Sustainability and Philanthropy—Can Walmart Show Us the Way

Sometimes things crystallize all at once.

The New York Times reporter, Stephanie Rosenblum writes this week that Walmart, the behemoth retailer whose ethical, environmental and worker treatment record has been so poor that it will now require its manufacturers supplying goods to its stores to adhere to stricter ethical and environmental standards. This is big news.

If Walmart is capable of raising its bar I am hopeful that our ethically and morally strong but often-slow-to adopt-change community will soon make some headway here as well.

This week I attended a workshop sponsored by BBMG, a progressive brand management firm based in New York that has been a leader in connecting “doing good” with “doing well.” The “Branding for Sustainability,” workshop brought together marketers from Fortune 500 companies, leaders in the sustainability movement and a few of us in the nonprofit field to explore why brand building linked to a strong sustainability practice is both good business and good for our planet.

Consumers now demand and expect that a brand and the organization behind it live a set of values and promises that fit with their (the consumer’s) own belief system. More and more consumers and even some board members of large corporations want the products and services they purchase to be produced in ways that leave a smaller carbon footprint, that are recyclable and have been made by workers who are treated humanely. They want the product and corporate brand to be a full experience of everything the company does and says—not merely be a logo and tagline. I think Walmart is waking up to the voices of their consumers and maybe even a few of their board members.

The question for the organized Jewish community is: Are they paying attention to the full value inherent in their brands? Are they linking their brands to the environmental/sustainability movement? Are they listening to their supporters?

A few weeks ago, Nina Beth Cardin, CEO of Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, COEJL, invited me to join a small group of Jewish professionals in a discussion about how to move the Jewish community toward a culture of sustainability. We started—and I do mean started—to explore the challenge before us and how tricky it is to organize our diverse community from a uniquely Jewish perspective. We all know Jewish individuals who are active in the sustainability movement. Many of them support and even sit on boards of the very organizations that have been slow to figure out their sustainability practice. COEJL is taking the lead on this important agenda and I am hopeful they will offer some valuable approaches in the months ahead. And while COEJL is working on it, maybe they can help Jewish organizations understand why their commitment to the environment will make their brands stronger with the people they depend on for support.