Saturday, January 24, 2009

Retailers Getting In On The Good

In his inauguration speech, President Obama invited us to a new era of responsibility and to choose our better history. The message resonates with people of all ages and circumstances.

With the economy continuing to take a toll on people across the income spectrum, it’s an interesting time to call people to action on behalf of those less fortunate than ourselves. Yet, that’s exactly what’s happening. I’ve written before about Ebay and World of Good, Kenneth Cole and Network for Good, Gap’s (Product) RED, and TOMS Shoes. The newest entrant: Starbucks with HandsOn Network and Oprah. The program encourages consumers to pledge five hours of community service before the end of the year.

Is this the new state of retail? Activism is a great way for brands to make their values clear and accessible to employees and consumers, in hopes of acquiring and retaining customers while also doing good. And retailers have something that causes don’t – a presence in neighborhoods, access to us where we live.

For years, the same handful of brands came up whenever anyone talked about doing good. The original do-gooders, like Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, Body Shop – where does that leave them? Happy that cause-based retail has caught on? You bet. And upping the ante on these newcomers. Patagonia has grown its environmental advocacy from supporting the Surf Rider Foundation to full-fledged leadership across diverse initiatives to protect the environment, from “Freedom to Roam” to”Voice Your Choice,” the Conservation Alliance, campaigns to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and more. It’s a breathtaking range of issues and initiatives to support or participate in.

What’s next? More ways to get connected and involved. Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns created a program for outdoor retailers to promote the outdoors and outdoor activity to their customers in conjunction with a 6-part TV series about our national parks, which PBS will air in September. The program encourages retailers to co-host special outdoor events, sponsor park of the month nights, host a park lecture series, promote local outdoor or nature clubs, sponsor photo and essay contests, or host family camp-outs.

Burns told the Salt Lake Tribune last week that such efforts are especially appropriate in difficult economic times. "It's paradoxical but in the toughest times of the Great Depression, the national parks thrived as never before," he said. "We fell back on resources we didn't know we needed."

Burns, PBS, and the outdoor industry are betting the national parks will thrive again. And Starbucks? They’re just hoping to help us focus on something bigger ourselves. Already, over 1 million hours have been pledged to all kinds of causes – just since the inauguration on Tuesday! I’m in. What about you? Sign up to get involved.

With this one, we all win!

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