‘Social impact’ a Utah business focus

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Skincare, technology, sandwiches, outdoor gear, art — these are just a few of the industries in Utah that both sell a product and make a social impact in the world.

According to Forbes social impact journalist Devin Thorpe, both consumers and employees are partial toward companies with a specific social mission, and there are clear examples of this in the state of Utah.

WalletHub’s 2017 study on the most charitable states in the U.S. found Utah had the highest volunteer rate, the highest percentage of donated income and the highest percentage of its population who donated time.

In 2016, CNBC reported Utah as the top state for business in the U.S. These charitable and business-savvy trends in Utah may contribute to an increase in the number of social businesses in the state.

Thorpe said that while the concept of using business to create positive social change is not new, the concept did not become popularized until recently.

“Most people weren’t aware of social entrepreneurship until well into this century,” Thorpe said. “Then it sort of became a cultural phenomenon. … We see great examples of this all around the world because it is such a powerful new tool.”

Davis Smith, CEO of Cotopaxi, an outdoor gear company with a social mission, knew from a young age that his experiences growing up in Latin America and seeing poverty gave him a responsibility to learn how to help.

“I wanted to do something that could have a positive impact on the world and ultimately decided the way to do that would be through business,” Smith said.

Cotopaxi’s entire business model is based in social impact, including encouraging customers to serve in the community at their events, ethically sourcing their gear, providing employment for local refugees and people in developing nations and giving grants to nonprofits helping people around the world.

Another emerging company with a social mission is Even Stevens Sandwiches. Since its founding in 2014, the company has donated over two million sandwiches by working with nonprofits in the community.

According to Sara Day, cause director and co-founder of Even Stevens, instead of the traditional buy-one-give-one model, the company gives a portion of every sandwich sale to partner organizations working to provide food for vulnerable populations. This practice reduces food waste and allows partner organizations to provide specific foods for their individual clientele, Day said.

At each Even Stevens location, the company partners with four local nonprofits in providing food for those in need. With eight locations in Utah, their partnerships are up to 32 and include senior centers, domestic violence shelters, youth programs, addiction recovery programs and rescue missions, Day said.

“Utah is known nationwide for our philanthropic efforts, … so it’s really no surprise that our efforts extend to our business ventures and entrepreneurial efforts,” Day said.

Cotopaxi and Even Stevens Sandwiches are just two of the many companies and organizations involved in the newly-established Utah chapter of the Social Enterprise Alliance (SEA), an alliance bringing social enterprises together to provide networking and resources. Members of the Alliance met on April 6, 2018, at the University of Utah to discuss how they could create a greater sense of community within the social enterprises in Utah.

According to members at the Alliance meeting, many people in the community may have a hard time getting behind the social enterprise movement in Utah because they don’t understand the jargon involved in the industry. Melissa Sevy, one of the founding members of the alliance and co-founder of Fair Kind, helps define social entrepreneurship and social innovation in a podcast.

While some companies structure their entire model around social impact, other companies give through corporate social responsibility (CSR), the arm of a company dedicated to giving back to the community or the environment.

USANA, a science-based health product company, began its USANA True Health Foundation in 2012 as a part of their CSR. Since its establishment, the foundation has donated 25 million meals in 26 countries (including here in Utah) to aid the hungry and those requiring disaster relief.

While creating and selling health products is USANA’s main focus as a company, Brian Paul, president of the USANA True Health Foundation, said the company is increasing its impact in the coming year and is using its resources to provide a significant increase in food support in all areas where USANA does business.

In looking to the future for USANA and social impact in Utah, Paul said he sees a growing group of philanthropists in the rising generation that will make a lasting impact on the world.

“The future of social impact is being driven by today’s youth. Young people want to make a difference in their career and their purchases,” Paul said.

Recent legislation in Utah is further facilitating the social enterprise ecosystem in the state, allowing aspiring social entrepreneurs more freedom in how they structure their companies and do good.

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