Note: In honor of Social Venture Network’s 25-year anniversary, the network is inducting 25 of its most innovative and influential leaders into its hall of fame Nov. 13 at Gotham Hall in New York City. To recognize these sustainable business pioneers, SVN’s news program, ‘Sustainable Solutions,’ is interviewing the hall-of-famers to celebrate their accomplishments and learn what more needs to be done. Read the whole series here.
The founding farmer of Organic Valley, a farmer-owned co-op, is being recognized with a SVN Hall of Fame Impact Award as an environmental evangelist, proving that respecting the environment can also be good for business. Siemon shares some of the trends he’s seeing in socially-responsible business and what more can be done.
“With respect to the environment, people are realizing that doing things right the first time or (what we call) sustainability are all financially, economically viable. It’s the right path, sustainability pays,” says Siemon.
“Hiding from an environmental cost that’s going to come back and get you later, it used to be the school of thought, but now people are realizing we just need to deal with everything as it happens, and we need to be transparent.
“It’s not just doing it because it’s the right thing, it’s an economic model,” he adds.
This is something Siemon can attest to. Since founding Organic Valley in 1988, the farmer-owned and operated co-operative has grown to represent 1,723 farmers in 35 states and three Canadian provinces. It’s the largest organic farmer-owned co-operative in North America, the No. 1 organic milk producer in the U.S, and it has achieved $715 million in 2011 sales.
Crucial to Organic Valley’s success has been its business model, says Siemon. The farmer-owned co-op makes decisions democratically based on the interests of family-owned farms, their communities and the planet.
“A co-op is uniquely focused on serving their mission and serving the community, so it’s quite a different model,” he says.
When asked about his greatest hope for the socially-responsible business sector, Siemon says it’s seeing greater uptake of the co-op model. He says 2012 is International Year of Co-operatives, and as a result he’d like to see greater embracing, respect and engagement for a model that offers an alternative to business as usual.
While many business leaders focus on making a lot of money, Siemon says the co-op structure is also a more equitable option.
“The co-op structure is a little bit of a contrary to the concept of the big payout, it’s an opposite thing,” he says.
“People would see that making millions of dollars is a handy thing but maybe making one million is enough.”
This article written by Axiom News is part of a Social Venture Network series engaging its Hall of Fame honorees.
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