Beyond Profit

Vancity Rooftop Garden | BCBusiness
Vancity’s rooftop garden is one way the credit union gives back to the community.

Businesses are increasingly incorporating philanthropy and community service into their operations from day one

More companies are going the extra philanthropic mile, whether it’s holding in-office fundraising campaigns, sponsoring specific charities or even encouraging employees to take company time to volunteer in their respective communities. But for other companies, social responsibility means more than just cutting a donation cheque at the end of the fiscal year; they make community-mindedness a major pillar of their operations.

Vancouver entrepreneur and co-founder of FROGBOX Inc. Doug Burgoyne is a textbook example of a growing small business with a heavy focus on sustainability. FROGBOX’s mission is to make the moving process more eco-friendly by renting plastic moving boxes to customers with the hope of making wasteful cardboard boxes obsolete.

When dreaming up the concept for his company, Burgoyne worked backwards. He and business partner Trevor McCraw built their plan around two key ideas: exceptional customer service and what Burgoyne calls “sustainable profitability.”

“The industry itself sucks. Nobody likes their mover,” he says. “We set out to prove that you could provide a service that was equal than or better to the alternative in price and performance, be better for the environment and be profitable.”

On top of building a viable venture, his mission was to create a service incrementally better for the environment.

“Reusing a plastic box hundreds of times, even just 10 times, is better than using a cardboard box.”

A larger-scale local example is Vancouver City Savings Credit Union (Vancity), Canada’s biggest credit union by assets, with more than $17 billion under management. The financial institution has racked up accolades for its decades of community service (including being named the Best Corporate Citizen of 2013 by Corporate Knights magazine) and its baked-in, values-driven creed.

Vancity finances a number of social causes including CBC’s annual BC Food Bank Drive Day, as well as offering grants to social ventures, or “impact businesses” such as Street Youth Job Action, which helps young people living on the street find jobs (SYJA has received a total of $90,000 in grants).

“We want to build a healthy, thriving community where our members live and work,” says Elizabeth Lougheed Gree, Vancity’s community investment manager.

But forking over cash isn’t the only way Vancity fosters charities and companies that create an impact in the community. Green says Vancity functions as a navigator—when an entrepreneur comes to them with a viable idea, the financial institution does what they can to fill in the gaps and make the concept work.

An example of this concept is Vancity’s rooftop garden at its headquarters, which helps feed needy residents of the Downtown Eastside through a partnership with Potluck Café, an intitiative that provides fresh veggies for the homeless.

Carolyn Egri, professor of management and organization studies at SFU, attributes much of the increase in implementation of corporate social responsibility in recent years to a higher demand from both consumers and employees for more transparency in how companies conduct business. “People are much more critical,” she says. “You can’t hide anymore. We just want more transparency, and when you have that, you find out both the good and the bad.”