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Marketing That Matters: 10 Practices to Profit Your Business and Change the World (Social Venture Network) Excerpt from Marketing That Matters: 10 Practices to Profit Your Business and Change the World (Social Venture Network)

by Chip Conley and Eric Friedenwald-Fishman

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Do the Right Thing

No business is perfect. Another way you can assure authenticity and appropriately market your social responsibility is to make changes in operations and procedures that address unsustainable practices and improve your social impacts. When you make the choice to do the right thing, you create additional opportunities for customers, suppliers, employees, and partners to experience the authenticity of your brand claim.

One example of a very large multinational company making such a change is Chiquita's move into organic banana production. Chiquita is one of the largest banana producers in the world, growing about 25 percent of the bananas sold in the United States and Europe. It realized that the market was changing and that its customers increasingly wanted healthy organic food. It also recognized that its customers and stakeholders were aware and concerned about the environmental and social impacts of banana growing. So Chiquita made the decision to move to production of organically certified bananas.

To ensure it could make an authentic claim, Chiquita entered into a collaboration with Rainforest Alliance, an independent nongovernmental organization (NGO), to establish certification standards and to conduct annual independent inspections of all of Chiquita's banana farms. The independent inspections hold Chiquita accountable to be in compliance with Rainforest Alliance's environmental and social standards. Rainforest Alliance has certified all of Chiquita's company-owned farms in Latin America. In addition, many of the independent farms that supply Chiquita with bananas are becoming certified, thereby increasing both the acreage and the population working in the banana industry that benefit from Rainforest Alliance's strict standards. Chiquita has also certified all of the company's farms to the rigid international social standards of ISO 14000 (a global series of environmental management system standards) and Social Accountability International SA8000 criteria (the most rigorous international standard for humane workplaces).

The environmental, social, and economic impacts of Chiquita's decision to go organic are massive, considering the company's significant market share, distribution, and marketing reach. Chiquita has made a significant operations change that has begun to improve its corporate image and has created a new value/values proposition for its lead product. Chiquita has also seen an excellent return on investment. According to the Rainforest Alliance, "Although Chiquita has invested more than $20 million to make required capital improvements, the company has reduced its production costs by more than $100 million."

Important to the point we arc making about transparency is the choice that Chiquita made to collaborate with the Rainforest Alliance. Its commitment to use an established NGO, rather than create an industry-managed group, meant that a credible and truly independent organization was establishing the standards, conducting the certification, and monitoring Chiquita's ongoing compliance. Both Chiquita and the Rainforest Alliance post information about the certification program on their Web sites. Chiquita's corporate social responsibility report provides detailed information on the process it has gone through, including its challenges and successes. Chiquita's choice to make its operations transparent for an outside organization (and therefore its customers and the marketplace) authenticated its claims, created trusted messengers, and provided the ability for advocacy groups and customers to hold Chiquita accountable. Chiquita's leadership readily acknowledges the value of the partnership.

"In addition to gaining improved morale and productivity in our farms, we have saved money in the process. Everybody wins -- the workers, the company and the environment, not to mention the Rainforest Alliance, which deserves enormous credit for showing us a better way," said Bob Kistinger, president and chief operating officer of the Chiquita Fresh Group.

It is never the wrong time to do the right thing. Make sure you recognize your own areas for improvement and that you step up to address these challenges. Also, be willing to make changes that rake advantage of new opportunities, changes in the marketplace, or new insights that can help your company walk the talk.

Copyright © 2006 Eric M. Fishman and Stephen Townsend Conley