“The rising tide floats all boats.” It’s a saying that New Orleans-based Tippy Tippens took to heart after witnessing the BP oil spill in 2010. Inspired to contribute to her community, she designed and launched BirdProject Soap to help raise funds for environmental cleanup.
“I believe that products should have many roles in addition to their useful purpose: treating the environment well, creating jobs, and creating an avenue to give back,” she says. Out of that project grew Goods that Matter, a business that builds on her core values to include additional partner causes. We asked Tippy to share her lessons learned with other socially conscious designers, makers and businesses.
1. The biggest changes begin close to home.
Pick a cause that’s close to you, something you’re passionate about. As a New Orleans-based business, we know the importance of people, wetland restoration, oil spill cleanup, disaster relief, and education. Causes that meet the most basic and elemental needs are the ones that really call to me. Our world has become so complicated—the basics are truly what we all need to make us happy.
2. Get going! You’ve got to start somewhere.
Many people feel like they have to be much further along in the process to start something. If you have an idea, get moving on it and the next thing you know, you’re rolling. Start by asking questions, sketching/writing your idea, making prototypes, reserving a domain name, asking someone to collaborate with you, or just making that first phone call.
3. Whenever you can, get off the Internet and into the world.
I think it’s important to get out in the real world. So much is online these days that getting out and meeting people face-to-face in your community is a great way to get started. One person makes a big difference. When we collaborate it adds up to something amazing!
4. Choose the business model that works best for you.
There are lots of ways into cause-based business: using sustainable materials, contributing to causes you care about, treating people fairly, and/or being an advocate. I do all of the above. There are a lot of services that make it doable—I used Kickstarter to help fund and launch my first product line.
If your business is already started, you can choose one of your products or services to be mission-based. Or, pick one day of the month. For example, every 10th day of the month, donate 5-10% of your sales to a nonprofit group. Or, if you’re a service-based business, give one day each month providing services to local causes.
5. Align your product with your mission.
As an environmentalist, I always wanted to combine my design work with my passion for treating the world well. After witnessing the BP oil spill in 2010—the United States’ largest environmental disaster—I saw that something had to change, and I wanted to be part of that change.
I developed BirdProject Soap: a black, bird-shaped soap with a smaller white ceramic bird at its center. A portion of the proceeds go to the ongoing oil spill cleanup. From there, I started Goods that Matter. Starting a business was a dream for several years. In creating this product, I found what I’d been looking for: a way to create eco-friendly products that give back to unique causes.
6. Share your story, and tell your customers how they’re helping.
Storytelling is so important and something I’m continually striving to do better. It’s important for the customer to know how their purchase is impacting a cause, so the strongest story comes from telling them “thanks to you, this is possible.” On our site, we have a page where customers can see how much money we’ve donated, how many non-profits and individuals we’ve helped, and our impact on the environment.
7. Work with other makers to make change.
I frequently collaborate with other makers, mission-based shops, and businesses. It’s an integral part of Goods that Matter—it’s so important for small businesses to support each other. I also just love connecting with other makers and supporting small businesses in whatever way I can, whether it’s directly partnering on a project or helping to spread the word about an event. There’s a phrase I’ve heard a lot in New Orleans: ‘The rising tide floats all boats.” I believe that.
8. Find the right partners to help scale your business.
When you’re clear on your mission, the partners you should work with become much clearer, too. For me, it’s important that people I collaborate with are environmentally intelligent and have their own ways of giving back.
When they opened their store in New Orleans in 2014, west elm reached out to me to be a partner in their LOCAL selection. It’s an awesome group of makers, and I’m really delighted to be part of it.
9. Consider which certifications might work for you.
Certifications can involve a lot of cost and commitment, so look for one that’s really going to make a difference for you. I’m a big fan of the Benefit Corporation Certification (B-Corp) because I wanted to be part of a network of businesses who are working to solve social and environmental problems. The B-Corp Certification shows that my business meets really rigorous social and environmental standards, plus it connects me to a network of people who are change-makers in the field.
10. Use social media to advocate for your cause.
I heart Instagram! I love taking photos, so it’s a natural fit for me. I also love blogging, but need to do it more regularly (one of my New Year’s resolutions is to write more often and eloquently). Twitter is also great for meeting people and keeping up-to -date on the latest news or events.
Illustration by Kristen Solecki