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.
From his Boy Scout years to bird watching, George Siemon always knew he wanted to protect nature, but he never thought business would be the way he’d achieve his goal.
The founder and CEO of Organic Valley, the largest co-op in the United States and leading organic brand, is being inducted into Social Venture Network’s (SVN) Hall of Fame as an environmental evangelist. The awards mark SVN’s 25th anniversary and pays tribute to business leaders who lead the new economy, proving that businesses can succeed while focusing on the triple bottom line.
Siemon says he’s thrilled to receive the recognition, which promotes his two passions: organic farming and co-operatives.
He discovered organic farming and a common sense that prevailed in farming and agricultural communities in the 1970s, a passion that would lead to the creation of Organic Valley as a way to preserve family-owned farms and nourish the environment.
Since its founding as an organic farming co-operative in 1988, Organic Valley has grown to represent 1,723 farmers in 35 states and three Canadian provinces. It’s the largest organic milk producer in the U.S., and the co-op achieved $715 million in 2011 sales.
When reflecting on his career, Siemon says he’s most proud of running a business that has succeeded in staying true to its mission of helping independent farms be viable and successful, so much so that they can be handed down to future generations.
He credits the co-op model for enabling Organic Valley to act as a mission-based company without having to satisfy only one stakeholder: the shareholder.
“In a co-operative it’s easier to have a mission-based business because their purpose is to serve the stakeholders that are the majority using the co-op,” explains Siemon.
“You’re more about your mission and who you want to be versus any of the struggles of ownership value… it’s not a stock company that has valuation or only looks at return on investment.”
Organic Valley has also been able to create meaningful work for employees and pay fair prices, which is rewarding for Siemon, who says too often business success is credited to an all-seeing leader. He says Organic Valley is the result of “the right mix of people with the right skills that were able to build excitement and be a consensus-based operation.”
“The sharing of a common mission has allowed us to focus on moving forward versus any of our differences,” he says.
Siemon recalls that it was more than 10 years ago that he attended his first SVN conference, an event that provided encouragement, support and community for using business as a tool for social change.
“I was once more of a student than a hall of famer so that makes it feel all the better,” he says on the recognition.