Burt’s Bees aims for ‘greater good’

Yola Carlough
Yola Carlough

Todd Cohen

DURHAM, N.C. — A year ago, Burt’s Bees in Durham launched a pilot program that made it “non-optional” for its 440 employees to give at least eight hours a year, and possibly up to 30 hours, to the company’s efforts to be a good corporate citizen.

In its fiscal year ended June 30, 97 percent of its workforce participated in Burt’s Bees “Live the Greater Good” program.

“We really want all our employees, including our global team, to be able to participate in a program during the workday that is about engaging in sustainable lifestyles,” says Yola Carlough, director of sustainability for the company and head of its philanthropic arm, the Greater Good Foundation.

At Burt’s Bees, which makes natural personal-care products, corporate social responsibility is a core value, says Carlough, who previously was director of social mission at Ben and Jerry’s, the Vermont-based ice cream company that helped pioneer the concept of “caring capitalism.”

“A values-led business will understand its accountability and responsibility to all its stakeholders, including employees, customers, consumers, partners, supplies and community,” says Carlough.

Burt’s Bees, which employs 360 people in the Triangle and 80 abroad, operates with a “greater good” business model rooted in the core beliefs that the company should focus on natural health and well-being, commit itself to humanitarian and social issues, and minimize its impact on the environment.

Based on five “sustainability” goals, it aims by 2020 to be operating entirely on renewable energy, producing zero waste, making products that are 100 percent natural, working in “green” buildings with Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design certification, or LEED, and engaging every employee in its commitment to living and working sustainably.

Aiming to be the “greenest personal-care company on the planet”
and create the greenest consumers, Carlough says, a key strategy for Burt’s Bees is to “act as a resource to our own employees in terms of understanding what it means to live sustainably.”

In its fiscal year that began July 1, the company will offer four modules to employees that will focus on the environment, social outreach, natural health and wellness, and world-class leadership.

David Tarpy, an associate professor of entomology at N.C. State University, for example, will talk to employees about honey-bee health and colony-collapse disorder, a critical issue for a company that makes products that depend on honey bees, which are responsible for pollinating one-third of the global food chain.

And Burt’s Bees will provide volunteer teams for Teach for America, and partner with the Triangle Land Conservancy to make land accessible to the public.

The Greater Good Foundation each year makes grants totaling roughly $300,000 and ranging from $10,000 to $25,000, typically to groups that are invited to apply for support and that focus on eliminating the root causes of social and environmental problems.

In addition to writing checks to those groups, the company tries to develop deeper relationships, providing employee volunteers, marketing support, meeting space and in-kind contributions of products.

Burt’s Bees’ employees, for example, have built three houses for Habitat for Humanity of Durham, and plan to build a fourth this fiscal year.

The company also promotes special volunteering opportunities for employees and sponsors a company-wide Burt’s Bees “Culture Day” in the fall that takes on a special project, like building a playground two years ago in Hope Crossing, a Habitat community in Durham.

“Business really has an opportunity,” Carlough says, “beyond just generating profitability for shareholders.”

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