Program Report: Paula Alexander – Director of Sustainable Business at Burt’s Bee’s

burts bees webIt’s a big buzzword in corporate America.  But at Burt’s, they’re busy as bees making sure that “corporate sustainability” means much more than words smooth as honey.

Launched in a Maine schoolhouse, lured by incentives to Durham in the 1990’s and powered by a great idea, Burt’s Bees has turned itself into a retail powerhouse by keeping the focus not only on great natural products and the bottom line, but on the environment and the community.

Paula Alexander, director of sustainable business, took center stage at the Monday lunch to tell Rotarians how Burt’s Bees is embedding the principles of “people, planet and profit” into the fabric of a corporate culture that sounds unique.  And they’re apparently having a lot of fun doing it.

Internally, it’s know as “bee-havior.”  Its aim, Alexander said, is to carry out what Burt’s calls “The Greater Good Business Model.”

Employees “swarm” on projects.  They’re “pollinating” the company’s message through activities that include traditional volunteerism, charitable giving, home energy efficiency, and personal wellness programs for employees.

But then the list gets more interesting:  Urban gardening.  Supporting Planet Earth celebrations.  Sustainable agriculture at the local, national and international levels.  There is even a program to promote the honeybee industry.  That’s because honey bees pollinate one third of our nutritious fruits and vegetables, including favorites like peaches, strawberries, and pumpkins. “We believe,” Alexander said, “that nature needs a champion.”

Like any savvy business in touch with the increased expectations of an informed public, Burt’s works with partners including, among others, Green Plus, NCSU, Earthreal, Resourcesful Communities and the Pollinator Partnership.

It views its people as intellectual resources.  Employees brainstorm and strategize through individual “culture teams” dedicated to specific subject, including educating its own workforce.  “Our employees are some of our best brand ambassadors,” she said.

Burt’s Bees is also an active corporate giver – not surprising in a developed world that now expects any  successful corporation to support host communities that partially contribute to their success.  Alexander said the company will likely disburse more than $300,000 in grants this year.  Over time, Burt’s expects to make its giving more strategic, as it continues to develop a set of giving principles aligned with sustainable agriculture.

This week’s correspondent has long toiled in the area of sustainability with large corporations – on the in-house team and as paid consultant.  Burt’s Bees means business.

As they might say at Burt’s, a lot of local Rotarians are now “bee-lievers,” and we are grateful to Rob Everett for making the introduction.

(Submitted by Mark Lazenby)

Editors Note: Ms. Alexander brought to two videos to share with the Club. The second one was produced by WNCN and Melanie Sanders. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and could not show the second video. So here it is. See Paula in a hairnet!

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