Saturday, February 28, 2009

Ahhhh I Seeee

Whoever though that a little berry found in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil could have such a profound effect? Acai, a fruit high in anti-oxidants, omega 3 and omega 6, packed with amino acids, and other essential minerals, and the largest distributor of Acai products-Sambazon, is helping protect the Amazon rainforest.

At first it seems counter-intuitive. Wouldn’t you think that the harvesting and growing popularity of the chocolate-cocoa flavor berry contribute to damaging the rainforest or even deforestation and the planting of groves of acai palms? Not when entrepreneurs like Ryan Black are involved.

Black, a native of San Clemente and graduate of the University of Colorado, discovered acai on a surf trip in Brazil. He knew the rest of the world was missing out on the superfood of the Amazon and starting outlining a business plan to introduce acai before he was on the return flight home

So how is Sambazon, a company that is only 9 years old helping protect one of the most bio-diverse places on our planet and still making money? It is all in the founding concept. The business plan is built to follow the triple bottom line. Sambazon seeks economic, social and environmental success.

Sambazon employs local farmers who live in houses on the floodplains of the Amazon, pictured above. They harvest the berries by shimmying up the skinny trunk of the acai palm and picking the re-generable branches with the berries on them. Only the berries from wild acai palms are harvested. This offers the local farmers employment, and prevents them from resorting to the destruction of the rainforest through logging or cattle farming to make an income. The biodiversity of the rainforest is protected by only harvesting wild palms instead of planting a forest of purely acai palms. The farmers are also educated on how to sustainably harvest the forest’s non-timber products. Acai seeds are used to make jewelry and sold to supplement the income. You would think only a non-profit would be capable of creating this much positive social change, but no, Sambazon sold 11,000 tons of acai last year and generates over $15 million of revenue a year.

Thankfully, Sambazon isn’t alone. Companies around the world are implementing sustainable business strategies emphasizing positive long term effects. On a recent trip to Viet Nam I did company visits at a helmet factory and furniture factory that are also achieving great success with the same principles.

As our market is going through drastic changes, business leaders should start changing the goal of the game as well. Instead of seeing who has to build the biggest warehouse to store all the corporate jets, companies should seek to achieve a green triple bottom line. It is sustainable not only for our environment, but for the success and life of the company as well.

I know, I know, it sounds difficult. Many times it seems like doing business results in a winner and a loser- someone or something gets the bad deal, whether it is the consumer, environment, or employees. However everyone is a winner when they do business like triple-bottom line companies and Andrew Saviz and Karl Weber tell you exactly how in their book, The Triple Bottom Line. A book review from says:
The book points to empirical evidence demonstrating that the share price of companies listed in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, and the FTSE4Good Indexes, have outperformed various other indexes. Further, companies who belong to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development have outperformed their respective national stock exchanges by 15 to 25 percent over the past three years

So this is a call to action. The time is now! As drastic changes are being made in the business world around the globe, and as we all grapple with the economic crisis, it is the perfect opportunity to make the change to sustainable development. I challenge the CEOs of the world to see just how much more enjoyable their next luxurious vacation is when it was financed with dollars made that also improved the life of a farmer in the Amazon rainforest.

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