Silent Sustainability

At last weekend's Harvard Social Enterprise Conference, Ayr Muir, founder and chief executive officer of Clover Fast Food, Inc., a Cambridge, MA-based restaurant and food truck company, revealed his secrets to success. He told the audience how his restaurants try to use local and organic ingredients as much as possible. They also limit the menu and intentionally run out of food items as the day goes on to curb food waste (considering 40 percent of food produced in the U.S. goes to waste, this is a noble goal). But the real success secret? According to Muir, most of Clover's customers have no idea of the company's green mission.

A growing number of companies are achieving lofty green goals and working to incorporate sustainability into the very essence of their companies. While many organizations are proud to shout achievements from the rooftops, others remain mum. There are a number of reasons for doing so, including fear of communicating successes because it might open a company up to scrutiny in other areas. Muir is on a mission to provide his customers with healthful, inexpensive alternatives to fast food, but he doesn't want the words "organic" or "local" to scare budget conscious consumers away (by the way, a majority of Clover's menu items come in at under five dollars). And in a recent CNN Money article, John Stein, the founder of Kirei, a design materials manufacturer that produces sustainable and non-toxic products, said he steers clear of touting its credentials because he fears it may actually be a turn-off to mainstream consumers. At the same time, Maker's Mark, deemed by CNN Money as "possibly the most environmentally friendly and socially responsible alcohol company in the world," doesn't flaunt its responsible actions because the company believes it's "just a part of doing business."

Although silent sustainability champions may honor humility over haughtiness, there is a real opportunity for communication, and perhaps more importantly, education. Many of the companies that remain reserved are also the ones who have made amazing progress breaking age-old "green" stigmas by providing low-cost, high-value products. If these companies can tell their stories, perhaps consumers will begin to understand that buying green doesn't have to be a sacrifice.

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