Photo Credits: Whole Kids
Why and how did you become a ‘Conscious’ business? And tell us about your journey to becoming a certified BCorp?
We launched the first range of Whole Kids organic snacks in 2005, although the idea for the business started about three years earlier. My wife Monica and I were both a bit fed up with working in big corporations and wondered what to do next. Around the same time, our older brothers and sisters kept telling us how hard it was to find healthy, additive-free snacks for their kids’ school lunches that also tasted good.
We thought about this a lot and we didn’t want the same problems when we got around to having a family (we now have two kids: Chloe, 10 and Sam, 6), so we thought maybe we should make healthy lunchbox snacks for kids.
With no food industry experience between us, how hard could it be? Well, we soon found out how hard it can be…..but that’s another story!
The more we delved into these problems and frustrations that parents were experiencing, the more infuriated we became with the ethics, motives and conventions of many parts of the food industry. Issues like junk food marketing to kids, misleading health claims, not disclosing all ingredients in a product on the packaging, and so on.
It really got our goat up. We felt something needed to change.
When we seriously started working on what products Whole Kids was going to make, we also added one more ingredient into the mix. We didn’t want to create a business just like all the ones we had worked for where profit and revenue were the primary focus. We both had spent too many years working in soul-less corporations. We wanted Whole Kids to make a real impact on these issues affecting parents and families, and that’s why we created the business from the start with an unshakeable core of social and environmental responsibility. And this core was based on our own personal values and ethics.
We see our BCorp certification working in parallel with our product certification. Our organic certification provides customers and retailers with the confidence that all our products are genuinely organic and meet strict standards of production and compliance. Our BCorp certification provides our customers, as well as our suppliers, distributors and employees, with the confidence that our business as a whole has been externally and independently assessed for our impact on our employees, suppliers, community and the environment against a set of comprehensive standards.
What is your business purpose?
Our purpose is to make it easier for mums and dads to create a happy, healthy life for their kids. We aim to live this in everything we do, and each day we try to find new ways to bring our purpose to life.
Right now, Whole Kids is a food business, but our purpose may take us beyond food in the future and to think about different initiatives that seek to positively impact kids’ health and well-being.
How do you instill this purpose through the business, internally and externally?
We have three pillars that underpin our purpose and guide us in living and breathing our purpose every day at Whole Kids. The pillars or tenets provide the framework of us to instill our purpose, internally and externally, and influences are actions, whether it is developing new policies or procedures, creating new products, or managing supplier relationships.
We will make the most natural, wholesome and environmentally sustainable food for children and families.
We will nourish and nurture the health and wellbeing of our customers and our people in a way that is respectful and responsible.
We will work to provide a sustainable environment for current and future generations, and to restore our planet’s health.
Why should businesses be a force for good?
When we founded Whole Kids around 15 years ago, there wasn’t really a term to capture the essence of this way of thinking about business as a force for good, yet Monica and I create our business on the very same principles and values that Conscious Capitalism and the BCorporation movement are all about, because they were simply an extension of our own personal human values.
We believed at the time of launching Whole Kids, and still do, that businesses should not exist solely to extract profit at every opportunity, but rather seek ways to create more “inclusive value” for all stakeholder groups. Profit, like red-blood cells in a human body, is still important to the function of a business, however it’s just not the sole reason for its being.
For our precious planet to continue to support human society, we need to move away from business as an “extractive” activity on Earth’s finite resources, and toward business being more inclusive, equitable, humanistic and regenerative.
What are you working on or most proud of?
I’m very proud that Whole Kids is still a family-owned business and we have an incredibly talented and passionate team working for us. While I always think we can do more with the business from a social and environmental impact perspective (rather than an end-goal, I view our progress here as a continuous journey), I’m very proud of the impact we’ve had to date.
Some of our key initiatives have been:
- Donating over 500,000 nutritious breakfasts to kids in Cambodia in conjunction with our community partner Plan Australia.
- Ambassadors for the release of children held in detention on Nauru.
- Partnering with an environmental company to fully recycle and upcycle our packaging waste.
- Working with school parent groups to create additive-free canteens.
- Advocating for tighter regulations around junk food marketing to kids.
- Supporting NGOs (like FoodBank) to distribute food to families in need.
And just this week we announced the launch of Parents2020 which is joint project by certified B Corporations Whole Kids and Disruptive Media in recognition that the actions we take over this decade are critical in achieving climate change goals. The practical, everyday guide provides easy tips and resources that support families to take simple steps to tackle climate change.
In 2019, over 500 global B Corporations publicly committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to reach net zero targets by 2030 – 20 years ahead of the 2050 targets set in the Paris Agreement. This commitment driven by B Corps and reflected by much of the wider business community was part of the reason we established Parents2020. With businesses making this pledge, we saw a need to help people take that commitment through to the household level.
Is there a business that has been your role model? What has been your inspiration?
I guess my conscious awakening in this area of responsible business (and I’m about to show my age here), happened around 25 years ago when I was fortunate to complete my MBA at Georgetown University in America.
While the MBA taught me one way to think about the purpose of business (and mostly from a pragmatic, singular focus on financial performance), I was actually discovering companies outside the lecture room like Ben & Jerry’s, Seventh Generation and Patagonia that proved there was a better, more socially responsible way to run a business. These businesses still operated as a business, but had much more heart and soul, and weren’t afraid to show it. Businesses that really cared.
I was also inspired by the late Ray Anderson from Interface who was a true pioneer in this space, as well as the writings of Paul Hawken (“The Ecology of Commerce”). Both these leaders realised in the early 1990s that traditional profit-maximising businesses are the main driver of ecological damage. Ray managed to turn Interface, a highly extractive business (petroleum-intensive carpet manufacturer), into a world leader for environmental sustainability.
What was the journey to BCorp certification like? Any words of advice?
Whole Kids was one of the first businesses in Australia to be certified as a BCorporation. We started the process in 2012 and received our certification in early 2013. Back then, the BLab assessment was very US-centric and we found many of the questions weren’t relevant to us. However, the assessment has become more sophisticated and more global, and it is now a comprehensive tool to measure a business’s social impact, environmental performance, and governance.
A good start for any businesses considering BCorp certification is to complete the B Impact Assessment tool. It provides a useful insight into how you’re performing as a purpose-led business, and the journey you can take to become certified.
What would you say to other businesses who want to become a BCorp?
Take the BCorp Assessment Tool to see how you initially measure up. You might find that your business is already prepared to start the more formal assessment to certification, or more likely you’ll find areas that need further work. BLab Australia can offer the support to guide you through what improvements you need to make in order to progress to certification.
Even if you don’t decide to apply for certification, I think you’ll find the shorter assessment tool a valuable exercise. It will show you the benefits of running a purpose-led business and how you can create positive social and environmental impact.
And once you gain certification, jump right into the community, both here in Australia and globally. With almost 3,500 BCorps in over 70 countries, it is an amazing network of like-minded businesses and organisations to learn from and connect with.
The theme for BCorp month is “Better Together for a Better World”. What do you see as the opportunity for businesses to “build back better” in a post-COVID world? And what collaborations could help achieve it?
COVID has shown us how fragile our economy is to external shocks, particularly certain sectors like travel, hospitality the arts, and retail. It has also shown how resilient communities can be, and how supportive and collaborative people can be to each other. COVID, at least in the short term, has shifted the focus from global to local, and reinforced the importance of our local community fabric and networks.
COVID-19 won’t be the last epidemic we’ll see, and we may not fully eradicate the current virus. We will continue to live in unpredictable times, and uncertainty and disruption are fertile grounds for innovation, breakthrough thinking and collaborative partnerships. I think we will see in a post-COVID world many ways that businesses can re-imagine customer relationships, supply chain networks, distribution, and product innovation. The BCorp community understands that businesses working together, even competitors, can have a greater potential impact than treading a path alone.