings to the table, and how you can combine those strengths to both promote awareness around your issue and foster a solution to the issue.
If you are a great designer, use your design skills to bring the world’s attention to your purpose and product. If you are a dynamic speaker, use your communication skills to spread your message and connect with consumers. If you are an artist, use art as a means by which to spread your message to groups and communities of people that might not otherwise be within your reach.
The Honest Company’s success rests, first and foremost, on its high-quality products. But it is also highly dependent on the emotional resonance of its story, which places a high value on the health of the mothers, babies, and families using their products.
Gavigan believes the success of your mission rests on your ability to earn, and maintain, your customers’ trust. The Honest Company achieved this trust by making a commitment to rigorous transparency. The company actively shares the contents of its products, its supply chain, and the fact that it avoids chemicals with possible links to harmful human impact. By demystifying the chemical elements that go into its brand of consumer goods, The Honest Company not only garnered trust, but also succeeded in raising environmental health awareness and bringing consumers into the fight against environmental contamination.
“I believe that success is not really about the product,” Gavigan said. “It’s about the lifestyle choices that people are making, and are you living an honest life. Are you thinking about what you’re bringing into your home? Every time you spend a dollar, you’re making a choice that’s signaling to that company or the marketplace.”
In order to scale values into your organization, Gavigan advises that you remain laser-focused on your mission. Continue to educate yourself on developments in the market and methods by which to further your company’s impact.
Gavigan’s drive comes from seeing the enormous potential benefit his company’s products continue to have on the world. “I see the marketplace as being incredibly dirty,” he says. “And people are suffering. And I get back to: we have to clean it up, and we have to get our products into every single person’s hands.”
A 2010 report by the President’s Cancer Panel, for instance, indicated that, “to a disturbing extent, babies are born ‘pre-polluted’” — in other words, babies come into this world with some 300 synthetic chemicals coursing through their veins at the moment of birth.
It is this type of knowledge, in addition to global environmental legislation developments, such as the European Union’s REACH, that continue to stoke Gavigan’s desire to adapt and grow. “In my belief, you better stand for something higher than your product. What are you trying to solve? What is your purpose in the world?”
For more information on how to keep your household clean, safe, and eco-friendly, check out Gavigan’s book: Healthy Child Healthy World: How to Create a Cleaner, Greener, Safer World.
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