By Shelby Deering | Photographed by Kaia Calhoun
Has anyone else felt it? The shift taking place in our society? Within the last few years, it’s as if more and more people have been switched on like light bulbs, developing a heightened sense of consciousness around their choices. Should I keep scrolling through my Facebook feed, or is there something more nourishing I can do for myself? Does it feel good to read these news stories? And, does this company align with my ethics?
In a response to a world that can feel overwhelming, several people are returning to their roots and the things that truly matter to them—their core values. Many companies have felt this, too, and are responding through carefully-written mission statements, elevated philanthropic efforts and products that are cruelty-free, fair-trade or aid those less fortunate. These choices benefit consumers, along with employees, shareholders and, in turn, profits.
“Conscious capitalism is the idea that money follows vision,” says Christine Whelan, a clinical professor in consumer science at the UW-Madison School of Human Ecology. “We are in the golden age of talking about purpose and meaning.”
Whelan has deeply studied the subject, observing an increased number of vision statements, businesses “walking the walk and not just talking the talk” and employees putting passion before a paycheck. In a 2016 survey Whelan conducted, she found that 69 percent of young adults would be willing to take a cut in pay to work at a job that allowed them to focus on more meaningful work.
Many local companies are making this meaningful impact, like CUNA Mutual Group, whose foundation donated $100,000 to Safe Haven, which provides services and shelter to homeless populations. CUNA also is the second-largest corporate donor to The United Way of Dane County. Then there’s MG&E—in the last five years, its foundation has contributed over $4.6 million to more than 350 community organizations.
The nationwide movement has found its way to Madison, changing corporations and small businesses alike and turning them into “Firms of Endearment,” coined by the 2003 book of the same name. Meet three local businesses that are embracing conscious capitalism, doing good while reaping good-for-business benefits.
TURNING DENTISTRY INTO ART
With the emergence of conscious capitalism has come a new kind of business structure. A “B Corporation,” called “B Corp” for short, is a for-profit company certified by the national nonprofit B Lab that it meets “rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency,” according to the official website. In other words, it’s a company that takes a holistic approach to carrying out its mission.
Artisan Dental is the first dental practice in Wisconsin to attain B Corp certification, and is the second in the United States. It’s not every day that you find a dental practice with a mission statement. And Artisan is proud of theirs:
“Our mission is to optimize the health and happiness of our patients, team members, suppliers, community and the environment through exceptional quality care and sustainable business practices.”
This statement is the embodiment of Artisan Dental. There’s the Artisan Dental Wellness Series, a free quarterly wellness and community-building series designed to foster wholeperson wellness with a focus on patient education. The Artisan Dental Recycling Program, an innovative partnership with Terracycle, Tom’s of Maine and the City of Madison that is Dane County’s first oral products recycling program. One percent of net revenue is donated to charitable organizations. In the eco-friendly office, 100 percent of the electricity is sourced from renewable energy and only nontoxic cleaning products are used.
Artisan Dental’s B Corp certification is “a confirmation that we are bringing our mission, vision and values to life,” says Scott Andersen, Co-Founder and Director of Business Development.
These values and becoming B Corp-certified has had a trickle effect down to Artisan’s team members.
“We have noticed that team members have begun to take ownership for the mission, vision and values and are actively involved in stewarding the culture,” says Andersen.
Andersen says that team members are considered stakeholders in their business, along with suppliers, contractors, the community, the planet and of course, patients. Andersen hopes that the B Corp status may encourage patients to “evaluate companies and products differently, potentially resulting in more dollars being allocated to socially responsible enterprises.”
The practice also seeks to foster good in their patients’ lives, going beyond basic oral health care through wellness programming, fundraising and food drives.
Andersen says, “For patients, we intend to be seen as a partner in their oral and total health, prioritizing and customizing their care in such a way that it works within the larger context of their work, family and financial life. Over time, we hope patients see us as incorporating sustainable business models that enact our mission, vision and values.”
Dentist and co-founder Nicole Andersen adds, “Our role in the community includes providing exceptional care to our patients on a daily basis, helping to reframe what it means to visit the dentist.” Scott Andersen further describes this approach as “a recognition that our needs and wishes have universal similarities, for example, to be loved, safe, healthy and happy.”
A CONSULTING FIRM WITH VISION
What are the nuts and bolts of Envision IT? It works with companies to provide an excellent user experience for employees while also delivering on the other business requirements of IT, such as security, efficiency and reasonable costs.
That’s the technical explanation of Envision IT’s inner workings. But at its heart lies “a group of talented and compassionate people growing a soulful company” according to Nancy Pautsch, chief evangelist of stakeholder value, a title Pautsch developed as president.
“Our purpose is to improve the lives of our stakeholders, which are our employees, our clients, our business partners and our community,” Pautsch says.
When Pautsch joined Envision IT in 2013 to “constructively grow the company,” she set out to make a good company even better through conscious capitalism.
She says, “Conscious capitalism is a movement focused on elevating humanity through business. It’s also a global community of like-minded businesses that believe for-profit business has been and can be a force for good.”
Pautsch believes that for-profit businesses can do the work of nonprofit organizations and make revenue in the process.
“Capitalism has lifted billions out of poverty and created prosperity around the world,” she says. “The conscious piece is key. Capitalism on its own can be detrimental, especially when the focus is solely on profits at any or all costs. Increasingly, we see this nationally and even locally with activist investors reaping havoc on companies and communities for short-lived spikes in shareholder value.”
Envision IT has chosen a different route, prioritizing people over profits. The company invests its time, talent and funds in several charities. “We typically select nonprofits and causes that are near and dear to our Envision family,” says Pautsch. She also sees Envision making a beneficial impact in the community by being a highly regarded employer.
“First and foremost, we’re a good employer creating jobs, enriching lives and focused on the long-term success of our Envision family and all we serve,” she says.
The 30 employees, or “Envisioners” as they’re called, participate in a culture of compassion.
“Envisioners practice compassion every day among all our stakeholders, whether it’s taking on a workload so a teammate can attend his or her child’s sporting event or recital, our compassion-focused volunteer efforts and the bigger stuff.”
The byproduct of this amplified commitment to compassion and volunteering has been a healthy spike in profits—triple-digit revenue growth.
“Our growth happened since our transformation that began in [the fourth quarter] of 2013, so yes, conscious capitalism is a major contributor. The tenets helped guide our business strategy, however, our Envisioners are the biggest contributor,” Pautsch says.
Pautsch, who attends the yearly CEO Summit for Conscious Capitalists along with 150 other like-minded leaders, shares must-have’s for a “Firm of Endearment:” “a safe environment for people to share diverse perspectives” and “a natural sense of family where people feel connected and voluntarily support each other.” She says, “This sets the stage for a conscious culture.”
EVOKING IDEAS & GOOD VIBES
Kelly Ehlers’ personal philosophy revolves around one statement: “The nice girl DOES win.” As the founder and president of Ideas That Evoke, a full-service agency with a focus on social media, influencer marketing and public relations, Ehlers has woven this single sentence into the entire framework of her business.
“It’s evident in how we conduct business, how we grow employees and team members and ultimately, how we give back to our community,” Ehlers says.
Ehlers has put simple, straightforward kindness at the top of her list, starting in the workplace among her team members, the majority of which are Millennials. The company offers flex time, options to work from home and a “Kudos Wall.”
“The little things—or over-managing the details, as we say— with employees allow us to demonstrate our commitment to our people, our team. At Evoke, we feel our actions as a leadership team speak louder than words and we act within a business culture that is one we want to thrive and grow in.”
This commitment to kindness has translated into the work that Evoke does in the community. Three years ago, the company launched an initiative called Social Media Day, a charitable event that raises money for a local cause while celebrating the positive impact of social media. The yearly event has raised over $10,000 for area charities.
The company also has a heavy focus on nonprofit work. Since 2015, employees have clocked over 764 hours of volunteer time, partnering with organizations like The Road Home, The Rotary Club, Ronald McDonald House, Porchlight, Girls on the Run and Second Harvest Food Bank.
“For a team that in 2015 was around 10 people, this was quite a commitment from our company to do good and make a difference with local charities and nonprofits,” says Ehlers.
The altruistic efforts and thoughtful attention to company culture has paid off for our community and for Evoke’s reputation: In 2016 Evoke was named the 4th Fastest Growing Company in Wisconsin, and the 24th Fastest Growing Marketing Agency in the U.S. by Inc. Magazine.
“Doing business differently at Ideas That Evoke is not just a nice-to-have feature. It’s actually our competitive edge. We know that today consumers are ‘buying’ or working with service companies that operate in an ethically and socially responsible way. This defines Ideas That Evoke among our competitors.”
For Ehlers, conscious capitalism isn’t just one way to go—it’s the only way, and the best way.
“I believe I’m one of the new generation of entrepreneurs that are driven to create value for my team and for my community. Stated another way, as an entrepreneur, I have discovered that making a profit doesn’t have to come at the expense of making a positive contribution to society. I’m motivated by ideas and by purpose more so than the almighty dollar. I feel if this is leading your mission, the rest will follow.”