Triple Bottom Line

Investing in the Triple Bottom Line

November 23, 2022 Taylor Martin / Andy VandenBerg
Triple Bottom Line
Investing in the Triple Bottom Line
Show Notes Transcript

Andy VandenBerg, investor turned triple bottom line advocate and platform builder. Currently, he’s working on three triple bottom line businesses—WeHero, The Impact Job, and CarbonHero. Get an investor's viewpoint on what's needed in today's market to make our future more sustainable, equitable, and with a strong sense of community. Amazing insight on how businesses are changing for a better future for us all!  https://www.linkedin.com/in/andy-vandenberg-cfa-1775a922

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Triple Bottom Line | Episode 43 | Andy VandenBerg

[Upbeat theme music plays] 
Female Voice Over 
[00:03] Welcome to the Triple Bottom Line, where we reveal how today’s business leaders are reaching a new level of success with a people-planet-profit approach. And here is your host, Taylor Martin!

Taylor Martin 
[00:17] Hello and welcome, everyone. We have Andy VandenBerg. He is an investor turned triple bottom line advocate and platform builder. Currently, he’s working on building three different businesses that encourage the triple bottom line. The first one is We Hero, which is a company that supports employee volunteering around the world. The second one is Carbon Hero, a way to help small businesses offset carbon emissions and build a more sustainable business model. Then finally, his newest project is the Impact Job. It’s an online community that helps individuals prepare for and find jobs in the CSR, ESG, sustainability space. Andy, you’re working on a lot. You’ve got your hands in a lot of pies here. Tell us a little bit about your journey and what led you up to these projects.

Andy VandenBerg
[01:11] Yeah, well, Taylor, first of all, thanks for having me on. Excited to chat with someone else who’s equally as passionate about the triple bottom line, verging on nerd status. It’s always good.

Taylor Martin
[01:22] Nerds welcome.

Andy VandenBerg
[01:23] Nerds always welcome. The journey really got started my career pretty traditional start. I worked in traditional finance and investing for about eight or nine years. During the end of that, I started to realize I was making a nice living and I wanted to give back. I realized, hey, if I have $1,500, $2,000 to give back every year, that’s awesome. There’s got to be a way to magnify it using a bit more of my effort. I was lucky to be in a community of a bunch of people who also had $2,000 to $3,000 to give back at the end of the year. I started organizing these, what I would call, immersive fundraising events just by myself. I’d organize it. Instead of spending my $2,000 and giving it directly to a nonprofit, I would coordinate – one of the more well-known ones I did a dark dinner in San Francisco so I rented this townhome. We brought in these Michelin Star chefs who volunteered their time. We brought in 60 people who came in. It was pitch dark in this townhouse and so you sat down at dinner and you experienced eating this three to four-course meal completely in the dark.

Taylor Martin
[02:34] Oh, wait. You’re talking about one of those dinners where you can’t even see your hand in front of your face.

Andy VandenBerg
[02:38] Correct, you could see a little bit just for safety purposes. We were worried that people were going to stab themselves with their knives. I would say it was similar to your experience of walking from the bathroom at about 2:30 a.m. back to your bed. You could see a little bit but it’s not enough to really understand what you’re eating or to see the people around you. By doing that, I wanted to support a nonprofit that focused on curing blindness. We live in the United States. We’re extremely lucky and so we don’t have to worry about cataracts or glaucoma. If that ever happens to us, a two-hour procedure, we’ll be able to see clearly again. In India, for example, that’s not the case. If you get cataracts or glaucoma, you are blind for the rest of your life.

There’s this incredible organization called the Sankara Eye Foundation that builds hospitals and then gives out free surgeries in India. I think they have 15 or 16 hospitals now all around the country. We actually had them come to this event and they spoke about what they were doing. The really cool thing is that at the end of the dinner, we turned on the lights. In front of everyone was a few pictures of the people they paid for their surgery. You got to see the before and after. This is just an example of it’s a really cool event, raise a bunch of money, and it was just through my organization efforts that we were able to do that. I think the feeling of doing that good is really contagious. It made me want to do more and more of that in an entrepreneurial way. Forming this fundraiser, that was somewhat entrepreneurial in nature, and was very lucky that there was a guy who I recently been connected with who was at that dinner and was totally blown away about it. That’s my cofounder at We Hero. He had this whole vision to do similar things for large companies. Shortly after that, we started our projects and really started the journey into doing entrepreneurship for good more full-time.

Taylor Martin
[04:37] I’ve got to give you a hand of applause there for the idea of doing a dark dinner that was for people that would go blind. I mean, I think that marrying those two together, genius. Got to give you props for that, man.

Andy VandenBerg
[04:53] Thanks, I appreciate that. It was a fun evening.

Taylor Martin
[04:56] Let’s dive down more into We Hero. Can you elaborate on what you do and how you engage companies?

Andy VandenBerg
[05:03] Yeah, so we work largely with Fortune 1,000 client companies who have massive employee bases. Think thousands and thousands of employees. These companies, they now know they need to be doing good in their work. That’s becoming more popular but it’s really hard to do that when you have a massive employee base. It’s easy to give donations and give grants, but most employees want to feel the good that the company is doing. It’s much more impactful if you give $100,000 grants to the Kids in Need Foundation and then you also have your employees volunteer for the Kids in Need Foundation. That really engages your employees from not only a corporate happiness standpoint but also magnifies the good. The more touchpoints you have with good, the better. We realized that. I think we started dreaming of coming up with a software business because that’s the most amazing business model in the world, but as we talked to more and more of these CSR, corporate social responsibility professionals, the clear need was not tracking this good and monitoring it. There’s already incredible software out there. The key challenge was how do you actually do this at scale? Super easy for small companies. Historically, I think the 20, 30-person companies have gone to their food bank once a year or twice a year, easy for them to volunteer. It’s a lot harder when you have Facebook and 75,000 employees around the world.

That’s where we came in and tried to really build our offering into this more customized volunteer offerings at scale. There’s a few parts to that that I think – first, I want to caveat we got really lucky with COVID. Before COVID, we were doing really customized events for groups within these companies. We would take groups of people in San Francisco up to Lake Tahoe to identify invasive algae and invasive species on Lake Tahoe, doing things like that, but we quickly realized that doesn’t scale and grow. We’re not actually delivering that much impact. We started building more, what I would call, volunteer products where we could ship it around the country. Salesforce was our client who forced us into this. They had an office in San Francisco and then Seattle. They asked if we could somehow coordinate an event for those two offices to do at the same time. That’s when we started shipping volunteer supplies to people’s offices and doing them virtually together. This was pre-COVID. We really grew that. I think we started with about ten volunteer products working with ten nonprofits to basically handle all their volunteering. Now we’re up to about 30 volunteer products, if you will, or volunteer options. We send those to individual’s homes. We send them to company offices. We send our team around the country and around the world to really be in person for the large events. It’s really helping them meet their volunteering goals.

Taylor Martin
[07:55] When you’re doing one of these projects, it’s always every project is linked to one nonprofit or do you have like multiple nonprofits across the world? How does that work?

Andy VandenBerg
[08:03] Yeah, I would say most are with one nonprofit, the caveat being sometimes certain events the impact can go to a number of nonprofits. We try to localize impact as much as possible. If I’m in San Francisco and we are doing something for education or food readiness, we want that impact to go to San Francisco because that’s where it’s going to be most impactful for the volunteer. We work with a number of nonprofits who may do that around the country. It’s a similar style of impact for those events.

Taylor Martin
[08:35] How do your clients feel about trying to measure out the happiness, the improvement of company culture with projects like these?

Andy VandenBerg
[08:44] Yeah, that’s Number 1 I would say. They care a lot about the impact but I think, just being candid, I don’t think the impact is what keeps people doing this from the management level. It’s not what allocates budgets. What allocates budgets is employee engagement, increased retention, overall happiness. I think that’s becoming even more important as you see more layoffs, stock prices down big time for a lot of these large companies. Employees are somewhat discouraged at this moment. We send a survey out after every one of our events. Often, we do it in the event to actually increase the number of people responding and we measure that. How did this change your feeling about the company? What was your experience doing this? Thankfully, I think we’re operating at a pretty new industry, but we have incredible data. The data that’s captured by some of these large software players is there’s a really clear connection that volunteering makes someone a more engaged employee. It keeps them around longer and it makes them happier at their job. There’s clear data out there. We try to just continue to reenforce that for each company that we work with.

Taylor Martin
[09:54] Yeah, and then every time you do one of these events, you can show them that and then you can show them all these past events, case studies, examples. Listen, this works.

Andy VandenBerg
[10:03] Yeah, exactly. We are very lucky that the vast majority of our clients work with us again and again and again. They get it. I think when we started this four or five years ago, we often had a lot more conversations around, what’s really the goal of this? I think there wasn’t as clear of an understanding, but five years later, organizers of this and the people at the companies get it. It’s clear that this is not a nice to have. It’s almost a need to have in certain industries.

Taylor Martin
[10:33] What are some takeaways that the volunteers or the management comes away with that they didn’t think they were going to see or have?

Andy VandenBerg
[10:42] I think the biggest surprise, and this was a surprise to me throughout COVID was the power of team building through volunteerism. We study a lot of the psychology of what is an individual’s experience as they go through a volunteer event. Part of it is education. Part of it is building empathy with the cause, with the people you’re supporting. Then we started realizing, all right, we’re missing one big benefit of it is you’re getting together with colleagues and you’re not talking about a big project that’s due on this date. It’s much more of a social event. We started adding a number of things to our volunteer events to encourage people to interact in a way that they normally wouldn’t interact. I think the best word to describe it is vulnerability and allowing employees to be vulnerable with each other, which ultimately builds a deeper relationship.

Taylor Martin
[11:34] Absolutely, that’s a great perspective I hadn’t even thought about. How are things growing right now as a nonprofit, as a business? Are you just getting more and more clients or is it a slow steady climb?

Andy VandenBerg
[11:48] Yeah, I mean, we have been remarkably lucky in our growth. I mean, our first client was Visa. I think we started with great clients and we continue to retain great clients. We have historically grown about 40% a year for the last five years, a little bit quicker growth in early years but a lot of small numbers takes over, but we’ve continued to grow. I think part of that is just the market is growing. As big companies do this, smaller companies realize they need to do it. I think there’s a forcing mechanism that’s happening in the market. We try really hard to deliver great customer service. I think that is what keeps customers around. Part of it is the creativity of the volunteer events we do and continuing to innovate on that front to make sure people are excited about coming and doing one of these events.

Taylor Martin
[12:33] If you’re focusing on Fortune 1,000 companies, do you see the future bringing you the option to be able to have smaller businesses engaged with this?

Andy VandenBerg
[12:43] Yeah, we get a lot of smaller businesses interested. I think if you’re a ten-person company, we often advice you, you should find a local nonprofit that you can support one on one. It’s going to be far more efficient for you and you’re going to probably deliver more of an impact. Nonprofits, they’re so resource constrained. They can probably deal with a group of ten but they likely can’t deal with a group of 20+. If you’re in that range of 20 to 300, there’s a number of ways we work with those organizations. I think we’ve built out more, what I would call, is more do it yourself options to provide them the flexibility and also to provide them options that aren’t too high for their budgets at that point. We build out a few more of these, what I would call, do it yourself options to solve for that.

Taylor Martin
[13:34] All right. Let’s shift gears to the next company you have going here, Carbon Hero. Can you elaborate on that?

Andy VandenBerg
[13:40] Yeah, I mean, my view on building businesses is that most of it just comes from pain points that people are having. When COVID happened, we started shipping so many things around the country. Instead of shipping a couple of boxes to Microsoft Office in Chicago, we were then shipping 500 boxes to Microsoft employees around the country. The impact of that we quickly realized on the environment was just significant. We started heavily researching how do we offset the carbon from these shipments. We can’t stop our shipments. It’s what our business is. How do we improve or how do we try to mitigate the environmental impact? It became very clear to us this was really hard. There’s no clear way for people to do this. There’s a lot of options for really large companies who have extremely high budgets, can spend $1 million to bring in a consultant to measure their carbon footprint and impact. For us, we didn’t have that. We quickly realized the challenge. We were able to find someone who was an expert and really liked working with small businesses and so he helped us offset our carbon, not only for the shipments but for our entire business.

Then we realized, my partner and I are entrepreneurs to the core, and we realized, if we’re having this problem, everyone is having this problem. I don’t want to sit here and say there are not cons to carbon offsetting. There are clear cons to carbon offsetting. It’s not the same as completely eliminating your emissions, but it’s our view that it’s better than any alternative at the moment if you can’t eliminate that. We started a business really to provide carbon calculations and offsetting for smaller businesses like ourselves. Since then, we’ve strangely found ourselves in the wine niche. The vast majority of our clients are wine manufacturers and wine importers, which at first was somewhat surprising to me, but I think as we’ve realized that, if I’m a wine consumer – I’m lucky to live in San Francisco. I can drink wine from Napa Valley that’s brought in 60 miles away from me, but if you really like Spanish wine, the cost may be similar to San Francisco Bay area wine, but the actual environmental impact is extreme because you’re shipping those bottles. I think those importers and wine manufacturers in other countries realize this and consumers are starting to really want a greener more local purchase. This is a way to differentiate for them [inaudible] carbon neutral.

Taylor Martin
[16:15] When you said vineyards, I was like what? Then I started to realize, well, wine is kind of heavy. Just one bottle alone and you ship a case of it, that’s a lot of weight into all the carbon needed to move that from one country to the next. That makes sense. Are there any other industries that you guys are helping?

Andy VandenBerg
[16:33] Our market, we view it as companies with less than 200 employees. I think those companies, the companies that are interested in this are often companies selling to consumers. That’s because the consumer is starting to care more and more about the environmental impact of their product. I would say a lot of things that you buy online or you may buy in a store, those are likely our customer basis. Often, they have much higher carbon footprint than software that you use, for example. That’s really the type of companies that we serve. Where we serve more software-esque companies is really helping them offset the impact of their employees. As an employee of one of these companies, you have an impact. Technically, that’s part of your company’s responsibility. We provide services to help a company look at all of their employees, see how much they’re traveling, see how much they spend in heating and utilities and offset their carbon emissions almost as a perk to the employees and say hey, we’re going to help you go carbon neutral if you work here.

Taylor Martin
[17:34] I have to ask, with COVID, going through that, how did people working from home change that equation?

Andy VandenBerg
[17:41] Oh, massive. I mean, I never want to say a good thing about COVID because it was bad in so many ways, but emissions were down massively. Not only were people not commuting, which is a large carbon emitter, but air travel is one of the largest personal emitters, if not the biggest for most people. You had a lot less pleasure travel. It’s really the work travel. You didn’t have salespeople flying, taking eight flights a month across the country. That was really a huge – bad thing for our business but an incredible thing for the environment. What I remember being so cool is you actually saw the impact of this in big cities. The sky has never been more clear in San Francisco around the airports, same in New York. I think that’s one of the positive things that came from it. Although temporary, I think it made a difference.

Taylor Martin
[18:31] Yeah, how do you break down how they pay for everything. How do you work that equation out?

Andy VandenBerg
[18:36] From a carbon offset standpoint?

Taylor Martin
[18:38] Yeah.

Andy VandenBerg
[18:39] Yeah, we do a very simple – because there’s a lot of work for us to calculate so we charge a peer calculation fee. When a company comes to us, depending on their complexity, we’ll charge them anywhere between $1,000 and $5,000 to actually go in there and spend the week, spend the two weeks calculating their footprint based on all the data that they have. It’s an estimate, right? We try to get within 5% to 10% of how close it is. We’ll never be 100% because there’s not as much data. Then after that, we just charge a percentage of the offset. Let’s say you have 1,000 metric tons of footprint. We will give you a bunch of options of projects that may interest you depending on your industry, depending on what you like. Maybe you like supporting the rainforest and preventing people from cutting that down. Maybe you want to encourage less woodstoves being used in Myanmar. Whatever your passion is, we can help you find a project there. Then we charge 15% of the total spend to basically facilitate that and manage all of your offsets for the year is typically the period that we do it for.

Taylor Martin
[19:38] From a marketing communications standpoint, your customers get to have, I would imagine, some sort of branded logo or messaging that they can put on their packaging, right?

Andy VandenBerg
[19:48] 100%, yeah.

Taylor Martin
[19:49] Then the second phase of this, which is kind of interesting, if they choose to focus on a certain area of offset, then they can tell that story, whether it’s on their website or even on their packaging. I’ve seen a lot of companies now they’re starting to put QR codes to listen to our story. They click that. It goes to the inter web and then they have a nice little video or a webpage, like a single page that tells this story.

Andy VandenBerg
[20:11] Yeah, I mean, those are two real life examples. We actually just reviewed a wine bottle label that had carbon offset through carbon projects and then it had a QR code that led to this specific website for this person where he provided all this content and educational information around the carbon emissions, how we offset that. I think that’s really cool for the consumer. It’s also a huge marketing benefit which helps these companies. The project [inaudible] example I think is really unique. For example, we work with someone who does concessions at zoos. They do the food. They sell the T-shirts. They give out the mugs. All of those things that you find for sale at a zoo, they run those. We help them go carbon neutral. The really cool part about that is we could pick projects that a secondary benefit was helping animals because that’s their whole mission. Then they can talk about, hey, we’re offsetting our carbon through saving this portion of the forest where there are nine species of animals that may be endangered.

The great thing about carbon offsets, one of them is you’re obviously helping the environment through keeping more carbon around. There’s so many secondary benefits. I just shared the animal one, but then you think about woodstoves in Myanmar. This is how most people are cooking, providing heat, providing light. That’s really bad from the smoke that it creates from a health perspective for people as well as for the environment, but even more than that, the typical woman in Myanmar can’t work because she has to spend a third of her day collecting firewood. If you go in there and you donate coal parquets or you provide low fuel stoves, that person gets a third of their day back. They can go work. They can go back to school. There are so many benefits of that, which I think is a cool feature of the offsets.

Taylor Martin
[22:00] Yeah, trickle down effects in a positive way. What about – because I always think that some people think, oh, I’m going to pay for carbon off credits and they think, oh, it just goes somewhere out into the void. It’s not going to go anywhere. Hearing you tell this story and then being able to – I would imagine that, do your clients also get feedbacks on these projects, like on a quarterly or a yearly basis?

Andy VandenBerg
[22:22] Yeah, so I think that’s the biggest challenge in the industry candidly. You give this. You buy the offset. There’s no tactical feel to it. I think what we’re stating to see now that I hope continues is more and more of these projects are providing updates, providing additional content, providing stories behind it. I think that increase the cost of the offset, but as a consumer, you’re so much more likely to spend a bit more if you get a monthly letter saying, hey, here’s the latest on the project. Here’s the latest on the photo. Here’s a photo of someone in Myanmar you helped. I think the industry is still developing in that. I think some people are doing it but this is a relatively new industry. I think it will continue to develop to encourage more people to do the offsets.

Taylor Martin
[23:04] Yeah, I love it when I can get some sort of report that’s not a big handout saying donate more but it’s something that says, okay, you gave this much and this is what it’s doing. I have one tree planting company that I donate to on a monthly basis. Every month, they send me out a report. It’s all digital so I can just see it on my phone or whatever. Then I can share it on social, which is great for them because it raises their platform. I think that’s great. I’ve been thinking that nonprofits, as well as even political parties, no one does that enough. They don’t come back and say your donation allowed us to do X, Y, and Z. These are the – even some of these peripheral beneficials that you were talking about with women being able to have more time and then be able to go to school and all that, those are great stories that some people just don’t hear.

Andy VandenBerg
[23:53] Yeah, I mean, going back to We Hero, I mean, this is one of our main focus areas. We produce impact reports for every volunteer event that gets sent to every participant, saying the impacts, saying where it was delivered, so they know what they actually did. We’re trying to go one step further than that. There’s some real challenges to that is we include letters if they’re going to a person. As the volunteer, you can write a nice letter to connect with that person. We occasionally do videos if they’re comfortable with it, sharing a video that comes with whatever you’re donating. What we’re trying to work on, and we can do this occasionally is getting a video response. It gets delivered to your email inbox. Hey, Taylor, we delivered you education supplies because your family couldn’t afford it. How cool would it be to get a video from you thanking us for the education supplies? The first example for education – that’s not reasonable because the person is under 18. There’s really stringent privacy laws. Some people may be embarrassed or ashamed about this. There are examples where we’re doing this right now and it’s so impactful for the volunteer. I think we’ll see this more and more as technology builds its way into volunteering as well as carbon offsets.

Taylor Martin
[25:05] Yeah, it’s contagious, like you said. When you get information like that, that just makes it even more contagious because you want to do that, you feel the benefits of what you did. I think that’s great. All right let’s get into your third business, the job website, the Impact Job. We did a podcast not too long ago on green jobs and that was the quickest consumed podcast that we’ve ever done. I was kind of shocked by it, but then again, once I started thinking about it, not so much. It made sense. Tell us about this Impact Job.

Andy VandenBerg
[25:38] Once again, this was a need. My partner and I were getting hundreds of emails saying, hey, are you offering any jobs? I’m in college or I’m in the middle of my career and I want to go work in something that is focused on the triple bottom line, whether it’s sustainability, whether it’s social impact, whether it’s any nonprofit work. Unfortunately, we are not hiring hundreds and hundreds of people. We saw there was a clear need. Anyone who’s looked for a job in the last ten years probably goes to LinkedIn. Unfortunately, LinkedIn has become kind of this – I always call it the Myspace of searching for a job. There’s millions and millions of jobs, hundreds and thousands of people applying, and it’s really hard to curate the actual jobs that you want to see.

We thought there was a really interesting opportunity for two things with this. One is to highlight what we view as really exceptional jobs for people. These are jobs that we think are at mission-focused companies as well as jobs that have the potential to deliver a lot of impact, whether that’s at a for-profit or a nonprofit business. With that, I think we have this view that this sustainability and impact world is unnecessarily depressing. Everything you read is talking about the sadness, talking about how boring it is, talking about how no one ever is going to do anything with this, that was just a bummer for us. I think this is such a great community and there’s a large potential for it to become something but it’s all how you message it.

We wanted to create messaging and content that was funny and basically made you want to read about depressing topics. We are trying to use humor as a way to lighten really unfortunate things. We do a weekly newsletter that highlights the new jobs but it also provides a bit of content and education around what’s happening in the sustainability world. For example, the conference in Egypt right now, these countries coming together to talk about climate change, and of course, China and the US can’t even sit next to each other to talk, even though they’re the two biggest carbon emitters. This is really important news, but if you read an article about that, it’s so depressing, oh, the two biggest carbon emitters. We try to infuse humor, infuse memes to really get people to read that and to care about it. I’m passionate about sustainability so maybe this is easy for me to say, but it’s without a doubt my favorite read of the week, because every time I open it, I learn a lot. It highlights what’s happening in the industry in a non-depressing way. We send a weekly newsletter like that. That’s really fun. Then we provide a bunch of resources on our website, like how do you get a job, what’s the typical salaries, just to help people finding jobs. We’ve got 15 or 20 different resources to help people as they are on their job search.

Taylor Martin
[28:30] Yeah, I think one of the things that people also underestimate is that when you’re looking for a job in this space, you don’t have to be the absolutely professional at it. It’s a new category of work. If you need to be a sustainability financial officer or something along those lines, if you have a background in finance, well, then there you go. You do have the qualifications. You’re just going to be going to a new space for that service. That was something that we talked about on that previous podcast. I felt like that was something that was kind of eye opening for me because people don’t have to feel like, like they would for a typical job, that they have to have all the qualifications.

Andy VandenBerg
[29:10] Yeah, and this industry is so new. You think about social impact experts at these companies, the most experienced people I know have done it for 10 to 12 to 13 years. When you think about that, that’s not that much time. As more and more of these jobs are created, they need people who don’t have any experience. They may have 10 to 15 years of experience in a totally unrelated field but there are so many overlaps. I think everyone realizing there are no experts in this space is probably the best thing to realize and to know that you are good enough to get one of these jobs, even if you haven’t done this for 15 years.

Taylor Martin
[29:49] Right on. Let me ask you some questions because since you have that investor mindset that I know you probably filter your whole life through. I wanted to ask you. Why should purpose-driven organizations be profit minded?

Andy VandenBerg
[30:03] Yeah, it’s a great question. I think this is one that maybe I have a unique opinion for. I think when a company is reliant, when an organization is reliant on donations, that that’s not sustainable in itself. If you think about a nonprofit, they’re delivering a ton of impact. They need to consistently raise money to deliver that impact. A large part of their organization’s time and resources is spent focused on fundraising, whereas if you are a for-profit impact business, then instead of looking for donations, you are serving a value to these people who are buying things from you. Because of that, you create this flywheel, right? There are incredible companies. You think about 4Ocean. It’s a bracelet company that the more they sell, the more plastic they collect because all their bracelets are made out of ocean plastic. They make very stylish bracelets that people want to buy, granted there is this social impact benefit of it. They’re doing traditional sales and building that flywheel so that it’s a sustainable way to continue growing and continuing delivering impact. I fear that the not-for-profit model becomes less efficient overtime and less efficient as you scale. There is clear proof that the larger a nonprofit gets, they can be more efficient, but that doesn’t necessarily always improve the impact per dollar. I think people are getting more focused on that, whereas a company, you have to be focused on that from a board perspective if you have outside board, from a management perspective. As long as you’re focused on not only profit and impact as the two key measurements, I think you can do that as well as a nonprofit, if not maybe a little better if it’s structured in the right way.

Taylor Martin
[31:52] I love that. Building a little profit generator that always keeps running and moving and turning and churning, but it’s also somehow in your wheelhouse for what your nonprofit is about. That’s a great example.

Andy VandenBerg
[32:07] The final thing I’ll say on that is what builds great organizations is people. I firmly believe one of the challenges nonprofits face is they just can’t afford the best talent. If you look at a for-profit business that does a ton of impact, it’s likely they’re also going to generate profit that they can pay for the best-in-class employees and the best-in-class team, which ultimately will deliver more impact.

Taylor Martin
[32:33] You touched a nerve with me there. I worked with a lot of Fortune 1,000 companies years ago doing their annual reports and big branding efforts, websites and stuff. Every once in a while, we would get a nonprofit to do something for them at probably a reduced rate. When I would look at all the material they would have so that I could understand what we’re communicating, how we’re communicating through their brand, through their lens, it always kind of depressed me in a way because these nonprofits who are trying to do something good in the world just have subpar marketing efforts. That’s actually one of the genesis that made me start my business working with organizations that are doing something, some positive good in the world. I just felt like I was going to spend my energy and my time in – and I love designing. I love communicating. That’s just inert in me, but I can’t agree with you more about the nonprofits having to shift their mindset about that.

Andy VandenBerg
[33:30] Yeah, I mean, I want to caveat I’m not a nonprofit hater. I think there needs to be nonprofits. Nonprofits do incredible work. In certain instances, you can’t have a for-profit business do as much impact as a nonprofit. I want to clarify that. I think this is also changing. Using One Tree Planted as an example, One Tree Planted is a big nonprofit that focuses on environmental causes largely through reforestation in certain parts of the world and after wildfires. They have a best-in-class media team. If you look at the media assets, the video assets they produce, that competes if not equal or better than any large company. I think that organization sees outsized return from that because it’s so much better than other nonprofits. They’re able to fundraise better because they’ve hired great talent, because they have the great video assets. I think nonprofits are getting smart and understanding what really matters and where do we need to invest versus where do we not need to invest.

Taylor Martin
[34:32] Yeah, I mean, all of these things are making the nonprofit stronger vitality, more agile, more strong in their foundation.

Andy VandenBerg
[34:39] Yeah, and I think another point I’ll add is I think nonprofits are working more and more with companies through our organization indirectly. I think a nonprofit is almost doing a for-profit business by enabling employees to like their jobs better and so companies need to keep supporting those nonprofits. I think that is increasing the stability and increasing the overall impact that a nonprofit can make.

Taylor Martin
[35:04] Yeah, I like where all this is going in terms of the future of something like this growing exponentially around the world. More companies getting – working with nonprofits and nonprofits being more money focused, I guess, in terms of generating their own. Let’s shift over to ESG, social responsibility efforts. How do you see Fortune 500, Fortune 1,000 companies adjusting their ESG and social responsibility efforts during this next recession coming our way?

Andy VandenBerg
[35:36] It’s a great question. I think, unfortunately, we don’t have enough data yet to know exactly how it’s impacting. We definitely serve a large number of the large tech companies who have had layoffs in the last few months. Interestingly, we have not seen any shift in their spending with us which we figure is somewhat emblematic of what’s happening across all ESG and social impact vendors. I think our hope is that, in a recession, employees are even more discouraged and so they may need to do more of this work. I think that’s our hope. I think there’s also a good chance that it just takes a while for budgets to adjust, but I think there will always need to be this core social responsibility at a company, because if in a recession you just cut that all back, it’s not really a core value anymore and employees see through that. If you’re really using your social responsibility as a core tenant of what your mission is, and you’ve seen a ton of technology and financial services companies come out with that, and if you just remove that during a recession when budgets get a little tight, I think you will be criticized for greenwashing or for really just using that as marketing because then it’s not a core value. Obviously, it may need to scale down a little bit, but I think it’s unlikely we see it fully removed from their go for budgets in a recession.

Taylor Martin
[36:56] Triple bottom line, that’s why I love it. People, planet, profit, you take out the people, the three-legged stool is going to fall right over. I completely agree with you there. From your investor’s perspective, how do you see the market? What are some of the most surprising things you’ve seen over the last ten years?

Andy VandenBerg
[37:14] This doesn’t necessarily relate to triple bottom line, but I think the speed in which things happen has just continued to increase. The speed at which a business can launch, the speed at which using new technology, using new software, you can build out platforms is just rapid. I think that has brought in so much innovation to the social impact and triple bottom line industry but all industries. There’s this massive impact of no code into the software development world which speeds up development and has done massive things for a bunch of ESG vendors who have gone out and raised a lot of money. I think that’s one thing is just the speed at which it’s happening. I think the global nature, at least over the last three years, has done amazing things for the global population, which I think will eventually be a negative for the United States. We are highly expensive workers. It’s easier now through technology to bring in a global workforce, which ultimately lets a massive amount of people out of poverty and brings economic expansion into countries that need it far more than the United States, but the impact of that is you’re hiring less US workers. I think that will have social ramifications over the next ten years.

Taylor Martin
[38:33] Yeah, I think about that. I think the great resignation – people are always asking, where are all these people going to? Where are they getting jobs? I think they’re finding jobs online. They’re finding other opportunities that they didn’t know existed, but being at home in front of your computer all day during a COVID lockdown makes you research and find new solutions. I don’t want to digress into that, but can you give us some of your favorite or preferred business models in the impact space?

Andy VandenBerg
[38:58] Yeah, I’ll give you one example of a business that exists that I’m quite bullish and excited about. I think to be successful in triple bottom line, you almost need to be a better offering for the company that you’re serving or whoever your client is. The impact just needs to be a plus. I think the more you have, choose me because we do impact, I think that will eventually become the norm in the market. You need to provide a better offering and also include impact. There’s this great company called Purpose in Expenses based out of Bend, Oregon who does this so well. They offer consolidated IT spend for large companies. If you have a company of over 20 people, you’re using Zoom. You’re using Gmail. You’re using all of these tech tools. You can consolidate that spend into what you would think of as a coop. You bring all these companies together and you get discounts. You bring 1,000, 2,000 people together on their Zoom or whatever it may be and you save 20% on the total spent.

Companies have done this historically through these IT outsourcing firms. You would go in there and you would save 20% from Zoom, which is amazing. Now this company in particular is coming in and they’re saying, hey, we will do that for you. Instead of saving 20%, you’re going to save 15%, which is still a massive win for your company. You were spending $100,000. Now you will spend $85,000 next year on this spend. You save 15%. Then the extra 5% we will donate to any nonprofit of your choice. You can market that it will come from your company and so it’s tax efficient. It does all these things. You bring that in and they’re doing something that’s so cool is they’re basically taking cost savings of a company and letting you allocate that to a nonprofit, which historically is a decision made at the C-suite level. How much are you going to be donating? You put that in the hands of the [inaudible] manager, which is a very cool opportunity, I think, for a lot of these companies to give back in a way that’s not costing them any extra money.

Taylor Martin
[41:04] I love that. I could see that taking shape in a lot of different types of businesses.

Andy VandenBerg
[41:10] Yeah, I mean, I think there’s more and more of these companies building the impact into the actual financial business model in a way that’s part incentive – part of the incentive pay of a normal contract should just be focused on impact.

Taylor Martin
[41:25] Right on. What are some other things that are interesting you right now in terms of how you see things happening in the future, how you see trends coming?

Andy VandenBerg
[41:36] Yeah, I think the world is moving towards ESG at an increasingly fast pace. I think CSR, corporate social responsibility, has largely been the dominate force at these really large companies. I think people are moving toward ESG being the status quo. As we think about that, it’s not really that different. It’s more holistic and it’s more data focused. We view it as a better way to do the exact same thing, to expand the overall purview of what that part of the organization is doing and making it more data focused. I think we will probably not be using the word CSR in three to four years. Everything will be ESG focused. I think that’s a big trend. That’s created a bunch of opportunities for companies. I mean, you’ve seen, I think just in the last year, there’s been multiple companies raising $10 million, $20 million to build out ESG platforms, to build out ESG offerings. I think that’s a big trend that’s happening right now. I think the other big trend that I think probably serves you really well is it’s not about the impact. It’s how you message it. I think the most in demand need right now are ESG report writers. It’s so needed by everyone. It’s a specialized skill. It’s hard to find people to write 100, 200-page reports for these companies and it’s even harder to find people who know the level of detail that’s needed to actually write these reports.

Taylor Martin
[42:58] Right, the detail, the specificity of everything, the facts, the figures, I totally understand that. ESG is growing by leaps and bounds every year. I’ve been watching this since the first ESG report I ever saw about 10 years, 12 years ago. I agree with you about that taking over CSR. In my mind, I think it already has. I see that growing. The only thing that I’m concerned about is more validity and maybe even breaking up ESG reporting into different segments, so different markets, different types of businesses can report with the same type of level of voice. Because some companies that follow the ESG formula may look like they’re lacking in one area and really a lot more in the other when it could be totally different than that because it was really focused, the formula was really focused on a handful of other companies.

Andy VandenBerg
[43:53] That’s a great point. I think it unfairly requires you to balance the different elements of ESG for certain companies. I think that’s a challenge. I guess someone is going to have to figure out how you solve that from a messaging standpoint.

Taylor Martin
[44:07] Yeah, I know. Because right now, you just hit the nail on the head. The companies have to do that. They have to realize where they fall short or where the numbers just aren’t stacking up because they know how great it is. They have to go in there and explain why this number may not seem high to other companies but it is enormously high because of X, Y, and Z. We can talk about that one all day long. I’m trying to get somebody on a future show for ESG that can go in and we can dig down the rabbit hole and see how far it goes.

Andy VandenBerg
[44:36] Yeah, I would love that. If you need any recommendations, let us know. There’s people who can talk ESG for an hour without me understanding one word.

Taylor Martin
[44:45] I want to make sure that you understand at least a few words.

Andy VandenBerg
[44:49] Yeah, exactly. There are far smarter people to talk about that with.

Taylor Martin
[44:54] Yeah, I get you. How can our listeners follow you? I mean, we have the three companies, the We Hero, the Carbon Hero, and the Impact Job. Can people follow you anywhere else?

Andy VandenBerg
[45:05] Yeah, LinkedIn, I’m on LinkedIn. I chat there. I also chat a lot on Twitter. People feel free to follow me on Twitter. I talk about a ranging of topics from – I do a Friday dad joke to cheer up everyone on Friday afternoon. That’s really focused around business investing as well as the social impact lens. It’s kind of a mashing of my passions, which is investing, building businesses, and social impact.

Taylor Martin
[45:31] Telling dad jokes.

Andy VandenBerg
[45:32] Telling dad jokes, everyone needs a good chuckle on a Friday afternoon, I think.

Taylor Martin
[45:36] I agree. I concur. I’ll put your LinkedIn bio link in the show notes so everybody can just click on that to connect with you. Andy, it was a pleasure talking with you today. Thank you so much for sharing. Thank you so much for everything that you are doing. I am so happy to have people like you on the show.

Andy VandenBerg
[45:52] Yeah, thanks for highlighting it and thanks for organizing and coordinating all of this.

Taylor Martin
[45:56] I wish you all the best in your future successes, sir.

Andy VandenBerg 
[46:00] You as well.

Taylor Martin
[46:01] All right. Over and out, everybody. 

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[46:03] Thanks for tuning into the Triple Bottom Line. Your host, Taylor Martin, is founder and Chief Creative of Design Positive, a strategic branding and accessibility agency. Interested in being interviewed on our podcast? Then visit designpositive.co and fill out our contact form. If you enjoyed today’s podcast, we would appreciate a review on Apple podcasts or whatever provider you are logging in from. This podcast is prepared by Design Positive and is not associated with any other entity. We look forward to having you back for another installment of the Triple Bottom Line.

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