Growing sector of companies doing good and doing well

Jonathan Liebert
Jonathan Liebert

Phil Castle, The Business Times

There’s a growing sector of companies that combine what’s been the role of nonprofit charities with for-profit business operations — and in doing good, also do well.

“It’s no longer either or. You can do both,” said Jonathan Liebert, chief executive officer and executive director of the Colorado Institute of Social Impact.

Many companies in the Grand Valley purposely incorporate social missions into their operations. Other companies do the same thing, but might not be aware of it, Liebert said.

The concept isn’t new. But research indicates there’s increasing preference among consumers and employees for such efforts, he said.

Liebert discussed the so-called fourth sector during his keynote presentation at the Western Colorado Economic Summit hosted by the Grand Junction Economic Partnership.

While there used to be distinctions between nonprofit organizations and for-profit businesses, those efforts more frequently intersect, Liebert said.

The efforts go by such names as social enterprise and conscious capitalism, he said. Companies can also form what are called public benefit corporations that allow for public benefit to be a charter purpose in addition to the traditional goal of maximizing profit for shareholders.

Changes have come about as consumers use the Internet to become more informed not only about the products and services they purchase, but also the companies from which they purchase them.

Surveys indicate consumers are willing to switch brands and pay more for products and services from companies they perceive as involved with a cause or higher purpose or give back to society, Liebert said. In that sense, consumers vote with their wallets — and businesses are paying attention.

Moreover, employees are more attracted to working for those kinds of companies and willing to take a pay cut to do so, he said.

Research indicates companies involved in conscious capitalism fare better than other companies, Liebert said, particularly over the long-term.

Colorado serves as a “hot spot” not only for business startups and as a place in which to operate businesses, but also enterprises with social missions, he said.

In the Grand Valley, Liebert said Many Rivers Brewing Co.sells beer to fund efforts to raise money for river conservation in the West. Spoons Bistro & Bakery serves meals to support HopeWest and its hospice and palliative care services.

Still other businesses are involved with other causes, he said. “You guys have all the pieces of the puzzle here.”

Entrepreneurs are well-suited to solve problems, he said, whether that’s those involved with starting and growing businesses or addressing social issues. It’s about tapping the power of capitalism.

Even so-called “wicked” problems that defy conventional attempts to solve can by tackled by efforts that bring together people and provide businesses with opportunities to make money, he said.