Archive for the ‘Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility’ category

Article Published in CSR Wire!!!

March 1, 2014

From Ordinary to Extraordinary: 5 Ways to Become a Socially Responsible Business Mid-Stream

Are strategies to embed CSR into existing companies the same as traditional change management?

By Julie Lineberger and Ellen Meyer Shorb
Do you have a successful business, make good money, but feel unsatisfied? Perhaps there is a quiet voice gnawing at you, asking, “Is this all there is?”Cliff Cort of Triumph Modular decided to stoke those embers and rewired his business to create significant positive change not only in his business, but the entire industry. Cort wanted to build a legacy, he wanted to do something creative, and he wanted to make buildings he was proud of.While running a successful modular construction company, he latched onto the idea of offering Green Modulars (energy efficient classroom buildings built with non-toxic, renewable materials). Fast-forward 10 years and Cort is today at the forefront of green modular buildings, making an impact globally. Further, he transformed an entire industry from using formaldehyde boxes to non-toxic, efficient designs!

But what if you are hauling trash? Making cheese and milk products in Vermont or managing properties in Boston?


Can you sell Apple products, vitamins or trucking services and make a difference in the world? Can an existing company shift gears to become socially responsible [SR] and green?

Can Ordinary Businesses Become Socially Responsible?

We’ve spent the last three years interviewing 50 companies with ordinary products and services that decided to make the change to be driven by SR principles. These are not companies that were created to sell a green product, nor to serve their local community or produce their product with minimal environmental impact. And yet, they joined a legend of existing companies that are changing how they do business, finding that doing so breathes new life, competitiveness and efficiencies into production and market differentiation.

So how do you change an existing business to make it socially responsible? We found five common and effective steps:

1. Stoke the Fire in Your Belly

“Believe in what you’re doing, stick to it, and hang in there.” This is not a simple set of aphorisms. The first step to rapidly make your ordinary business extraordinary is to WANT IT, to want to make a business that is wiser, responsive and profitable. This means listening to yourself, tapping into your own hunger and fueling the fire in your belly.

Jan Blomstrann started at NRG Systems, a wind energy measurement device company, as a bookkeeper. Inspired by the results of instituting socially responsible human resources and supply chain policies, Blomstrann transformed the company – of which she is now CEO – by adopting socially responsible principles across the board.

When she began the process, her main priority was to create a business organization by instituting management systems that professionally ran the company: accounting, hiring the right people, figuring out how to offer health insurance, etc. The policies that made the most sense to her were socially responsible.

“It was just the right thing to do, especially in terms of employee retention. In the late 1990s, young people started sending in resumes. They said: ‘I don’t care what it is, is there a job for me?’” Startled that the requests were predicated not only on the growing wind industry but by NRG’s socially responsible policies, she noted, “It was very infectious for the employees to see the success of the company. We were contributing to a new way of being and doing business.”

2) Be a Champion or Hire One

In an existing company, deep changes need a champion to educate and get buy-in from a variety of stakeholders.

When Ford Reiche owned Safe Handling in Lewiston, Maine, he spent two decades following the climate change debate, but made no changes in his trucking and transportation company until he met Andy Meyer. Meyer was switching careers at the time and wanted to make a difference in the environment; Ford saw his hunger and aptitude and hired him as his first “Chief Sustainability Officer.”


Meyer dug in, spent a lot of time in the warehouses and docking garages and, with Ford’s support, initiated a sweep of initiatives that engaged employees in thinking about how to save energy, thus saving the company money. Meyer also started a program of noting good ideas and accomplishments on small steps with dollar bills at staff meetings. It was at one such meeting that an employee presented his research on a sign that requested people not to turn off a light switch. As it turned out, the light had been left on for three years and no one knew why!

3) Build Unlikely Allies

Jed Davis had been at Cabot Creamery for 13 years when he became obsessed with the idea of making the dairy cooperative more environmentally sustainable. It took him three years to convince the Cabot management. Now Director of Sustainability, Davis worked across the Creamery to reduce solid waste.

When Cabot controller Ed Townley first heard of Davis’ socially responsible goals, he rolled his eyes. Then he ran the numbers. He quickly joined forces with Davis and Operations SVP Ed Pcolar who actually went with the trash hauler to the dump to count trash. After that episode, Pcolar made it mandatory for all departments to weigh their solid waste and figure out how to recycle just about everything. Today, the company is considered a leader in the environmental space.

4) Implement Low Hanging Fruit First

New Chapter Sustainability Manager Sara Newmark drew up a business plan to bring the Brattleboro, Vt., company in line with its reputation as a national leader in sustainability based on the quality and sustainability of its procurement practices. Although she had already created a far-reaching business plan for the initiative, she saw a need to implement a few more visible changes to inspire others to follow. She initiated New Chapter’s sustainable policies with simple recycling and in purchasing recycled materials.

Along with owner Barbi Schulick, Newmark started by asking all the department heads to evaluate where they could make improvements. An early and simple change was to check who was using recycled paper for all their printing. Turned out, there was no consistency in who the departments were sourcing their paper from. While recycled paper was more expensive, by switching organization-wide, their cost fell significantly.

Next, each department created a matrix of goals and metrics including fair trade sourcing, carbon footprint, solid waste and energy use. The company then celebrated the department that recycled the most and who saved the most.

Little by little, they wove sustainability into the fabric of their operational culture. They didn’t see changes right away, nor did everyone get immediate satisfaction, but the values and principles slowly started to become part of the way New Chapter does business. Now sustainability is who New Chapter is.

5) Evaluate ROI from Multiple Angles and Share

Noting the impending impact depleting resources could have on its industry; Casella Waste Systems went from “hauling trash” to “managing resources.” In the mid-2000s, according to Vice President Joe Fusco, the company switched from hauling a ton of byproducts to the landfill to hauling an increasing amount of “waste” to be recycled, re-used and sold in the last decade.

Once Casella entered the recycling business, it began to track its repurposed resources, celebrating each metric by measuring and reporting the difference they were making environmentally, in their community, among their employees and to its financial bottom line.

Social Responsibility: Easier than Simple Change Management?

When interviewing these companies, we continually asked ourselves whether their transformations fell under traditional change management. Were the strategies these companies were taking the same if they were switching a product line, expanding overseas or consolidating three factories?

Turns out, there were some critical differences.

Embedding social responsibility into an organization is a challenging transformation for a company because the field is still pretty nascent. In some cases, measurement tools have to be created industry by industry. For example, Cabot Creamery decided to join hands with other dairy companies to design industry metrics and set tracking, evaluation and reporting mechanisms in place so the entire industry could move toward greener practices.


Besides, measuring financial success is difficult. And the connection between social responsibility and employee retention is not always a clean one nor is it always possible to show direct causation. Payback terms may be longer than traditionally calculated and these metrics are not traditionally an existing part of reporting systems for investors, shareholders and owners.

On the other hand, markets and consumers are increasingly hungry for products and services that are made and distributed by companies with an explicit social bend. We now have an entire new field of language for social responsibility – the “multiple bottom line” (planet, people, profits), “green,” “sustainable,” etc. Further, the companies we talked to found that social responsibility engaged and retained employees, consumers were more attracted and savings from energy efficiency and recycling boosted the company’s bottom line.

Perhaps most difficult to quantify, but most clear to those engaged in these transformations, is the fact that the employees and owners feel personally revitalized, engaged. This intangible but powerful benefit can greatly propel a substantively significant change in business success.

Time to Embrace Responsibility

Ten years ago, this conversion would have been difficult.

Today, there is momentum, a cultural change in the market, and a hunger among owners and employees to continue doing what they do well while positively influencing the world, the environment and their community. While becoming a socially responsible business can be logistically, culturally and politically challenging, it is, hands-down, the smartest business decision you’ll ever make.

Try it.

About the Authors:

Ellen Meyer Shorb is a principal of Blue Sage Partners, a strategy consulting practice specializing in meeting facilitation.

Julie Lineberger is the co-founder/owner of LineSync Architecture, a green and sustainable firm in southern Vermont, and a Board Member of Green America and Past Chair the Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility Board of Directors.

ReWiring Success, like Ellen and Julie, combines the philosophies of global sustainability, nonprofit humanitarian development and for-profit earnings.

Submitted by: Guest Contributors

Posted: Feb 25, 2014 – 09:00 AM EST

Tags: csr, environment, energy efficiency, triumph modular, new chapter, cabot creamery, nrg, safe handling, casella waste, sustainability, recycling, climate change, change management


Group prepares for health care changes coming in next two years

November 28, 2012
Deerfield Valley News Article
by Jack Deming
Participants in a panel discussion on health care included, from left, Robin Lunge, Kevin Goddard, Julie Lineberger, and Bram Kleppner.

Participants in a panel discussion on health care included, from left, Robin Lunge, Kevin Goddard, Julie Lineberger, and Bram Kleppner.

WEST DOVER-Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility held their 20th annual fall conference at Mount Snow Wednesday, November 14, with an opening plenary panel session aimed at answering questions business owners have about changes coming to Vermont’s health care system.

VBSR’s mission as a nonprofit, statewide business trade organization is to advance business ethics that value economic, social, and environmental bottom lines through education, public influence, and workplace quality. This panel was an educational component, preparing business owners for the changes that come with the 2013 and 2014 federal mandates under the Affordable Care Act. As Bram Kleppner, co-chair of the Medicaid and exchange advisory board said, “VBSR has had a long-standing position to always advocate for changes in our health care system. Between Obamacare and Green Mountain Care, we’re moving in some very different directions, and some very positive ones. Now we are at the point where all of us as members, businesses, and organizations need to figure out how to execute and implement the changes that are coming to us.”

Kleppner served as moderator for a panel that included Robin Lunge, Vermont Director of Health Care Reform, Julie Lineberger, a member of the Green Mountain Advisory Board and Medicaid and exchange advisory board, and Kevin Goddard, vice president of external affairs and sales for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont.

Lunge began the session by explaining the health care exchange that Vermont is required to construct before January 1, 2014. With an exchange, Vermonters and small businesses will be able to shop for insurance on Vermont Health Connect, a website that provides apples-to-apples comparisons of different insurance products. “There are not many fundamental changes to health insurance under the federal law,” said Lunge. “It’s a way for consumers to have easier access to shopping tools.” Lunge also said that as of October 1, 2013, individuals and businesses could begin using Vermont Health Connect.

Insurance plans provided through the exchange will be required to feature essential health benefit packages, co-pays, and deductibles. People who do not purchase insurance beginning in 2014 will be fined with a tax penalty. Lunge said that individuals will still be allowed to purchase insurance through private brokers. However the exchange makes the process easier, and creates a more stable environment for companies to insure their employees. “For those of you who have been in small group insurance where you have small businesses clustered together and you have just a couple of really ill people in a year, it could really increase your rates, so the idea is a bigger pool stabilizes across a larger population.”

Lineberger, who is also a Wilmington business owner, thinks that it is important for business owners to talk to their employees individually, to hear their concerns, and know how the changes to health care will affect them. She also said that de-coupling insurance and employment is a direction health insurance must move toward. With the Affordable Care Act requiring subsidization of insurance premiums for individuals in households with incomes up to 400% of the poverty line, Lineberger says it creates confusion. “It’s important for us to provide insurance to our employees, but what does this mean?” said Lineberger. “It might be more responsible not to offer insurance on two levels. One, because it would be better coverage for our employees, and two, because health care should be de-coupled from employment. You shouldn’t have to be coupled to your employer to get the coverage you need.”

Small businesses, those with 50 employees or fewer, face a tax penalty should they not offer health insurance to their employees through the exchange. The panel spent time exploring the pros and cons of de-coupling insurance and employers. Kleppner asked, if the tax penalty a business is charged is lower than the amount it would cost to insure employees, and employees can purchase insurance through the exchange along with subsidies and tax credits, is it more sensible to not offer insurance? Kleppner says this issue has become more important with the federal definition of a small business going from 50 employees to 100 employees or fewer. Kleppner said that in Vermont, a business with 100 employees or fewer isn’t exactly a small business.

New out-of-pocket maximums, or the total amount an insurance company requires an individual to pay toward the cost of his/her health care, have also put the squeeze on businesses. “If we choose to stop offering insurance, the question we face is if we have been subsidizing employees’ insurance to some extent, do we continue somehow to subsidize their costs so that the individual costs don’t go away, even though the total costs may go down?” said Kleppner. “It’s a business by business decision, but it’s a complicated choice.”

Another feature of Vermont’s health care exchange that will benefit businesses is portability. If an employee purchases health insurance through an employer and leaves one job for another that does not offer insurance, they can keep their same plan as an individual. Lunge said instead of automatic disenrollment due to a change in one’s life circumstances, “Portability will encourage a continuity of care and make sure that people’s health conditions are kept under control and they don’t lose their insurance.”

Lunge says the goal of health care reform must focus on leaving a for-profit system where quality and quantity of care do not equal out. “If you look at the United States as compared to other developed countries, we spend in some instances twice as much as other countries but our outcomes are not as good, so we’re paying more and we’re getting less. What we’re focusing on is how we get to a more sustainable and cost-effective system.”

Lineberger believes one way to ensure quality health care is to focus on individual needs. This includes making payment for services easier by combining multiple procedures in one bill in a system called bundling. “ Bundling puts the onus on care providers to work as a team to create the best outcome for each particular situation,” said Lunge. “A standard procedure for knee replacement may require 20 physical therapy appointments. But some people may need 12 and others may need 30. What this does is let providers create a package for the individual so they’re not wasting money, but providing better after-care because the worst thing for that entity would be if that person needed to be re-hospitalized.”

Kleppner believes the exchange will help businesses and the individual. “We all know people who need their jobs because of the insurance, and that’s just a terrible situation to force someone into. I’m very hopeful this reform will unleash a lot of entrepreneurial energy and creativity because people won’t have to be chained to an employer because of insurance.”

Read more: Deerfield Valley News – Group prepares for health care changes coming in next two years

WDEV Interview: Smart Business Wednesday 2.8.12

February 23, 2012

Socially Responsible Human Resource Practices:  Building a Team with Limited Resources!

Many folks think building a good, loyal, fabulous staff is all about monetary compensation.  Both scientific and empirical research say this is simply not the case.  For start up businesses, or even established businesses in the current economy, there are many HR policies and practices that can assist a company to enhance and retain its most important asset:  its employees/staff, or as we say at LineSync Architecture, our TEAM.

Early this afternoon (2.8.12) I was interviewed by Carl Eitner of Equal Time Radio regarding Socially Responsible Human Resource (HR) Practices, which is mainly about empowering employees, honoring the people who assist CEOs and Owners grow businesses.  The honoring, it turns out, does not necessarily need to be centered around financial incentives nor rewards.  The number one factor is empowerment, a staff member’s control over her/his own life.

When we started LineSync Architecture almost 23 years ago, the only benefit we could offer was a Paid Birthday Off.  We had just one employee who understood we were a start up company, and he was thrilled that we came up with something we could offer!

For the last 10 years or so, the Team participates in the decision making process whereby a new benefit is added annually.  This team participation in the decision making creates an even more significant impact, according to Team members.

Some our Team inspired Benefits, in order of their arrival:

• Flex Time and/or Condensed Work Week

• Ski Pass Contribution

• Emergency Ski Days

• Annual Appreciation Dinner

• Paid Vacation Time

• Continuing Education/Conference Costs

• Paid Sick Days

In an effort to support healthy lifestyles in our resort community, as well as offer an end of the year bonus, the Ski Pass Contribution came early on.  It was then quite logical for the next Benefit to be Emergency Ski Days  wherein the Studio empties out onto the slopes!

Often decisions are based on the financial situation of the company at the time. Once a Benefit is established, however, it is for perpetuity.

One year the decision to institute an Annual Appreciation Dinner was the most sustainable choice.  Those first few Dinners were in our home with the boss chef and architect server.  We graduated to a catered dinner and finally an event at a local establishment, always with significant others included so people know who folks are referring to!

Often the choices are predictable, as with the year we were able to establish Paid Vacation Time.  Other years the decisions are surprising such as when the Team chose Paid Sick Days over Retirement Accounts, a benefit that  continues to be passed over.

The biggest draw for our Team may just be the awesomely aesthetically pleasing well lit and well ventilated space to spend 6-to-sometimes-10 hours a day in overlooking our vegetable garden and into the woods, contributing to a desirable workplace environment.  However, there are other policies and practices we follow to enhance the work experience of being on the LineSync Architecture Team:
• Company Policies on Equal Pay, Harassment, Ethics
• Job Secure Policy for Improvement Suggestions or Complaints
• Open Book Management on all LineSync Architecture projects
• Participation in New Hire Interviews, choosing new Team members
• Mentoring Opportunities
• Participation in LineSync Architecture Philanthropic Decisions
• Regular Performance Evaluations
• Weekly Wednesday Tea at Three
• Kitchen & Break Room (with fridge, microwave, cooktop and popcorn maker)
• Celebrations of Employee Anniversaries with LineSync Architecture
• Active Search for Diversity among Team Members (including folks facing barriers to employment)

These HR Practices, and our consistent monitoring of them, keep the LineSync Architecture Team thinking about what each of us can do to create a better workplace environment, a better firm as a whole, and how the firm can contribute to a better world.

The Interview:             

• The Livable Jobs Toolkit is available through Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility (  This amazing workbook guides a business to which benefits are most realistic for your particular company using worksheets and data.  The three sections offer a guide to benefits that are:
1. Creative with little or no cost;
2. Cost more, offer more;
3. More cost and substantial return.

• has useful resource suggestions ( as well as the B impact assessment tool to assess your company’s impact on each of its stakeholders and improve your social and environmental performance using the Tools and Best Practices embedded in the Survey.
Results from the assessment are displayed in easy to read B Reports with specific scores for environment, community, employees, etc.  These results are transparent to the public for all Certified B Corporations.

My newest Business Venture:  ReWiring Success: Socially Responsible Strategies that Work.  (  This is a new business venture for me and my colleague, Ellen Meyer Shorb.   Our evolving consulting practice does, and our eventual book will, assist companies with strategies for becoming more Socially Responsible.  For now, the blog holds a collection of essays based on interviews of successful Socially Responsible business people.

Julie Lineberger
8 February 2012

H.202 Signing

June 15, 2011


Governor Shumlin signing VT H.202 into Law

26 May 2011 – Comments by Julie Lineberger

Vermont, once again, is leading the nation with its tradition of independent thinking.  We have done this many times including being the first state in the nation to ban slavery, to incorporate universal education, to enact Civil Unions, to make marriage equality law without a judicial order. We are also one of the first states in the nation to allow businesses to incorporate with a charter of social responsibility as a For Benefit Corporation. And now this!

Truly, this is more than just a health care law; it is economic development for the state of Vermont.  With an equal playing field, Vermont businesses can compete in the Global Marketplace.  When our businesses no longer spend 15% – 30% of payroll on health insurance, they can invest in more Vermont employees and higher wages.

Vermont also leads the nation with a very special business organization that believes our success is measured not only in dollars, but also in how we treat our employees, how we interact with our communities and how lightly we walk on this earth.  With over 1200 business members, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility represents approximately 15% of Vermont’s workforce.  We are the largest, most active Businesses for Social Responsibility in the United States, leading the way for others.  As VBSR Board Chair, I am honored to be speaking here today.

For 20 years VBSR has worked to decouple health insurance from paychecks. Who decided that only those people working for companies that can afford health insurance are worthy of health care?

This law about to be signed is the culmination of many peoples efforts.  It is an example of how governmental bodies, non-profit organizations and, leading the pack, business owners can work together to affect positive outcomes.  Our nimble State of Vermont takes action where other States waffle.

Thank you, Governor Shumlin for your vision, foresight and commitment.  Thank you Dr. Deb Richter for your tireless effort and coming to Vermont where one person can make a difference. Thank you to all House Committee members who worked for balance and to bring this to the floor under the exceptional leadership of Mark Larson.  Thank you Senator Claire Ayer of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee for leadership in bringing this to the floor for a vote. Thank you House Representatives and your Speaker, Shap Smith for starting the ball rolling.  Thank you State Senators and President Pro Tem John Campbell for guidance through the Senate.

This business community applauds you.  The nation is watching you!  With this law, you sure have your work cut out for you, and those here are willing to roll up our sleeves and help!