On Being with Krista Tippett

Jonathan Greenblatt

The Business of Doing Good

Last Updated

July 31, 2008

The news has been marked in recent years, at regular intervals, by the moral and practical downfall of prominent businesses. Jonathan Greenblatt is among a new generation of entrepreneurs who want to lead a fundamental shift in corporate culture as well as philanthropy — a merger between making a profit and doing good. We explore his way of seeing the world and his economics of “ethical brand architecture” and “fiercely pragmatic idealism.”

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Jonathan Greenblatt is CEO of GOOD magazine and a lecturer at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. He's also the co-founder of Ethos Water.


July 31, 2008

KRISTA TIPPETT, HOST: I’m Krista Tippett. Today, “The Business of Doing Good.” We explore a new generation’s convergence of capitalist strategies and social change. My guest, social entrepreneur Jonathan Greenblatt, sees the world from the vantage point of Ethos Water, GOOD magazine, the X PRIZE, and the United Nations Foundation. He describes an emerging vision that he believes can transform the very notions of social responsibility and business ethics from the ground up.

MR. JONATHAN GREENBLATT: What’s encouraging about this generation is there’s a willingness to roll up your sleeves and get in the game and try to make the world a better place and not think, ‘I only can do that by — through volunteerism. Or I can only do that by politics,’ but ‘I can also do that by starting businesses and building companies by taking a market-based approach.’

MS. TIPPETT: This is Speaking of Faith. Stay with us.

Ms. Tippett: I’m Krista Tippett. This hour, we explore a new generation’s merger of capitalist instincts and 21st-century social ideals. My guest, social entrepreneur Jonathan Greenblatt, is a high-profile example of what he calls “pragmatic idealism.” In the work he does now, Jonathan Greenblatt describes an emerging mentality that he believes can transform the very notions of social responsibility and business ethics from the ground up.

From American Public Media, this is Speaking of Faith, public radio’s conversation about religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas. Today, “The Business of Doing Good.”

Jonathan Greenblatt is the CEO of GOOD, a magazine and media company with a live-events platform launched in 2006, as its Web site says, “for people who want to live well and do good.” In college in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Greenblatt says that he and his friends did not find role models for their desire to change the world in the legacy of 1960s idealism. And studies abroad made them aware of the legacy of American exceptionalism — business and philanthropy based on an assumption that Americans know what is best for the entire world. Greenblatt joined Bill Clinton’s first campaign for president, worked on international economic policy in the Clinton White House, and later helped found a technology start-up. Then he co-founded Ethos Water with his friend and current Ethos leader Peter Thum.

MR. GREENBLATT: He was actually on a consulting engagement in South Africa, where he saw people living without water and thought there are billions of people in need of clean drinking water and there’s a multi-billion market for bottled water. How can we bring those, the people in need together with — the haves and the have-nots, if you will. And so the two of us founded Ethos Water in 2002 as a premium bottled water designed to help children around the world to get clean water.

MS. TIPPETT: Ethos soon became one of the fastest-growing bottled water companies in the U.S., and in 2005 it was acquired by Starbucks for $8 million. Jonathan Greenblatt served as a vice president at Starbucks for a year after that. He sees Ethos as an example of a burgeoning sector of ethical brands — products, as he puts it, “with mission embedded in their brand architecture, in their DNA.” Ethos Water was designed to draw attention to the world water crisis and to alleviate this crisis for children in need by donating a portion of the profits of each bottle sold. I wondered as we began to speak how Jonathan Greenblatt thinks about a seeming contradiction: that in creating another premium water sold in a plastic bottle, Ethos might also be aggravating the global ecological crisis.

MR. GREENBLATT: It’s a very fair question. In many ways, bottled water is simply a product of convenience. I’ve had people tell me they think it’s an irrational product. What I would say is that the way we looked at the problem there and found the opportunity was as this market continues to grow, whether we like it or not …

MS. TIPPETT: The market of bottled water, premium bottled water.

MR. GREENBLATT: Of bottled water.

MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm.

MR. GREENBLATT: Correct. If we could build a brand that would steal share from the large multinational corporations who dominate the category and in stealing share drive dollars back to children in need, families in need, around the world, we thought that was a pretty good outcome, because those dollars would all be incremental dollars that otherwise wouldn’t have flowed into water programs, latrines, wells, hygiene-education classes in places like Africa, Asia, Latin America, et cetera.

Now, what I would say is that we tried to minimize our impact in every way that we could. We obtained our water locally — close to the customers — so we’d minimize the carbon footprint and diminish the impact on any one particular water source. We tried to, you know, we evaluated biodegradable packaging options. We encouraged our consumers to recycle. We tried to take measures that we felt were meaningful. But, you know, at the end of the day, Peter and I started this business in my son’s bedroom with our savings and, you know, with our credit cards.


MR. GREENBLATT: And we had never — we had aspirations of grandeur, but to be frank it had pretty humble origins. And we always believed that if we could, through Ethos, make a difference in some way, if we could touch a child or touch a family or, better yet, inspire a consumer here in the United States to get involved, that in and of itself would be worth the effort of trying. And so I’m pleased about the fact that our vision has really come to fruition.

MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm.

MR. GREENBLATT: And Ethos is — again, I’m no longer involved with the brand.

MS. TIPPETT: I know.

MR. GREENBLATT: Peter’s doing an amazing job at Starbuck’s to lead it, but today it is an incredibly fast-growing brand that’s taking share away from the market leaders and in doing so, as I’ve seen myself with my own eyes, helping children in Ethiopia, in Kenya, in Honduras, in India, and the list goes on. So it’s definitely not perfect but I would say progress, not perfection …


MR. GREENBLATT: … should be a mantra.

MS. TIPPETT: Uh-huh. I was looking at the home page for GOOD magazine, where you are now.

MR. GREENBLATT: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

MS. TIPPETT: And there’s a sentence that says, you know, “We see a growing number of people tied together not by age, career, background, or circumstance but by a shared interest. This revolves around a passion for potential mixed with fierce pragmatism and creative engagement.”


MS. TIPPETT: I mean, I think the fierce pragmatism is a really important part of that sentence. Yours is not the idealism of the 1960s generation out to change the world.


MS. TIPPETT: I mean, how aware are you of that?

MR. GREENBLATT: Very aware. I mean, I think that during the 1960s, President Kennedy set up the Peace Corps. And I think that is a marvelous role model in many ways for the ethos of service that we’re talking about today. In the late ’60s, the model was protest and that protest achieved great change in many ways, but today it’s really a model of proaction. And so what we seek to drive is what we call pragmatic idealism. There’s nothing wrong with idealism, but it needs to be pragmatic and it needs to be focused and it needs to be with rolling up your sleeves and changing the world here and now.

MS. TIPPETT: It’s also, I mean, there’s competition built into it too, right? Part of the strategy you described is beating Evian and Fiji Water at their game.

MR. GREENBLATT: Sure. Sure. I wouldn’t name, you know, call them out by name.

MS. TIPPETT: All right. All right. Right.

MR. GREENBLATT: But what I would say is, sure, I think this is a generation today that embraces the marketplace, that realizes the power of market-based forces. And the question becomes do we allow the market to run our lives or, rather, do we use the market to achieve social good? And, you know, it’s a bit of an inversion on what Milton Friedman is — on Friedmanism, which has dominated economic theory for the past half-century. He talks about that the purpose of a corporation is to generate profit for its shareholders. The challenge or the opportunity of today is that shareholders’ interests have changed, and they no longer think only about the bottom line. They realize that the bottom line needs to be considered on a more contextual basis. And so businesses that win in the marketplace will be those that deliver great products and services, make no mistake. They have to achieve profits and succeed in their categories, but at the same time you can drive social good in a way that creates a tighter, richer, and more enduring value proposition for everyone.

MS. TIPPETT: And then I think, though, there must be compromises and complexity that come with succeeding at what you’re doing. I mean, Ethos Water was purchased by Starbucks, and there’s a strategic partnership with PepsiCo now, is that right?


MS. TIPPETT: And, again, you’re not there anymore, but you are not just aware of Ethos Water, you’re dealing with all kinds of entrepreneurs all the time. I mean, with that kind of growth and success and institutionalization, I wonder how much of a danger there is of some of the same kinds of greed and corruption that we have seen in some of these venerable businesses, venerable areas of commerce.

MR. GREENBLATT: Well, there’s always an opportunity for risk, but I would rather try than not. And I think if we look at the world we live in today the stakes are so high: climate change, global development, political reform, the list goes on. What’s encouraging about this generation is though there is always risk there is a willingness to roll up your sleeves and get in the game and try to make the world a better place. And not think, ‘I only can do that through volunteerism. Or I can only do that by politics,’ but ‘I can also do that by starting businesses, by building companies, by taking a market-based approach.’ And in actuality, those might be the more effective ways to reach scale and develop reach and actually touch more lives.

MS. TIPPETT: The Friedmanism that Jonathan Greenblatt referred to is the thought of Milton Friedman who won a Nobel Prize for economics in 1976. He championed and legitimized the notion that a free market is more efficient than government at solving problems and improving people’s lives. Here is Milton Friedman with the television interviewer Phil Donahue in 1979. Donahue asked whether Friedman ever questioned capitalism and the necessity of greed at its center.

MR. FRIEDMAN: Tell me, is there some society you know that doesn’t run on greed? What is greed? Of course, none of us are greedy; it’s only the other fellow who’s greedy. This — the world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interests. You know, I think you’re taking a lot of things for granted. Just tell me where in the world you find these angels who are going to organize society for us.

MS. TIPPETT: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is Speaking of Faith from American Public Media. Today, “The Business of Doing Good.”

In the early years of Ethos Water, Jonathan Greenblatt and the current company leader, Peter Thum, donated 50 percent of profits to humanitarian water projects in developing countries. Today, the Starbucks Foundation gives away five cents on each bottle of Ethos Water it sells at around $1.80, and it reports that to date it has committed $6 million in grants toward the world water crisis. Yet some argue that this is a proverbial drop in the bucket of Starbucks’ presumed total earnings on Ethos Water, which the company does not report publicly. I asked Jonathan Greenblatt how he thinks about such concerns.

MR. GREENBLATT: To those people who would protest and say, ‘This seems like — I’m not — I don’t like Ethos because it’s part of the problem, not part of the solution,’ I say, ‘Bravo. Then come join us. You start a better — you start a company that will drive millions of dollars to help those people in need. You go petition Congress to pass the Water for the Poor Act. You think about a strategy to engage people.’ Because, again, I think pragmatic idealism isn’t just about waving red flags; it’s about saying, ‘I’m going to spend my spring break in New Orleans.’ It’s about saying, ‘I’d rather go work for Teach for America when I graduate than some financial services firm.’ It’s not about talking; it’s about doing. So to those people who don’t like Ethos, I say, ‘Don’t drink it.’ Or better yet, get involved. Do something.

MS. TIPPETT: I mean, and again, you know, here’s part of the context also that the statistics are just terrifying: 1.2 billion people right now lacking clean drinking water, 2.5 billion lacking basic sanitation. And at the same time that, you know, people like you and others are, you know, doing many different kinds of projects, coming up with visions to address this in some way. You know, you’ll have a Goldman Sachs analysis calling water “petroleum for the next century” and describing the great rewards that are out there for investors who know how to play this infrastructure boom.

MR. GREENBLATT: Well, it certainly is a precious commodity. It’s unfortunate when much of the world only seems to see it as such an economic good rather than a social good. And I think there certainly is an argument to be made for those businesses that want to invest in water, that want to build infrastructure and that make, you know, enjoy the benefits of those investments. At the same time, it would be wonderful to see those same businesses put up matching funds or create other programs to while they are making money in the water game, to make sure everyone in the world has a right to affordable clean drinking water. That would be a marvelous outcome. Because, you know, some people have said this to me before about Ethos. They say, ‘Wow. The model’s really imitable. Anyone can do that, right?’

MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm.

MR. GREENBLATT: And I say Godspeed. Wouldn’t it be marvelous if every multinational company that’s making bottled water spend a couple cents per bottle to help fund water programs for children around the world? Wouldn’t that be a marvelous outcome? So if every firm that’s investing in water — as you described as the quote/unquote “new petroleum” — was putting money aside to make sure that those in need had clean water, wouldn’t that be a wonderful outcome?

MS. TIPPETT: So — yeah. So there’s maybe a purist way to look at it and say, well, wouldn’t it be wonderful if that disconnect between the way we would analyze the water crisis as a human crisis, or the way you can analyze it as an economic opportunity, that that disconnect somehow collapsed, right?


MS. TIPPETT: But I think what you’re saying is that that disconnect may always be there. And you’re talking about operating on that assumption.

MR. GREENBLATT: Yeah. There may always be a disconnect by what some see as the economic sphere and what some see as the social sphere. What I would hope that we can do is try to build bridges between the spheres, because I think when we do that, when we create companies and build businesses that connect the two — how does one drive financial returns and at the same time achieve social good? — I ultimately think those are more sustainable, more enduring value propositions that will resonate with consumers and have a greater chance of success in the marketplace. So it’s my hope that, and I think you’re seeing this with the wave of social entrepreneurism that has really flourished in the last few years, more businesses built on that very premise of bridging the divide.

MS. TIPPETT: Now, you’ve been kind of talking about this without naming it, but another thing that you have really challenged in terms of how you see the world and the projects you’ve been involved in, Ethos Water in particular, is, you know, you’ve said, “We should demolish the mythology around top-down aid-driven programs as the elixir for global poverty. Quite simply, the classic premise of aid to poor nations has failed.”


MS. TIPPETT: I mean, that, I think, is an idea that is growing. I hear you saying it, articulating it, very clearly and that being a way you’ve seen the world and constructed your own enterprises.

MR. GREENBLATT: Yeah. You know, I think that when I studied these issues in college and then when I worked with the Clinton administration, certainly in the front end there was a strong belief that it was aid that would solve the problem of global poverty.

MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm.

MR. GREENBLATT: And the whole Bretton Woods system that we live with today, like the World Bank and the IMF, these institutions are built on the premise that aid is the strategy. It was the strategy to redevelop Europe and rebuild Japan, and it’s the strategy to, you know, uplift the poor. And I think the verdict is in: Aid is important but aid is inadequate. Top-down aid is not the only solution and, in fact, if that’s all you have it will fail.

Then in the ’90s I saw this up close. I worked on NAFTA, I worked on GAD, I worked on some other trade initiatives. There was a belief that if not aid it will be trade that will solve global poverty and that we need to tear down tariff and nontariff barriers and encourage investment, facilitate investment flows and corporations through technology transfer, and more active trade can help uplift the poor. And that as an ideology, that as a silver bullet, is also inadequate and wrong. Aid and trade are both important, but I do think what you’re referring to, and what I’m encouraged by, has been the explosion of not aid or trade as a strategy, but what I call homemade solutions to solving poverty. And these are bottoms-up enterprise-driven approaches that leverage the entrepreneurial talent of local communities, where it often exists. And what it needs maybe is a little bump, a little acceleration, and things like microfinance can help to provide that. But the right mix of aid, trade, and homemade is really a more holistic approach to sort of solving the endemic issues of global poverty.

MS. TIPPETT: Well, give me an example. Tell me about homemade — what did you say? Homemade and trade …

MR. GREENBLATT: The homemade …

MS. TIPPETT: … and homemade solutions?

MR. GREENBLATT: Yeah. Aid, trade, and homemade. Yeah, exactly.

MS. TIPPETT: OK. So give us a picture of what that can look like.

MR. GREENBLATT: Sure. Well, one of my favorites is a group called KickStart, which actually has an office in San Francisco and is an organization started by two marvelous guys, a gentleman by the name of Nick Moon and the other gentleman named Martin Fisher. And these were guys who’d actually worked in the aid business before, but realized homemade was really the approach to enable people to improve their livelihoods much more effectively than any top-down model. So they created something they call aptly enough the “Super Money Maker.” Talk about marketing. It’s a treadle pump that a villager, let’s say in an area like sub-Saharan Africa, can use to irrigate sort of a very small local area, let’s say a quarter-acre up to an acre. Using a treadle pump that with your hip you can rock and you can bring water from a low-lying aquifer out of the ground to irrigate crops and to, you know, enable produce in your, again, small garden, if you will.

MS. TIPPETT: So it’s a Super Money Maker because of all the good things that can flow from it or …

MR. GREENBLATT: Exactly. And it’s amazing because it’s very cheap to manufacture and they market it through like a franchise strategy and it has had a demonstrable impact on the lives of families in places like Kenya and Tanzania and some of the other countries in sub-Saharan Africa where they’ve rolled it out. And so it’s far too small and far too trifling for anyone from the World Bank to notice and yet it’s had a massive impact on people.

MS. TIPPETT: KickStart teamed up with the Tanzanian rap star Mr. Ebbo to promote the Money Maker water pump with this song called “Don’t Wait for the Rain.”

[Sound bite of music]

MS. TIPPETT: You can see the music video with subtitles on our Web site, speakingoffaith.org.

[Sound bite of music]

MR. GREENBLATT: And, you know, I’ll tell you that I’ve been involved as an adviser to an organization called the X PRIZE Foundation. It’s a fantastic organization that really pioneered in many ways the modern concept of prize philanthropy. So you put up a prize to solve a difficult problem. So in 1996, the X PRIZE Foundation put out a $10 million prize to the first privately funded nongovernmental team that could build a vehicle that could achieve suborbital altitude, a hundred kilometers, twice within 10 days. And they did this because they wanted to catalyze the nonexistent space industry. And sure enough, what that prize did was attract all of these risk-takers. And in order to win that $10 million prize, in aggregate, they spent over a $100 million worth of R&D. So it was interesting because that $10 million prize drove great leverage. And, you know, Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic in the first part of the 20th century to win a prize. And the prize that — the X PRIZE, you know, was sort of standing on the shoulders of that initial Orteig prize, demonstrating the power of leverage philanthropy. And I’ve helped them to develop a concept to create an X PRIZE on poverty.

MS. TIPPETT: Oh, you have?

MR. GREENBLATT: Which is how can — mm-hmm.

MS. TIPPETT: Oh, you have?

MR. GREENBLATT: Which is how can — mm-hmm.

MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm.

MR. GREENBLATT: How can we use a prize concept to accelerate progress in this area to drive more homemade solutions to poverty and to encourage the forces that will catalyze this approach, this grassroots bottom-up approach to solving a really important global problem?

MS. TIPPETT: There’s something in this that must appeal to an American imagination, because you’re using competition to do good, to drive good.

MR. GREENBLATT: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

MS. TIPPETT: But there’s something counterintuitive about it as well.

MR. GREENBLATT: Yeah. Yeah. Perhaps. Perhaps. But I think, again, I think we live in this day and age of pragmatic idealism.


MR. GREENBLATT: It’s not about saying there’s one approach. It’s not about saying it’s only about green. It’s not about saying you have to be a volunteer. It’s taking a much more dimensionalized and I think a much more pragmatic approach to individuals, businesses, and nonprofits coming together to collaborate and move the world forward.

MS. TIPPETT: At speakingoffaith.org, learn more about some of the new social entrepreneurs Jonathan Greenblatt has been talking about. View videos of KickStart co-founder Martin Fisher talking about his Money Maker water pump and see Segway inventor Dean Kamen demonstrate a device that can turn almost anything with water content into clean drinkable water. Download the MP3 of this program and my complete conversation with Jonathan Greenblatt at speakingoffaith.org.

[Sound bite of music]

MS. TIPPETT: After a short break, more conversation with Jonathan Greenblatt, including why technology might improve the moral accountability of companies and how Wall Street might be changed by ethical brands and social entrepreneurs. I’m Krista Tippett. Stay with us. Speaking of Faith comes to you from American Public Media.

[Sound bite of music]


MS. TIPPETT: Welcome back to Speaking of Faith, public radio’s conversation about religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas. I’m Krista Tippett. Today, “The Business of Doing Good.” We’re exploring a new generation’s merger of capitalist strategies and social change. My guest, Jonathan Greenblatt, co-founded Ethos Water and he’s now CEO of the media company GOOD, which has a magazine with about 60,000 subscribers and also conducts live events.

Greenblatt speaks widely, teaches social entrepreneurship at UCLA, and advises a number of global projects from the X PRIZE to the United Nations Global Water Challenge. In the world in which he moves, the vocabulary of corporate social responsibility, or CSR, has given way to the language of ethical brands. And where some corporations have been accused of merely whitewashing their ethical image with corporate responsibility mission statements, new consumer watchdogs have coined the term “greenwashing” to describe companies that are green primarily as a marketing tool.

In the work he does now, Jonathan Greenblatt describes an emerging mentality that he believes can transform the very notions of social responsibility and business ethics from the ground up.

MS. TIPPETT:Let’s talk about GOOD<.>GOOD is not just a magazine, right? It’s a multimedia project.

MR. GREENBLATT: It is. It is. We really think about GOOD as a collaboration of individuals, businesses, and nonprofits moving the world forward. GOOD started as a magazine. It launched in September 2006 on the newsstand, and it’s not just about socially conscious content. You know, it’s not just about sort of preaching to people. Instead, it’s got to be entertaining. It’s got to be stimulating. It’s got to be fun. And what GOOD is trying to do is blend entertainment and relevance in a way that reaches — again, there’s a bit of a demographic skew to it, but reaches the broad community of people who are pragmatic idealists who want to move the world forward. And I think an important dimension of that and certainly to the time in which we live, Krista, is I think we live in a moment where we lose if we try to preach top-down to people and say, ‘This is good.’

MS. TIPPETT: Hmm. Mm-hmm.

MR. GREENBLATT: As in “you should buy this product.”

MS. TIPPETT: Shoulds.

MR. GREENBLATT: Or you should — exactly.

MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm.

MR. GREENBLATT: Instead, our dialectic is a conversation. It’s not about us telling you this is good. Instead, it’s about asking the question, what is good? So I think we’re taking a bit of a different approach that’s very consistent with the direction in which the world is going and I think is the right approach relative to solving some of the great problems of our day.

MS. TIPPETT: But I don’t really, I mean, I know that this is a media project, but I actually see it more as an endeavor to build a movement or catalyze a movement.

MR. GREENBLATT: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

MS. TIPPETT: You talk about the sensibility of giving a damn.

MR. GREENBLATT: Yeah. And I think that speaks, you know, in a way that’s sort of a euphemism for this pragmatic idealism.


MR. GREENBLATT: If we can make that sensibility the dominant sensibility, I think everybody wins. Because, again, the problems we have in this moment in time are so colossal and complex, we need everybody to give a damn. We need everybody to get involved. What we won’t do is tell you how you must do that. Instead, we’ll just try to give you the pathways to find your route to giving a damn and to getting involved.

MS. TIPPETT: So how do you measure success? And I mean you specifically. How do you — what do you look at right now that feels to you like success and how do you think about, you know, what you want to accomplish with this?

MR. GREENBLATT: That’s a good question.

MS. TIPPETT: And what will matter.

MR. GREENBLATT: Yeah. Well, I think there are a couple of ways to think about it. How do we measure success? One thing that GOOD has done was to invert some of the classic elements of the mainstream media model. So let me give you one example. Big media companies, and I won’t mention names but large multinational corporations, spend a ton of money on direct mail to acquire new subscribers, $40, $50, maybe $60. And that’s used to buy lists and to send mailing. And it is often the case, they’ll basically give away the subscription. So once they lock you in, they spent $60 to acquire a new subscriber …

MS. TIPPETT: You mean $60 per person that they’re approaching?

MR. GREENBLATT: Per person.

MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm.

MR. GREENBLATT: Per person. Then they’ll say, ‘I’ll tell you what. I’ll give you 12 issues of my magazine for 12 bucks or 10 bucks or eight bucks.’ They’re cutting down a lot of trees and giving away a lot of money to acquire a subscriber, and they hope to make money on the back end, right, through advertising. So GOOD turned the model on its head and the founders said, ‘Well, why should we cut down the trees and waste the money? Instead, and if we’re just going to give away the subscriptions, instead of us giving away that money, why don’t we allow our subscribers to give it away?’ You spend 20 bucks to acquire a subscription and then you get to choose the nonprofit to whom we will donate that money for you.

MS. TIPPETT: OK. So I was wondering how you could afford — what would be the business model behind giving away? Because you do advertise it.


MS. TIPPETT: You’ll give 100 percent of the subscription fee to the charity of that choice. And you’re saying if it were a traditional model you would be spending that money on luring that subscriber in the first place?

MR. GREENBLATT: Yeah. The traditional model would be I would spend more money to lure the subscriber, and I would lose money on the subscription. Instead, we don’t spend any money on direct mail. We don’t spend any money on paid media. Instead, we say it’s a better use of our resources to allow our subscribers to give that money away. And that will engender trial and maybe more importantly that will align individual interest with the greater good. As in, ‘I get a magazine and a media product.’ It’s also about not only getting a great product, but I’ve deepened my relationship with Teach for America or Ashoka or NRDC or Room to Read or any number of the nonprofits with whom we work.

MS. TIPPETT: So I want to ask you how you react to the cynicism that comes your way as well with this kind of venture, right? I mean, this word “earnest” has been thrown around in The New York Times and Gawker, “your grating earnestness.”


MS. TIPPETT: I mean …


MS. TIPPETT: … I get it and I also wonder how you think of that as a phenomenon, this cynicism that comes at what you’re trying to do.

MR. GREENBLATT: Listen, I think skepticism is healthy.

MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm.

MR. GREENBLATT: I think that there’s utility to sort of asking hard questions and being really sober about the quote/unquote “new new thing.” So I have no problem with that. I think we should expect it. And the fact of the matter is, if the integrity is there, if the results are there, that’s the best way to respond to skepticism.

MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm.

MR. GREENBLATT: So, you know, this year, later this summer the Choose GOODcampaign will have raised over a million dollars for these nonprofits. All right? That’s a million dollars of incremental funds to some of the best organizations in the world. So you’re going to make, you know, the planet a better place. And more importantly, that is, you know, hundreds of thousands of readers who are more informed, who are more engaged, who are more likely to participate in making the world a better place. So you can say that, wow, that’s very earnest or that’s very idealistic, or that’s very starry-eyed, but you know what? The results speak for themselves.

[Sound bite of music]

MS. TIPPETT: And then, again, in this world that falls under this large umbrella of socially conscious business, there are things legitimately to be cynical about. There’s a new word, “greenwashing.”


MS. TIPPETT: It’s kind of interesting that the language of religion has seeped into the way people talked about this, right?


MS. TIPPETT: There was an environmental marketing company, TerraChoice, that identified the six sins of greenwashing. There was, you know, hidden trade-offs, vagueness, irrelevance, fibbing, or the lesser of two evils. An example of that would be organic cigarettes.

MR. GREENBLATT: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

MS. TIPPETT: I mean, I think there’s been some — I’ve heard you speak in other venues about some of the issues that have been raised around Gap’s Red Campaign, for example.


MS. TIPPETT: I mean, talk to me about that, and what does that also tell you about the potential dark side of this new way of — this new fusion of capitalism and social action that you’re also a part of?

MR. GREENBLATT: Well, I think it’s funny, because you asked me earlier about corporations being increasingly sort of corrupt or seeing more criticism. I think in many ways, technology is accelerating the trend of transparency. In the world in which we live today, where things are increasingly transparent and consumers are increasingly educated and empowered, they’ll see through efforts that lack authenticity and they’ll really right away discern what’s quote/unquote sort of “cause marketing.”


MR. GREENBLATT: Or a defensive greenwashing tactic. So I think, you know, the Gap Red Campaign, which I have deep respect for, by the way, they’re doing enormous good work around the world in the fight against HIV, AIDS, you know, tuberculosis, and malaria. And yet the lack of transparency here in the U.S. about their economics and their business model has created great pain. I think if, and I know, you know, if Bobby Shriver and Tamsen who run the organization, if they had come clean up front and said, ‘This is exactly how the model works,’ that probably would have saved them a lot of grief.

MS. TIPPETT: Well, say some more about that. I don’t know the ins and outs of it. What was it that they weren’t up front about?

MR. GREENBLATT: Well, I think that to the best of my mind it’s the first truly cross-industry cause-marketing campaign that I’ve ever seen. The challenge is only that when you walk into the Gap and you buy a T-shirt or you walk into an Apple Store to buy a red iPod or now when you order a Dell computer that’s red, it’s not always exactly clear about what the economics of that arrangement are. So how much money goes to the global fund and how is that money being used?

MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm.

MR. GREENBLATT: That was some of the initial criticism, and they’re trying now to be more transparent, and they’re using social networking and blogging to try to provide better exposure into what’s actually happening with the dollars donated through the red products. But with that said, if they had taken that approach on the front end, it might’ve been a lot easier for the organization.

MS. TIPPETT: So, you know, this is kind of a question that comes out of my experience. I’ve observed that some organizations that do the best work in the world can be most dysfunctional.

MR. GREENBLATT: Right. Right. Like our families, right?

MS. TIPPETT: Yeah. Exactly. In terms of power, relationships, and the way people treat each other.


MS. TIPPETT: I’ve actually thought that there would be a show to do called “The Problem of Evil in the Workplace.”


MS. TIPPETT: I mean, it’s just that any institution becomes a place that we interact with each other, and we bring the dark side of the human condition to work as well as the great side.


MS. TIPPETT: I’m just curious if you think, you know, as you’re speaking I’m wondering also if some of these things technology makes possible — transparency and also the bottom-up rather than the top-down model of even institutional life — if that might enable organizations, even companies that are doing good to, in fact, remain better places as well than I think work places have been very prone to becoming traditionally.

MR. GREENBLATT: I hope so. I mean, I don’t know that I know the answer to that.


MR. GREENBLATT: But I hope that more communication and a realization that, you know, the benefits of transparency rather than obfuscation. I think those things in the end are better for organizations and are better for individuals. There may be some pain to get to that point …

MS. TIPPETT: But there will be pain, right? I mean, there will.



MR. GREENBLATT: For sure. But I think ultimately these tools that connect us and bring people together are more powerful than the previous world in which people were disconnected and uninformed. So I’m optimistic about the utility of those tools, I think.

MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm. There’s another question I have looking at GOOD‘s site.


MS. TIPPETT: I look at the topic areas. You know, you get that topic breakdown and you’ve got Politics, Business and Money, Health, Technology, Buying, Environment, Science, Art and Design, Mobility, Media, Culture, Education, Living.


MS. TIPPETT: And where’s religion in there? Where are religion and spirituality?

MR. GREENBLATT: That’s very interesting you should say that. Because I think that there is really an undercurrent of spirituality that connects all of these things, you know.

MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm.

MR. GREENBLATT: A belief in the value of humanity. A belief in our ability to make progress. And at the same time, we’re almost providing, I think, a sense of community that, particularly among young people, they might not be finding actively in organized religion today.


MR. GREENBLATT: And if we can be that fabric to bring people together I think that’s a wonderful thing. So I don’t want to say that it’s supplanting spirituality, but rather I think maybe it’s sort of a new iteration of spirituality in this 21st century.

MS. TIPPETT: Social entrepreneur Jonathan Greenblatt.

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MS. TIPPETT: I’m Krista Tippett and this is Speaking of Faith from American Public Media. Today, “The Business of Doing Good.”

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MS. TIPPETT: When you and I first began to speak, you talked about American exceptionalism, which was something you became aware of. But this sensibility of fierce pragmatism that you described I think is also, you know, is a very American thing, a very American way of being in the world and I just — the question is I’m wondering when you are out in the places you go, I mean, you’ve mentioned, I don’t know, Ethiopia and other places, I mean, do you sometimes have to check yourself, your impulses and your way of being good and doing good, also in order to be responsible and responsive in other cultures?

MR. GREENBLATT: I mean, if you ask me what is fierce pragmatism, you know, fierce pragmatism is the villagers I met with southwestern Honduras in December 2004. I went to see a year later and thanks to the water system that our money had helped to fund, you know, they had their kids going to school, they were growing crops they hadn’t before. They had more livestock. That, to me, is fierce pragmatism.


MR. GREENBLATT: You know, fierce pragmatism to me is seeing these, meeting these, we’ll call them water activists teaching hygiene education in the most desolate isolated region of Ethiopia on the border of the Sudan — who, despite all the travails of their time, again, literally are teaching water education to the villagers and to other villagers who they visit on a regular basis. That’s fierce pragmatism. What is actually a sobering rebuke to American exceptionalism is when you see the incredible progress and the incredible potential of people in all corners of the world and you realize that, again, we’re all just human beings and the gratitude we should all have for the time and the place in which we’re born, which I think is nothing other than, you know, luck. Because beyond that it’s fierce pragmatism, which allows people to live, you know, fruitful lives of high potential.

MS. TIPPETT: OK. Do you struggle with taking the way you’re thinking and other people like you are thinking about business or this fierce pragmatism, this fusion of doing good and also turning a profit? Is there a tension with, you know, with Wall Street, with what still are the primary institutions? How does that work?

MR. GREENBLATT: I think so, in a way. And in a way I think not. So I think there is some tension with traditional institutions who don’t really understand how to place a value on a business that donates its subscription revenue. Right? Or a bottled water company that would donate part of its revenue. I think that can often be hard for people who are steeped in Friedmanism to understand. And I think the capital markets of social enterprise are still quite nascent and young. So it’s hard to figure out. How do you classify this kind of company? And there are people doing interesting work in this regard, people like Jay Gilbert, the founder of B Corp, thinking about how do we define a new class of companies that aren’t just for profit but are perhaps for benefit. Or people who are teaching classes at business schools who are, you know, communicating these ideas to the next set of, you know, entrepreneurs and executives. And there are other things afoot. So the capital markets of social enterprise, I believe, are beginning to evolve, but that’s going to take time. So in some ways I do think that there is some tension. On the other hand, businesses like ours stand on the shoulders of Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield who started Ben and Jerry’s.


MR. GREENBLATT: We stand on the shoulders of Gary Hirshberg who started Stonyfield Farms, of the Roddinks who started the Body Shop, of Paul Hawken who started Smith & Hawken. And I say that because there have been other examples of breakthrough brands that were based on social change. What’s different now is the proliferation of these kinds of companies. So.

MS. TIPPETT: Yeah, I was going to ask you. I mean, another generation of business leaders and entrepreneurs had a role model or kind of a philosophical guiding figure in Greenleaf and the idea of servant leadership. And what you’re talking about are role models in terms of people who really kind of created enterprises differently from the ground up.

MR. GREENBLATT: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. That’s right. I mean, I think, again, some of the names that I mentioned, like the Roddinks or Hirshberg or Cohen, these are people who from the ground up they’ve built businesses whose brands are embedded with a sense of mission and purpose. And that makes them fundamentally different than businesses who just adopt one trait, if you will, or one new management style. The whole companies are crafted on this idea of creating social good and financial return.

MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm.

MR. GREENBLATT: And, you know, even today you can look at market leaders and though the stocks have taken a beating — Starbucks, which gave healthcare to all its employees at great cost, or Whole Foods Market, which has been a darling of Wall Street for many years. And there are others that have demonstrated that you can achieve scale and you can impress the Street while maintaining a balance between sort of benevolence and profit.

MS. TIPPETT: OK. And do you think that examples like that, I mean, do you like to imagine that that would ultimately change the way even, say, a Goldman Sachs analysis calling water “petroleum for the next century,” that it would change the way even that kind of analysis would be made?

MR. GREENBLATT: That’s a great question, Krista. And so I think where this goes is as more brands like GOOD or Ethos or others get traction, it creates a new sense of consumer expectations, and it changes the game in terms of how the public views organizations. And if you try to patch on a CSR strategy it will fail. But if you build a business that from start, you know, endeavors to create social good, it will succeed and the market will reward you for that. And so I do think that whether it’s the businesses I’ve been fortunate to be involved with or others, the more success, the more market acceptance, the more we change the game forever. I really don’t think this is a movement. I don’t think this is a fad. I think this is a shift. And as we accelerate that shift there’s a new equilibrium that Wall Street to, you know, business schools to the business press all will then follow

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MS. TIPPETT: Jonathan Greenblatt is the CEO of the media company GOOD. He also teaches about social entrepreneurship at the Anderson School of Management at UCLA.

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MS. TIPPETT: My interview with Jonathan Greenblatt lasted nearly 90 minutes, but to make 60 minutes of radio we have to be ruthless in our editing. Download my unedited conversation on our Web site and hear him talk more about entrepreneurial business models and transparency in the workplace. We continue in our own spirit of transparency at SOF Observed, our staff blog, where we feature a video post of my interview with Jonathan Greenblatt from behind the glass.

And we’d also like to bring you into the process as we contemplate a program on Alzheimer’s disease. Each person with this illness has a distinct experience and a distinct story, a story often carried in memory by a caregiver or loved one. If your life has been touched by Alzheimer’s, we’d like to hear from you. How has Alzheimer’s changed the way you think about love, memory, personality, and humanity? Look for the Your Stories, Your Voices link on our home page, speakingoffaith.org.

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MS. TIPPETT: The senior producer of Speaking of Faith is Mitch Hanley, with producers Colleen Scheck, Shiraz Janjua and Rob McGinley Myers, and with help from Alda Balthrop-Lewis. Our online editor is Trent Gilliss, with Web producer Andrew Dayton. Special thanks this week to the Push Institute. Kate Moos is the managing producer of Speaking of Faith. And I’m Krista Tippett.


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