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Gary Erickson on Balancing Sustainability and Other Business Objectives

Clif Bar's founder talks about balancing sustainability and effectiveness

Gary Erickson is the founder and owner of Clif Bar, a maker of all-natural and organic energy bars and drinks based in Berkeley, California. Here, he answers an entrepreneur's question about balancing sustainability with other business objectives.

Q. How can I build an environmentally friendly business without distracting my employees from their other duties and goals?

Mike Newman
Vice President
Recellular
Dexter, Michigan

Gary Erickson responds:

Unlike most companies, which have one bottom line, Clif Bar has five bottom lines: sustaining our business, sustaining our brands, sustaining our people, sustaining our community, and sustaining the planet. All five of these goals, which my wife, Kit, and I refer to as the "five aspirations," are of equal importance. Before anyone at Clif Bar makes business decisions, we think about how they will affect employees, the planet, and our community.

The five aspirations create a decision-making framework that encourages our employees to explore, create, and launch ideas that are in tune with each of Clif Bar's priorities. For example, our North American field marketing manager, Bryan Cole, found a way to make Escape From Alcatraz, an annual Clif Bar-sponsored triathlon, more environmentally sound. He works with event managers to ensure that recycled paper products are being used by vendors and in lavatories, and he sets up recycling and compost stations on-site. Clif Bar also purchases renewable energy credits from NativeEnergy's WindBuilders program to offset the carbon dioxide produced at the event. From a business perspective, the event has generated great press coverage. It has also helped us fortify our brand and our connection with consumers.

During annual reviews, employees receive feedback and bonuses based on their contributions to each of the five aspirations and their ability to balance their responsibilities. We also encourage employees to adopt environmental principles in their everyday lives. In December, we launched a Cool Commute program, which awards $5,000 to employees who buy biodiesel or hybrid vehicles. The program also awards points--redeemable for transit vouchers or gift cards--to Clif Bar employees who carpool, walk, bike, or take public transportation to work. The program has created great press coverage. More important, it inspires our employees to experience environmental sustainability on a personal level. And inspired people are a company's most valuable resource.

 

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