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Monday, October 23, 2006 12:00 AM
Inspiring Days
Kevin Salwen on Values

Need inspiration? Surround yourself with inspiring people. That sounds easy today because I spent a chunk of the day at the Bioneers conference. If you don't know Bioneers, it's a conference about making change in the world; at 18 locations around the U.S., action-oriented people gather to talk, plan and share.

It was my luck this weekend to host a panel about social responsibility -- or, how to build a company with a soul, bringing profitability and purpose together. So, our promotions genius, Gregg Rosenthal, and I gathered panelists we thought could bring the concept together from a range of angles:
-- Entrepreneurship (building values from the ground up): Eric Smith of TerraCycle, a very cool little New Jersey company that makes a terrific organic plant food from 100% waste, including the packaging of used soda and milk bottles.
-- Design and building: Kim Chamness of Perkins + Will, the architecture firm that is a leader in green design (Kim runs their Atlanta green team), and Melanie Wiggins, the green team director and project manager for CH2M Hill, an 18,000-strong employee-owned firm with an outstanding record of telecommuting.
-- Community connection: Mike Kucey, the Atlanta regional manager for Washington Mutual, the sixth-largest bank in the nation, which builds its business one community at a time.
-- Environmental commitment: Joyce Lavalle, senior vice president of Interface Inc., the carpet maker that that is revolutionizing the industry with its move to zero negative impact on the Earth (stunning for a petroleum-based products company).
-- Investment: Sam Moss, who has run microfinance operations for Gray Ghost Fund and who now is building Gray Matters, an investment fund that looks to make catalytic change in environmental and other social arenas; and Kinny Roper, a managing director of Cherokee Investment Partners, which invests in and restores brownfield sites into thriving communities.

Together, for nearly 3 hours, they looked at how to build companies with a deeper sense of purpose, how to develop a workforce committed to that mission, how to reposition a company to connect more deeply. But what I loved the most was that profit was right at the center of the conversation -- from investment to stock-market performance. Why? Because, this panel of experts argued, the best change comes when there is financial opportunity -- it makes people work harder and smarter, and most importantly it regenerates the wealth, turning the finite resource into a long-term tool.

And they see the world through a can-do lens. Not perfect, not pollyanna. Just full of opportunity. That's inspiring.

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