In a constantly changing world and in the face of the obvious climate emergency we ask ourselves how we can make a difference with our daily actions but also through our businesses, projects and/or companies. We interviewed Maite Caballero, a Corporate Social Responsibility consultant who helps large companies and entrepreneurs to create more sustainable and ethical businesses through her company Value by Maite.
In your introduction letter you state “ I help business entrepreneurs become conscious of the impact they create and actually make a difference”
Tell us a little about yourself Maite.
Where does your interest in this area come from?
My story begins when my children were born. Like many other mums, I began realising that we are living quite unsustainably, and I wanted to do better for them – after all, I will be gone one day, and they will continue living with whatever I (we) have left in the planet: whether that’s a conscious mindset and access to natural resources or a planet laid bare with no future in sight.
I wanted to make a change, be better and do better, and inspire others to do the same. So I started working as a consultant and trainer on Corporate Social Responsibility for big companies, helping them make a difference in their communities and also to become more sustainable and ethical businesses. Over time I realised that smaller companies have the most impact locally, and when invested, they are really committed to creating change. No greenwashing, no woke-washing. Simply conscious and caring entrepreneurs wishing to do better, wishing to create purposeful brands that improve people’s lives and still make profit. So this is where I am at now.
How can a small business generate impact and make a difference?
All businesses, no matter the size, can make a positive impact and be responsible.
When you think about it, most of the entrepreneurial tissue in the EU as well as other countries is made up of small and medium-sized companies (90% of businesses in Europe are SMEs! Talk about the impact they can have if they put their heads to it!). They have the advantage of being closer to people, and are more involved in the neighbourhood’s activities and day-to-day life.
In terms of impact there are many things they can do, namely:
- Hire locally – in many instances, some minorities, women or under qualified people will not be accepted to some jobs. Small business owners are more likely to give locals a chance, and they should keep on doing that. You never know how you can change someone’s life simply by providing an opportunity
- Support each other for resources or finance – sometimes it’s easy to buy from the cheapest retailer or to do everything on your own. But why not rely on other local businesses for supplies? It’s always easier to get tailored services and goods with local businesses. Or share resources? (carpooling for goods, specific materials bought in bulk, etc) When local businesses are in good shape, the community and neighbourhood thrives, and you keep the money in the community. It’s a win-win for everyone, and it also helps build a more cohesive community
- Put people ahead of politics – small business owners know what is happening in a community.They know the people, their pains, their hopes, share the good news and provide support in times of need. Instead of sharing your political views, raise awareness of the issues that concern your community, and advocate for change from there. Many local businesses I know, got together and requested vans from the city hall to get deliveries to vulnerable neighbours during COVID; they are also taking a stance on environmental issues and pushing for car-free zones in the village; promoting plastic-free packaging; organising campaigns to donate food to homeless shelters or vulnerable families; advocating for legislative changes that favour the community
- Sponsor, organize, and host local events to maintain a lively community/neighbourhood
- Make conscious and environmentally-friendly choices – many customers will appreciate the fact you’re aligning with their values. Other consumers will be curious about your choices and may be inspired by your example
- Share your skills – mentor young people and share your skills, whether that’s how to run a business, how to choose environmentally-friendly fabrics, marketing, communicating with customers, etc. I find small business owners tend to have vast business knowledge and many skills, since they have to do everything on their own. Share the expertise!
Do you think there are more and more entrepreneurs and businesses concerned about making a good impact on society/environment?
I do. I think that generally businesses are realising two things:
1. The upcoming generations no longer want to work and/or buy to have more. They are more conscious consumers, focused on doing the right thing, and asking businesses to do the same. These younger generations view businesses as catalysts for change that can help them address societal and environmental problems, and they want businesses to be part of the solution.
2. We cannot go on practising business as usual because it’s not sustainable in the long term. The shortages in supply-chains we’ve been experiencing, the increasing number of natural disasters, the lack of resources (incl. wrapping paper for Christmas!) and even the increasing social divide have been a wake up call for many businesses. We need to operate on a more local level, do more with less materials and find ways to minimise our environmental impact and maximise our societal impact.
Can you give us some examples (of entrepreneurs/companies) to get inspired?
We all know how Ben &Jerry’s started activism for racial equity back in the 1980s or how Patagonia is changing mindsets and business models by asking its customers to let them repair clothes instead of buying new ones.
However, smaller players have also created a change:
- in France, during lockdown, several Michelin-starred chefs began cooking for frontline workers, care homes and also distributed food along the A8 motorway near Cannes for the truck drivers who continued to work. They got teams of volunteers to helped them and simply opened their kitchens and got the best of themselves to help out in times of need.
- In London, in my old neighbourhood Clapham South, there was a bakery named Berty & Boo that encouraged mums to create their own businesses baking all sorts of home-made sweet and savoury pastries and cakes for them. I remember asking about the initiative and the barista told me that mums often worry about having a work-family life balance, and yet many are great bakers. So it was their way of confirming that women can do both. I loved the idea, and the muffins too!
- Beyond a good is a chocolate brand that decided to make all of the chocolate bars in Africa instead of getting the cocoa beans and refining them in the US. By making the finished product in Africa, the company makes sure that the money stays in the continent where the raw material comes from. Beyond Good empowers Madagascan and Ugandan cocoa farmers with skills training and higher wages. They have considerably increased the income of 100 people, which is non negligible, specially in an industry where they would otherwise be paid very low wages. This company is presenting a new normal where you don’t take another countries resources but rather make it thrive, contribute to the local economy and give fair wages.
- As a small business owner, I’m also trying to do my bit. At a smaller scale, I’ve been training entrepreneurs and future-preneurs in finding and communicating with purpose. I think we all need to find our purpose and communicate it well so that customers understand that our businesses are much more than just a service or product, and investing in them can help customers establish a more ethics, sustainable business as usual. I believe in social and environmental change, but we need to be able to communicate it to get the message across.
Now that Christmas is approaching and with it the shopping frenzy, we wonder:
What can we do to make Christmas more sustainable/responsible?
We can look at it from two perspectives:
- Offering more sustainable options/products (whether that’s by offering eco-friendly choices for your consumers or reducing your carbon footprint through several initiatives such as zero-waste wrapping).
- Basing Christmas on values instead of consumerism. Promoting this values that we associate with Christmas such as empathy, compassion, respect (for others and the environment), family, etc. through our businesses
What small steps can we take for a more conscious Christmas?
On an individual level, I would recommend:
- Shop small and local. We often tend to over consume during the holidays: we buy more food that we can eat (and end throwing it away) and buy more presents than we need (and in the end, we don’t use them). Sometimes offering experiences based on individual preferences is best than an actual present. So shopping small and local will help reduce our overall waste, carbon footprint and also buy smarter.
- Think about where your present will be in 5 years and decide whether it’s worth it from an environmental or social perspective (e.g. many kids toys are made from plastic and used for no more than a few months – alternatives could be books, theatre or cinema tickets, wooden toys or if it has to be a plastic toy let’s make sure they use it beyond a few months)
- Buy energy efficient or LED lights if you have to, and eco-friendly decorations
- Recycle, up cycle, renew whatever we have from previous years, and this includes decorations as well as festive clothes
- Buy real trees instead of plastic ones. Real trees will biodegrade when recycled, whereas plastic trees will live on in landfill
- Join the Furoshiki tradition of wrapping presents in cotton or satin cloths that can be reused afterwards
Any readings that you recommend to start looking into these topics during the Christmas vacations?
Believe IT by Jamie Kern Lima – she started small but with a clear purpose, truly inspiring.
The Responsible Company: What We’ve Learned From Patagonia’s First 40 Years by Yvon Chouinard & Vincent Stanley
Ecological Intelligence: The Hidden Impacts of What We Buy by Daniel Goleman
Tell us about your Game Changers group: what is its purpose? Who does it target?
There are many entrepreneurs that want to create positive impact but just don’t know how. So I created this group to make sure entrepreneurs got more information on how to be able to create impact through their business as well as the encouragement to get started.
It’s early days, but my goal is that over time we will create a vibrant community of change makers who seek synergies with likeminded entrepreneurs.