It’s that time when resolutions abound: Lose weight. Spend more time on treadmill, less on social media. Purge inbox of ridiculously old emails.
Admirable goals, for sure. But the pledges Cory Donovan wants are commitments from local companies to make a bigger impact in an economy whose stakeholders — especially millennials — care about far more than the bottom line. Think mission statements that include social and environmental-improvement goals. Diversity in hiring. Support of local businesses. Transparency on operations, including financials.
“It’s about how do we create more and better corporate citizens,” said Donovan, program manager and sole employee at ImpactPHL, an alliance of people and organizations formed in July 2016 to enhance the Philadelphia region’s impact economy — where success is measured not just in financial performance, but in contributions to society’s betterment.
Donovan’s hope is that one day people will hear “Philadelphia“ and think “impactful city.” Of about 44,000 businesses in the region, more than 200 have taken his group’s Best for PHL Challenge, an assessment of efforts on a variety of fronts, including employee compensation, percentage of expenses spent on local suppliers, recycling efforts, water usage, and charitable donations.
“There seems to be plenty of runway to grow,” Donovan said.
Arguably, this region is a nurturing environment for such an effort. It is home to B Lab and the B Corp movement, which tout the importance of triple-bottom-line companies. And the Sustainable Business Network was founded in Philadelphia by Judy Wicks, former owner of the White Dog Cafe and a pioneer in the local-impact economy.
Early-stage companies offer some of the most potentially impactful opportunities from a growth perspective, said Donovan, who is also manager of Project Liberty, an incubator for start-ups in the Philadelphia region that is operated by Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania and hosted at Philadelphia Media Network, parent company of the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com.
“We want to create more early-stage ventures with this built into their DNA, so that as they grow … they scale their positive impact,” he said.
There’s a prudent reason — actually, about 75 million reasons in the United States — for companies to embrace this way of doing business, Donovan said:
“The millennial generation really cares about this stuff. A lot of capital is being moved in this direction, globally and nationally. Consumers are more and more and more thinking this way. Our role is to catalyze this stuff to make it happen more quickly, because business will be won and lost, employees will be won and lost, decisions will be made on these factors.”
Here’s a look at three local businesses with impact-improvement ambitions:
Quaker City Coffee is a Center City-based roaster and retail start-up with two cafes and an online store that was launched in early 2017. Producing high-quality coffee is just part of the objective. Another priority is creating employment opportunities for the formerly incarcerated and, in the process, breaking down barriers of distrust between that community and the general population, said cofounder Bob Logue.
When it comes to social impact, Logue said, “our company is pretty much synonymous with that.” But ImpactPHL has introduced the company of nine employees and ambitious plans to a network of like-minded companies and business owners that will be critical in helping Quaker City Coffee make the kind of impact he envisions.
“If we’re going to have a dramatic impact in the former working-class neighborhoods that are completely blighted, then we need to reinvigorate the local economy in those communities,” Logue said.
The GREEN Program is an eight-year-old, Philadelphia-based, short-term experiential educational program that Melissa Lee designed to expose students to pressing sustainability issues throughout the world, in hope of inspiring them to pursue careers in related fields.
Taking ImpactPHL’s Best for PHL Challenge educated Lee, who “thought we were doing things great already,” to recognize a number of “things that I never even thought about,” she said. That included appropriate levels of health-care coverage for employees (the GREEN Program currently covers about 50 percent of the costs, which ImpactPHL suggests should be closer to 80 percent, Lee said), and implementing a 401(k) plan for the company of seven employees and $1.8 million in annual revenue. In 2018, Lee wants to grow to more than $100,000 a scholarship program to pay for GREEN Program (originally the Global Renewable Energy Education Network) trips for underprivileged students.
“My goal for this company is to be a great company,” said the 28-year-old Rutgers University graduate, who was named a Forbes 30 Under 30 standout in education this year.
Union Packaging of Yeadon, which began manufacturing Earth-friendly paper-based packaging for the food-service industry and convenience stores, has a goal of achieving B Corp status in the next three to four years, said owner Michael Pearson. The company of about 65 employees took the ImpactPHL assessment as “a baby step” and found it “an eye-opener” on environmental impact, affirmation of the company’s compensation strategies, and proof “we have a lot of room for improvement,” Pearson said.
Such self-analysis is “scary for a lot of companies,” he said, and a “way to get better at providing a work-friendly environment. In a tight labor market, there are positive, compelling business reasons.”