Helping the Environment One Customer at a Time

My grandfather taught me that the customer is always right. Years later, I would put his good guidance into practice as I worked my way through college as a barista at Starbucks. I loved it. I had a reliable paycheck, great tips, a free pound of coffee a week and health insurance — all critical to my 19-year-old well-being. We were highly encouraged to put the customer first, and given significant leeway to ensure every customer left happy. There was no stress over trying to haggle over a return or a refund. “You aren’t satisfied? That’s okay. What can we do to fix it?” And it was done.

That commitment to service pays off. According to a 2014 survey of 10,000 US consumers asked to rate their customer service experience with 268 national and regional companies, Starbucks ranked #9. USAA and Amazon, two brands also renowned for walking the extra mile for customers, ranked #1 and #2, respectively. According to this research, customer satisfaction involves more than just being told “yes.” Successful companies, they say, operate with a combination of purposeful leadership, engaged employees, compelling brand values, and customer connectedness.

That also means that for an authentic brand, inviting customers to join in an effort to make the world better can be good for business. Last year, Google, TNS (a market research company) and Ogilvy reported that, “consumers choose the brands that engage them on their passions and interests 42% more often than they do those that simply urge them to buy the product being advertised.”

The Conservation Fund has learned firsthand how the combination of intentional leadership and strong brand values can engage and inspire a company’s most valuable assets — its employees and customers. Inviting your customers to join you in fulfilling your purpose is not only good for business; it can help create real and lasting impact for the environment too.

For example, Dell launched an ambitious plan in 2013 to create a Legacy of Good by 2020. It’s an “all-hands on deck” approach that includes customers, employees and partners working together toward a set of shared goals. With The Conservation Fund, Dell invites its customers to participate in building a Legacy of Good through two easy ways. First, customers have joined Dell and The Conservation Fund in large-scale forest restoration efforts by choosing to “Plant a Tree” at checkout. Through the Plant a Tree initiative, customers can make a donation to plant trees and offset the carbon dioxide emissions that result from powering their PCs, notebooks, servers and more. Dell has also encouraged specific actions in exchange for tree planting, such as the campaign that planted trees for ocelots in Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in South Texas in exchange for sharing the hashtag #DellARC. All told, Dell and its customers have donated enough money to plant almost 800,000 trees across the globe.

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge is home to one of the two remaining ocelot populations in the nation, making it the center for conservation and recovery efforts for these endangered cats. Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

UPS® ships millions of packages every day and recognizes customers are concerned about the impact shipping has on the environment. That’s why UPS created carbon neutral shipping, which invests in carbon-offset projects across the globe. At the Garcia River Forest in Northern California, customers who participate in the UPS carbon neutral shipping program — which is available for any UPS shipment, including envelopes, packages, and freight from 36 countries — help the Fund conserve and then restore the most sensitive areas of the forest, including rivers like Garcia that snake through mammoth redwood trees.

Sustainable forest management of the 23,780-acre Garcia River Forest enables the storage of more than 77,000 tons of carbon emissions annually. Photo by Matthew Gerhardt.

And finally, more than one million U-Haul customers have created an army of good by donating to The Conservation Fund at checkout. Each gift helps to plant trees and protect forests, build urban parks and create green jobs. This includes the creation of Lindsay Street Park, the first park in the English Avenue neighborhood of Atlanta, Georgia. English Avenue and the adjacent Vine City neighborhood lie in the shadow of downtown Atlanta, less than a mile from the Georgia Dome and the site where the Atlanta Falcons football team will build its new stadium. Yet these streets are plagued with some of the highest rates of crime, unemployment and foreclosure in the city, and there are fewer acres of planned green space than anywhere else in the city.

Thanks in part to gifts from U-Haul customers, Lindsay Street Park opened last week. It is one of the Fund’s Parks with Purpose, designed to benefit the neighbors by creating economic benefit and safer, greener places to play for all.

Perhaps one day soon, this little park created in part by customers will spur a Lindsey Street or English Avenue business to serve the park’s visitors. A new set of customers who will, no doubt, always be right.

Jena Thompson Meredith is Vice President of Business Partnerships at The Conservation Fund, where she directs corporate relations and is co-founder of the Fund’s Go Zero program.