Making a difference

OPI has collated a number of initiatives from companies in the OP sector with a variety of corporate social responsibility projects. Whether they benefit the environment, are charitable or humanitarian, they all have one thing in common: they help peop


The first story is about Stride, an OP manufacturer and distributor based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that has made it its core purpose to employ people with special needs. OPI spoke to company CEO Kerry Bertram about Stride¹s background, its philosophy and why it makes a lot of sense doing what it does.

OPI: Could you just summarise what Stride is all about?

Kerry Bertram: Sure. Stride was the result of my brother’s birth back in 1962. Joey ­ the third child of Barbara and Don Brennan ­ was born with a condition called hydrocephalus, or water on the brain. Joey was severely disabled, he never walked or talked and was blind by the time he was three, but his short life of just seven years took my family on a different path ­ a lifetime of working with adults with special needs.

In 1981, Stride was started as a sheltered workplace, an organisation that employed people with disabilities in an environment separate from others.

My mother Barbara managed the organisation. A not-for-profit, she loved the business but felt that competing for business in the OP industry, as a non-profit, did not allow for integration of those people who had the ability to move up within the organisation.

So she and Don started asking: Why use government funding? Why not operate a for-profit with a goal of paying real wages? Why not integrate them?

They bought the business and began doing just that. Three months after they purchased Stride, Don died and Barbara found herself carrying on their dream alone. She did this for 35 years before retiring recently. I have that same vision now and will move forward with our brand statement, “Changing lives with Stride’.

OPI: How many staff do you have in total and how many of those have special needs?  

KB: We employ 14 people here in Albuquerque and eight of them have an intellectual or physical delay; two of them are in management positions.

OPI: Are there ‘typical’ jobs that your special needs staff carry out?

KB: Typical jobs involve hand assembly, packaging and labelling, and some light machine operation as well as quality control. When somebody shows a desire to advance and has the skills needed, we work on building those skills to move them up within the firm. The head of our shipping and receiving department, for example, came to us with an intellectual delay and today is a salaried staff member with a team to manage.

OPI: Are there financial incentives for companies like Stride that have these types of diversity initiatives?

KB: Yes, there are sheltered workshops, government assistance, non-profit labour and some other incentives. These can be complicated and are burdened with rules, regulations and red tape.

We do what we do without incentives because it is truly an underrepresented workforce that gives us tenfold what we put into it in terms of dedicated staff. Our special needs employees are no different from anyone else at Stride. They are fully integrated and may receive advancements and promotions depending on skill set and performance.

OPI: Are there any particular challenges?

KB: There are challenges, but not with regards to the workers per se, as we work with adults who are typically semi-independent. Even so, they may rely on Medicare or have special housing. How much they earn can affect these benefits. Also, most of our special needs workers don’t drive so we have to be flexible and shuttle people around occasionally.

Another challenge is trying to explain the benefit of this type of workforce to other people. Recently at a Walmart ‘Buy America’ conference, a manufacturer asked a question about finding dedicated workers from the millennials pool. It was generally concluded by the large group in attendance that there is an issue in finding dedicated, hard-working and reliable workers.  

I sought out this individual and we talked about the hiring of employees with developmental delays. They are so dedicated. Their job is paramount in their life and makes them successful as a person.

OPI: What are your future plans?

KB: We intend to expand the mission. Stride has a sister company in Reno which works with part-time high school students with special needs. We also recently bought a company called Aurora General Box in Georgia and we intend to add integrated employment there too.


Brother grows partnership with Cool Earth

Brother Europe has teamed up with rainforest sustainability charity Cool Earth as part of its eco commitment.

Cool Earth works with indigenous communities in at-risk rainforest regions to prevent deforestation, thereby helping to reduce CO2 emissions and protect endangered wildlife. Brother became the charity’s first major corporate partner in 2009 and the relationship has evolved over recent years. The office technology brand annually pledges funds to the charity through its Eco Rewards initiative.

This has helped to save over 1.3 million trees in the Peruvian Amazon, based on the number of ink and toner cartridges returned by customers as part of Brother¹s free European return and recycle scheme.Brother also provides funds from other initiatives, including its internal Eco Points project for Brother employees in Europe and the global Click for the Earth customer campaign.

More recently, Brother Europe has become involved in Cool Earth’s brand new initiative in Papua New Guinea. Launched by fashion designer, long-term supporter and now patron of the charity, Dame Vivienne Westwood, Brother in this project helps to protect more than 2,000 acres of pristine forest in the Milne Bay province.

Matthew Owen, Director at Cool Earth, said: “This new initiative has been three years in the making and Brother has played an absolutely crucial role in making it a reality.”

Antony Peart, European Marketing and Communications Manager for Brother International Europe, told OPI: “Brother¹s partnership with Cool Earth began as a European initiative and has now been adopted globally. It is fantastic to see the remarkable work Cool Earth does come to fruition – and for our customers and employees to be able to get involved too.”

P&G expands water programme

As you would perhaps expect from a company the size of Procter & Gamble (P&G), the manufacturer has a wide and varied social responsibility programme. Among its philanthropic initiatives in the health and hygiene category is the Children’s Safe Drinking Water programme (CSDW) that has been running since 2004.

CSDW aims to bring clean drinking water to the world¹s most vulnerable groups, including malnourished children, people living with HIV/AIDS, families living in rural areas that do not have safe drinking water and victims of natural disasters.

P&G scientists first used the research behind laundry detergent to invent its water purifying packets more than 15 years ago in partnership with the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Now the power of a water treatment plant comes in the size of a tea bag and the technology used in the CSDW programme is simple: with only a bucket, a spoon, a cloth and a small P&G packet, people can purify ten litres of dirty water in 30 minutes – that’s enough drinking water for a family of five for one day.

In September of this year, P&G pledged to deliver 15 billion litres of clean drinking water by 2020 to reduce illness caused by contaminated water and help save lives in developing countries. As part of that pledge, the company will launch more than 25 new projects over the next five years. By expanding CSDW’s reach, P&G has committed to help in the fight against the clean water crisis in partnership with NGOs, governments, companies and consumers.

Since 2004, P&G has worked with more than 150 partners to distribute the packets during emergencies and to those who lack clean water every day.

“Having clean drinking water is something many of us take for granted, but is a daily challenge for many families around the world,” said Marc Pritchard, P&G Chief Brand Officer. “P&G is proud to use its cleaning technology to help make a difference in people¹s lives, and we are looking forward to expanding the Children’s Safe Drinking Water programme to have an even greater impact.”

Hamelin Group: the road to sustainability

One of the cornerstones of Hamelin Group’s CSR policy is to significantly reduce the environmental impact of its products. To make this happen, the company has been involved

in a variety of initiatives, with European trade association SOfEA, the French government and its supplier partners.

Back in 2005, Hamelin Group began supplying its factories with FSC and PEFC-certified paper as a standard. It also sought to reduce the environmental impact of its products by:

  • reducing its paper waste to less than 3% by redesigning its products
  • replacing all hazardous chemicals in the production process
  • reducing volatile organic compounds used in printing processes below 3.5 kg per tonne of paper
  • ensuring that rinsing water from printing processes is discharged to a sewage treatment plant
  • improving the energy consumption of its facilities

Five years on, through the introduction of an ambitious eco-design programme, Hamelin worked towards improving the sustainability of its products throughout their life cycle. The company was involved in the French governmental initiative for developing a standard to make life cycle assessments and by displaying the environmental footprint of branded products such as Oxford, Elba and Canson.

In 2012, Hamelin defined its ‘Sustainable Suppliers Charter’. With the intention of – voluntarily – further increasing its suppliers’ environmental performances, purchasers and quality managers have worked closely with paper suppliers. As a result, when the European Commission published its EU Ecolabel standard for stationery paper products in May

2014, Hamelin and its suppliers were already engaged to comply with the most demanding criteria.

Virginie Ori, Director of Sustainable Development at Hamelin, told OPI: “We are proud to achieve our ultimate objective by receiving the first European certification in October 2014 of the EU Ecolabel for stationery paper products. This gives our customers real confidence in our claims about our environmentally friendly products. Now my mission is to promote the EU Ecolabel to our European customers and to create a win-win partnership.”

Ecover receives B Corp status

Ecover is one of 60 sustainable businesses that have been awarded B Corp status in Europe in April 2015. Following a rigorous – and publicly-available – screening process, B Corp recognised Ecover’s CSR approach and the results it has achieved.

Being a B Corp company – the B standing for ‘benefit’ – means it’s a business that has been certified by non-profit organisation B Lab as meeting stringent criteria in the areas of social responsibility, environmental impact, transparency and business management. B Corp certification originally began in the US, but following its success in South America, Canada and Australia, the movement has now arrived in Europe.

Since it was founded about 35 years ago, Ecover has always tried to keep the impact of its activities on people and the planet to a minimum by manufacturing cleaning products that use sustainable raw materials and production processes.

Ecover Innovation Manager Tom Domen said: “We are delighted Ecover is a founding B Corporation in Europe as we believe businesses should go further and be restorative to society, the environment and our economy.

Our B Corp rating gives us a great benchmark for continuous improvement and it’s important to us that the rating and our progress is available for all to see. As a B Corp we will continue in our mission to engage and inspire our peers, competitors and ourselves to do better, and help revolutionise the way modern day businesses do business.”

Biodiversity starts at the office

The happiness of a company’s workforce is often directly linked to a better work ethos and higher productivity. It’s a concept French manufacturer Tarifold has embraced and is now benefitting from.

Tarifold created an internal CSR committee in 2008 when it launched its partnership with Institut Pasteur, a private, non-profit research firm that helps prevent and treat diseases. The committee comprises seven members of staff from all areas of the company.

One of the committee’s current initiatives is the biodiversity zone at Tarifold’s premises. The idea behind the project is quite simple, Group Marketing Manager Benjamin Baruteaud told OPI: “Frequently mowing the lawns outside our company premises is stopping the growth of flora and thus the thriving of environmentally beneficial insects. So we decided to use a ‘trial area’ to create a so-called ‘self-maintaining’ flower meadow.

It only needs to be mown twice a year, the mown flowers can be left on the ground and will initiate the growth of new flowers and so on.”

Baruteaud added: ”To encourage the social aspect of the initiative we also decided to plant apple trees. The fruit can be picked by personnel and distributed around the company – we even thought about having a cake-making competition with our apple harvest!”

The project has been a resounding success for Tarifold, according to Baruteaud. Not only does the meadow look beautiful, with staff enjoying their breaks in this new environment, they also bring the flowers into the building to decorate their working environment.