We’ve all seen it on bumper stickers, mugs, and t-shirts: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” It is our quote-happy culture extolling the virtues of personal transformation, saying that our personal example is the best place to start to achieve a better world. That’s good wisdom, sure enough! While the “Be the change” quote is often attributed to Ghandi, there’s actually no evidence that he said those exact words. What he is quoted as saying is, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.” Ghandi is telling us that social and personal transformation, and the creation of a better world, go hand in hand. The cliff notes version seems fair enough in that context.
So, what does it mean for me to “be the change I wish to see in the world?” It’s a question I’ve pondered a lot during my life, but perhaps never more so than in the past two weeks, which have been for me a strange cosmic confluence of both wonderful and tragic events.
On the “wonderful” front, last Tuesday, GoLite was proud to be among the first certified B Corporations to launch the B the Change campaign in a public setting, in our case in our flagship retail store in Boulder, Colorado. The B the Change campaign was developed by B Lab, the nonprofit organization that is dedicated to helping people use business as a force for good. They are also the organization that certifies companies as “B Corporations.” GoLite is proud to be among the first B Corporations, achieving certification in 2008. B Corps meet the highest global standards for social and environmental performance and transparency. There are over 800 Certified B Corporations globally, in 27 countries and in 60 different industries. As a Certified B Corporation, we are in good company: our fellow B Corps include the likes of Ben & Jerry’s, Cabot Creamery, Method, Seventh Generation and Dansko, to mention just a few. B Corp certification is to sustainable business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee or USDA Organic certification is to milk. Not only has GoLite been certified since 2008, but GoLite scored in the Top 10% for environmental impact amongst all B Corporations for 2 years in a row!
For a bit more information on B Corporations, listen to what was said on Colorado Public Radio.
The effort to transform success in business as we know it, to enable business globally to be not just profitable but to be a forcefor good, is one that we are deeply passionate about here at GoLite, so it made good sense for us to be among the earliest adopters of the B the Change campaign, a multi-year global effort to grow consumer engagement, demand, and action for business as a force for good. And for us, it is a simple way to engage our customers in this movement, to help them realize that they are the ones with the power to make real change in how businesses operate on this planet — through the purchasing decisions that they make every day. Simply put, they can “B the Change” they want to see in the world through the brands that they support in their everyday lives.
What better place for us than our Boulder Pearl Street flagship store to provide a living example of how we can invite people to join our movement to use business as a force for good? Every time a person supports a B Corp, they are an agent of change and are supporting a better way to do business. Supporting companies like GoLite helps us grow and become more successful, encouraging other companies to be inspired and follow our example.
On another “wondeful” front these past two weeks, our beautiful town of Boulder hosted over 300 leaders from certified B Corporations around the world for the annual B Corporation “Champions Retreat.” We gathered to challenge ourselves to determine how we can work together to accelerate the movement – and to launch a call to action to individual consumers to support business as a force for good through the B the Change campaign. We gathered to celebrate the success of the past year, to connect with like-minded peers, and to set an ambitious vision for the next 10 years of creating a better way to do business. Given the location of our gathering in such an outdoor-friendly town, we used the metaphor of mountains to help guide our discussions. We recognized our collective role as lead climbers in an expedition to create a shared and durable prosperity for our civilization.
Some of the most powerful work we did together was during a moderated discussion where we drew inspiration from Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” On the Letter’s 50th anniversary, we asked what our movement to redefine success in business could learn from other social movements that needed to move moderates beyond sympathy to action. As the B Lab founders wrote in materials we used to prepare for this discussion,
It is the 50th anniversary of this inflection point in the civil right movement and we’re using it as a launching pad for a discussion about a potential inflection point in our movement to redefine success in business. It is clearly the height of arrogance to view ourselves and our collective work as analogous to Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement in which people risked, and in many cases, gave their lives fighting for basic human dignity. Nevertheless, while often in a less direct and compelling manner, the fight to use business as a force for good — or even simply to assert, or reassert, a different set of roles and responsibilities for business against a dominant cultural paradigm — will have a similar, and some might say even greater, impact on human dignity around the world today and — given our massive, diverse, and interconnected environmental challenges — the ability for all to reach their potential tomorrow.
King’s letter provided an inspiring launch pad for deepening our movement towards creating a more prosperous future for all of us.
Now, on the “tragic” front, two weeks ago, our beautiful city of Boulder – and many towns and areas throughout the Front Range of Colorado – went through the
most damaging floods to take place in at least 100 years, some weather experts are even saying perhaps as long as 500 or even 1000 years. It was the largest single airlift of victims by helicopter in a 24 hour period since Hurricane Katrina. Homes and once pristine natural landscapes were destroyed and precious lives were lost. Full recovery from this natural disaster will take years. The personal stories of terror and loss, kindness and triumph, have been life-changing for me personally. While damage to my personal property and GoLite’s offices and stores was minimal, this disaster has directly impacted many people close to me. Amidst the tragedy were also some silver linings, including the fact that we hosted an evacuated family in our home for five days, and not just any family but dear friends and their two beautiful children with whom we’d been talking for months about taking a family vacation together. And, we were able to help other dear friends in small ways. Examples of compassion, service and kindness have been abundant and have reminded me of the foundationally good nature of people. Colorado has been dealt another blow, but like the phoenix, we have risen with courage, love and community.
The floods took place four days before B Corporation leaders were scheduled to arrive in Boulder for the Champions Retreat, so there were many fervent discussions about whether to cancel, postpone or move the conference. With heart and conviction, we decided to keep the conference in Boulder, to find a way to help flood recovery efforts, to support local businesses, and to enable our growing community to find even more cohesion and commitment amongst the chaos. No example of cohesion, commitment, community and “being the change” was more apparent than when the B Corp attendees rallied to be of service to a community ravaged by the floods.
Thanks to the Champions Retreat, the flood, and the launch of the B the Change campaign, I’ve spent a good deal of time these past two weeks thinking about what it really means to “be the change” in my own life and for GoLite, whether that’s helping a friend in need, supporting guests in my hometown, rallying the support of my company and my industry to support flood relief, or simply explaining what a disaster is and why it’s important to help people however we can to my concerned 3 year old.
Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King had a dream. Today, I have a dream, too. I have a dream that one day our nation will rise up and reclaim our natural heritage, that from sea to shining sea, under spacious skies and for purple mountain majesties, we will protect and preserve our environment for future generations to enjoy. It is a patriot’s dream, deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day all corporations will see it is as their duty, their honor, to treat people and nature with respect and dignity and will become a real part of the solution to the challenges facing our planet. I have a dream that one day the God-given wild places that inspired Edward Abbey, John Muir and Henry Thoreau will be understood as a necessity of the human spirit, not a luxury to be squandered or plundered. I have a dream that one day all citizens of our beautiful planet will be the change they wish to see in the world. They will vote with their wallets and make choices that ensure humanity’s and our biosphere’s future health and prosperity. And I have a dream that one day the desire for purely selfish gain will no longer stain the banner of the free, and children of all races, colors and creeds will be able to live and thrive in the civilization of our dreams.
What’s your dream? How do you aspire to B the Change?
I am an agent of change. Therefore I GoLite.
About the Author: Kim Coupounas is a values-centered visionary leader, public speaker, and entrepreneur who is a passionate advocate for the environment and a firm believer in the power of the corporation to do good in the world. She co-founded and serves as Chief Sustainability Officer of GoLite, the premier global manufacturer of lightweight, innovative and responsible apparel and equipment designed specifically for outdoor athletes. Kim and her husband founded the company in 1998, and she served as GoLite’s Chief Executive Officer until 2008. Kim’s current work at GoLite includes leading a multi-year metrics-based path to sustainability. Kim is also past Chairman of the Board of the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), she has also served as a founding board member and Chairman of the Board of the Outdoor Industry Association Political Action Committee.