Principled Profit: The Good Business Blog

Musings on the world-wide movement for ethical business, frugal marketing, and how honesty, integrity, and quality combine with deep relationship building to create business success. By the originator of the Ethical Business Pledge campaign and award-winning author of Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First and five other books

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Foundations Admit Mistakes…How About Businesses?

A Very refreshing article in the New York Times about foundations not only not burying their mistakes, but actually looking at how they happened, what went wrong, and what to do better the next time around.

Just a few years ago, it would have been astonishing for a foundation, particularly one as traditional as Carnegie, to publicize a failure. Today, though, many of the nation’s largest foundations regard disclosing and analyzing their failures as bordering on a moral obligation.

“There’s an increasing recognition among foundation leaders that not to be public about failures is essentially indefensible,” said Phil Buchanan, the executive director of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, which advises foundations. “If something didn’t work, it is incumbent upon you to make sure others don’t make the same mistake.

I see this as a welcome trend, and one that businesses can learn from. Failure is not something to be ashamed of. I had a number of failures in business before I started the one I’m in now, back in 1981–and even then, it had to change with the times. It has reinvented itself several times, and I feel another reinvention percolating (don’t know how it will shape up yet).

Entrepreneurs almost always have failures to “brag” about. otherwise, we wouldn’t be entrepreneurs, because in order of succeed, you have to take risks.

When asked about has many failed attempts to develop a light bulb, Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have

successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.” (Quoted in The

World Bank. 1994. World Development Report 1994: Infrastructure for

Development. New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press and cited here.)

I’ll tell you about a few of my failures over the years, within my current, successful business:

  • Around 20 years ago, I tried to start a state trade association for resume writers, without having any idea of how much work would be involved or how much direct mail I’d have to do to get a viable membership. I actually got a phenomenal response to my first mailing (somewhere around 8 percent, I think), but that left me with something like seven members.

  • I’ve been unable to find a publisher for a research-intensive book I’d like to do that requires a big publisher who can pay a big advance. Even though I’ve done one book with Simon & Schuster and two others with respected smaller commercial publishers, and even though I speak and write and am very visible on the Internet, agents think I don’t have enough of a platform to take on this project. Since coming up with this idea, though, I’ve done two more self-published books, to critical acclaim.

  • A few years back, I stepped into a catfight on one of the discussion lists I participate in–and watched the client referrals from that list shrivel up to a tiny fraction of what they’d been.

  • I set a goal some time back of doing a certain number of speeches at a certain rate of compensation, by a certain date. Years later, I still haven’t reached that goal.

  • I won’t bore you with the whole long list. But I do think it’s important to take stock, to reflect on the mistakes/failures as well as the brilliant successes. I’ve learned, I’ve channeled my energy into becoming not only more successful financially, but a better person. And it’s showing results.

    I urge you to admit and discuss your setbacks as well as your successes.

    Maybe I should add admitting setbacks to the Business Ethics Pledge.

    Sunday, July 29, 2007

    More Reasons to Oppose Nuclear Power: DOE Official

    Bill Becker, a former US Department of Energy official, published a very cogent article in the Denver Post, opposing nuclear power on the grounds that…

    Those who say it will reduce global warming ignore the huge carbon cost of mining, milling, and transporting the fuel and of building the plant in the first place.

    Many scientists say we only have a window of about a decade to turn our energy patterns around, if we’re to avoid catastrophic climate change. Nukes take many years to approve and build.

    He also notes some of the more familiar arguments, e.g., terrorist target, weapons proliferation, and waste storage issues–although he only mentions these and does not elaborate.

    So let me elaborate at least on waste storage. We’re looking at isolating extremely deadly and volatile compounds for longer than the span of civilization–a devil’s bargain if there ever was one.

    This is an issue I know something about. I started researching issues around nuclear power in 1974, and my first book, published in 1980, was on why nuclear is a really stupid way to generate electricity, and I’ve seen nothing since to make me change my mind.

    Want to know more? I still don’t know a better book on the subject than No Nukes, published way back in 1978 and apparently still in print.

    Friday, July 27, 2007

    Barbara Kingsolver on Being a “Localvore”

    Audio interview on a year of eating only local foods, many of them from her garden.

    I confess–while I try to eat local and organic as much as possible, I’m not to the point where I can completely give up cocoa, olive oil, and tropical fruit, among other pleasures. But nothing beats a perfect-tasting tomato or raspberry from our own planting and harvesting.

    Scotts Miracle-Gro, Pick On Somebody Your Own Size

    Apparently, 59% of the market isn’t enough for Scotts Miracle-Gro. The company is suing its tiny competitor, TerraCycle–a maker of compost made from worm poo, on trademark infringement grounds.

    Well, I looked at TerraCycle’s logo and trade dress, and then I looked at MiracleGro’s. Yes, they both use greens and yellows–but different shades, and in very different ways. The only similarity I can see is that they both use a circle to hold their logos. It’s one thing to trademark a truly distinctive shape, such as the McDonald’s arches. But a circle? Come on!

    In fact, TerraCycle makes a very clear distinction on its website. Its whole brand identity is as a no-artificial-chemicals alternative to products like MiracleGro, packed exclusively in reused soda bottles and other packaging that would have otherwise ended up in landfill.

    Hmm–sounds like a company I should feature in my monthly Positive Power of Principled Profit spotlight article.

    Thursday, July 26, 2007

    Without Spoiling the Surprise: Harry Potter #7

    Both as someone who loves a good yarn and someone who writes regularly about ethics both in my blog and in my award-winning sixth book, Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First, I want to talk for a minute about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

    There’s so much I could say about this latest (and final) Harry Potter book–but it’s a challenge to find things to say that won’t mess it up for those who haven’t read it yet. I think I’ve succeeded.

    Let me put my bias on the table first: I enjoy the HP books so much that we’ve given copies of Book #1 to several of our childless friends. I believe all of them have gone on to read the others, in order (and for these books, in chronological order is the only sensible way to read them). Also, I’m extremely grateful to J.K. Rowling for creating an entire generation of book readers in an era where that didn’t seem at all likely. Yet, there are places in some of the other books where I felt 50 or 100 pages could have easily been cut.

    In spite of its length, I don’t feel that way about #7. In fact, the drama is so intense, so early, and continues with so little down time that I almost wish for a bit more filler. It’s a very fast read.

    As a writer about ethics, I’ve long been fascinated with Rowling’s take on the nature of good and evil (and that of other writers in the genre, particularly Phillip Pullman, whose His Dark Materials series is every bit as masterful). In this book, she goes much, much deeper on that front, with lots of surprises. Several characters turn out to have a lot more depth than we thought, and Harry himself has to make a choice unlike any he has faced before. And the events following that choice just feel so right!

    One flaw, though, is the number of gratuitous characters she’s introducing. It’s a lot to keep track of, and several have only cameo roles. Another flaw is that the trail of corpses leaves some of the deaths without justification or even description, and no time to grieve and remember them before plunging into the next round.

    Still, these are minor. Rowling, not only a master storyteller but incredibly well-informed about mythology from many cultures, has long ago earned a special place in literature, and this book proves her mastery. She deserves every good thing that has happened in her life.

    Monday, July 23, 2007

    Bush Exec Order: Seize Property of Activists

    Why wasn’t this all over the media?

    George W Bush has signed an Executive Order giving broad powers to seize property and block financial transactions from anyone who even donates money to any person or group that the government feels is opposing an orderly reconstruction in Iraq.

    How Big Brother can you get? This is a serious threat to the liberty of activists nationwide. George Orwell must be spinning in his grave.

    Go and read the order:

    And then tell people about it.

    Thursday, July 19, 2007

    NY Times: Whole Foods Not the Only “Sock-Puppeteer”

    Apparently the phenomenon of a corporate executive posting anonymously in ways that he/she thinks will help his/her company/hurt the competition is called “sock puppeting.”

    I hadn’t heard this term until I stumbled on a New York Times article this morning, published Monday.

    The article cites not only John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, whose disgraceful and illegal behavior I covered here, but also…

    Conrad Black, CEO of Hollinger International–found guilty last week of mail fraud and obstruction of justice, and facing up to 35 years in the slammer.

    Says the Times:

    At the criminal fraud trial of Hollinger International’s chief executive, Conrad M. Black, prosecutors introduced evidence that the former press baron had once proposed joining a Yahoo Finance chat room to blame short sellers for his company’s stock performance.

    Patrick Byrne of (who claims that his real name was attached to his anonymous handle on every post–which, if true, makes it a very different situation, in my opinion).

    And it’s not just the business world, but also politics and media.

    Tad Furtado, at the time, policy director for New Hampshire Congressman Charles Bass (who lost his re-election bid in a perhaps-related development).

    Journalists are not immune either:

    In April 2006, The Los Angeles Times pulled Michael A. Hiltzik, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, off of his blog because he had posted comments on blogs under an assumed name while feuding with readers. In November, New Republic magazine suspended its culture critic Lee Siegel after it determined that he had been energetically defending himself in the discussion forums of his New Republic blog, under the name “sprezzatura” (Italian for “making the difficult look easy”).

    Of course, there’s the related phenomenon of journalists writing under their own identity, but not disclosing that they are also acting as paid PR flacks, such as Armstrong Williams shilling for the Bush administration. I’ve written about that one, too.

    Meanwhile, there are those of us still out there fighting the good fight. If you haven’t signed the Business Ethics Pledge yet, I urge you to do so.

    I plan to write an essay, “When Even Whole Foods Cheats.” Rest assured, it will be published under my own name, and whatever plugs it may make for my book Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First, it will make them honestly.

    Wednesday, July 18, 2007

    Pentagon Papers: High Drama and Intrigue–And It’s All True

    35 years ago this month, Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers–embarrassing documents showing how successive administrations from both parties lies us into Vietnam and kept us there.

    Democracy Now had three of the players: Ellsberg himself, Senator (and current Presidential candidate) Mike Gravel, and the publisher of Beacon Press, which was sued by the government for doing the book version.

    It reads like a spy novel, with all sorts of unbelievable intrigues and secrecies and plot twists. Someone could make a great movie out of it.

    And of course, there are very relevant lessons for today’s society, as the Iraq war drags on and the pressure mounts to open yet another front against Iran.

    Read, listen, or watch at–both for the drama and the history/current events lesson.

    Tuesday, July 17, 2007

    Is Bill Kristol on THIS Planet?

    Kristol thinks GWB is a successful president and that we’re on track to win the war in Iraq. Hmmm–could’ve fooled me!

    Can you say “hubris”? Gawd, what chutzpah. Arianna Huffington calls him “delusional”–and I think she is right!

    Kristol writes in the original article:

    What about terrorism? Apart from Iraq, there has been less of it, here and abroad, than many experts predicted on Sept. 12, 2001. So Bush and Vice President Cheney probably are doing some important things right. The war in Afghanistan has gone reasonably well.

    What planet is he ON? Let’s see: subway bombings in London, commuter rail murder in Madrid, kidnappings and warlordism in Afghanistan (and Karzi hanging on for dear life), the most recent attempts in Glasgow…and let’s not even count Israel in the equation.

    It’s this kind of very dangerous thinking that got us into a war we had no business being in, and made a complete shambles of things once we went in.

    One place I agree with Kristol–this burden will be laid on the shoulders of the next president. Hopefully someone with the vision and strength of character to get us the heck out of there.

    tags: Bill Kristol, William Kristol, Iraq, Afghanistan, Terrorism, George W. Bush, Arianna Huffington, Washington Post, Huffington Post

    Monday, July 16, 2007

    Organic Food Could Feed the World–And Pesticides Hurt Yields!

    An amazing juxtaposition of two stories in the Organic Consumers Association’s latest newsletter:

    A Reuters report, “Organic Farming Can Feed the World“:

    “Model estimates indicate that organic methods could produce enough food on a global per capita basis to sustain the current human population, and potentially an even larger population, without increasing the agricultural land base,” they wrote in their report, published in the journal Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems.

    Wow! We can have the much higher food quality, eliminate a major pollution source, and increase yields. Sounds good to me!

    The other story examines research that examines specific effects pesticides have, interfering with plants’ natural ability to fix nitrogen. It’s rather technical but I found a paragraph in ordinary English:

    Drawing on their recent work and other published studies, the team projected that pesticides and other contaminants are reducing plant yield by one-third as a result of impaired SNF. This remarkable conclusion suggests one mechanism, or explanation of the yield-enhancing benefits of well-managed, long-term organic farming systems.

    In fact, yields can be as much as three times higher than conventional agriculture.

    Isn’t it time to reclaim our organic heritage and stop farming the old, destructive ways?

    Good Thoughts from the Two Ethics Chris-es

    And both of them less-than-easy to link to!

    Chris Bauer’s e-newsletter posed the scenario of a disconnect between a company’s ethics policies and its other behavior.

    If you are in an organization with a CSR program that seems out of synch with the rest of its actions, you may have a great opportunity to lobby for a better alignment between your organization’s stated values and its actual actions. The strategy to use? Simply point out the CSR program as a great example of fulfilling the company’s stated values and contrast that with its other policies and actions. If the contrast is glaring enough, you may have a shot at driving your point home, assuming you know how to pick the right audience and style for your remarks.

    I can’t find it on his blog. But I bet if you contact him and ask for a copy of “Corporate Math: A Right + A Wrong = ?”, he’ll be happy to send you one.

    Meanwhile, in a June 15 post, Chris MacDonald applauds cereal giant Kellogg’s agreement to stop spoonfeeding its sugar- and chemical-laden stuff to kids watching TV, even while acknowledging that the company is probably dong this for less-than-altruistic reasons. There seems to be no way to capture the permalink and link to it, but you can find it on the June 2007 archives page.

    Friday, July 13, 2007

    Whole Foods’ John Mackey’s Sneak Attack on Rival Wild Oats

    Can you believe it? John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, has been often cited in the press as a model of ethical, compassionate leadership. Now it turns out that he’s been writing anonymous postings online aimed at lowering the stock price of competitor Wild Oats–which his company has been trying to buy!

    This was a shocker–I’d always thought of Whole Foods as a pretty ethical company, even as I watched it swallow several competitors (including our local equivalent, Bread & Circus).

    As someone who has written an award-winning book about why ethical companies are more likely to succeed (Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First) and who founded a movement called the Business Ethics Pledge , I’m of the opinion–based on research–that strong ethics helps a company succeed.

    Anonymous attempts to drive down the stock price of a company you’re considering buying down the road is the antithesis of ethical behavior. And worse,the radio story where I first learned about this claimed Mackey did it because it was “fun.”

    If this is an America that values honesty, the FTC should deny the merger based solely on Mackey’s sneak attack.

    Sunday, July 08, 2007

    Why Micheal Moore’s Sicko” Made Me Want to Leave the Country

    We have close friends who moved last year from California to New Zealand, because they were concerned about the growing rightward drift in the US–event hough they lived in one of the most liberal cities in the whole country.

    Well, my wife and I saw “Sicko,” the other night: Michael Moore’s movie about the healthcare crisis in the US–and indepedently, both of us thought, ‘hmmm, New Zealand doesn’t seem so outrageous right now.’

    Moore exposes the human cost of the USA’s failed healthcare system: doctors who are paid to deny necessary procedures, 9/11 volunteers who fell between the very large cracks, a cancer patient who had to sell her home and move into a spare room in her daughter’s house, thousands of miles away…and in true Moore fashion he bundles a few of these folks off on small boats to Guantanamo Bay–to demand the same free, state-of-the-art healthcare that the Bush-Cheney government repeatedly brags is offered to the prisoners there.

    Of course, he’s turned away there–but finds a very receptive audience within the Cuban medical system, which treats the 9/11 volunteers as true heroes. In a very moving moment, a doctor in Cuba tells Moore that Cuba is a very poor country with few resources, but it has made healthcare a priority for all its citizens–and she pretty much tells him, if we can do it, you can too.

    Cuba is not the only place that has made healthcare a priority–just about every First World country except the US offers high-quality free or minimal-cost universal healthcare, and Moore documents this with interviews in Canada, France, and England.

    Less strident and more poignant than in some of his earlier films, Moore has made a film that I think could reach mainstream American audiences and show them it doesn’t have to be that way. And why, Moore asks, is “socialized medicine” such a demonized concept in the US? After all, we have socialized police and fire protection, public education, and plenty more. Why isn’t healthcare likewise considered a basic service?

    In 1979 and 1980, I worked as a paid organizer for the Gray Panthers. Their biggest platform was the need for single-payer healthcare. Back then, we used to say that the United States and South Africa were the only two industrialized countries to lack this basic right–and South Africa, of course, embraced universal healthcare when it voted out the old apartheid government. So the US is all alone in its insistence that healthcare should be for profit, and not for health. Almost 30 years later, the Gray Panthers’ call is more important than ever.

    And will I leave the country just to get affordable healthcare? At the moment, no. Our parents are here, our children are here, we live in Paradise in our antique farmhouse next to the mountain…and at the resent, we’re both in fine health. But certainly, this movie made us consider the option.

    The website for the movie is

    Friday, July 06, 2007

    Prominent Methodist’s Strong Critique of Methodist Bush’s Libby Commutation

    Wow! The editor of a major Methodist publication, while noting that George W. Bush is also a Methodist and “brother in Christ,” is sharply critical of Bush’s action to keep Scooter Libby for sending even a single day in jail.

    Cynthia B. Astle also cites several other commentaries condemning the action, including conservative sources. She doesn’t use the word “hypocrite” but she comes real close:

    If, as our denominational leadership repeats endlessly, the UMC's mission is "To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, then we must analyze how the action of the United Methodist layman in the White House has deleteriously transformed the American legal system“ to say nothing of the blot on his soul.

    You need not take my word for it. In the past four days, pols and pundits high and low have responded with incredulity and outrage to President Bush's commutation of Libby's sentence, which Bush contends was "too harsh." Most legal experts have said that Libby's commutation has been 1) exactly the opposite of the arguments used by the U.S. Justice Department itself in nearly 3,000 other federal cases and 2) likely to set a precedent throughout the legal system that, in effect, completely overturns the U.S. ideal of "equal justice before the law."

    Wednesday, July 04, 2007

    Thinking Globally, Eating Locally

    The other day, I bought a loaf of artisan bread at a supermarket. It even happened to be a locally owned, single-location supermarket.

    But then I looked at the label and saw it was made in California. I live in Massachusetts.

    I’ve got plenty of stuff in my pantry that made a long trip–but for the most part, it’s stuff for which there is no local source. I can’t get chocolate of any sort, let alone the organic fair trade chocolate that I buy, that’s grown within even 1000 miles of my house. Ditto with olives, Indian pickles, etc. I can buy from local companies that import the stuff, but it will never be locally grown unless global warming happens a *lot* faster than I think it will.

    The bread made me feel guilty, though. Within 10 miles of my house there are close to a dozen quality bakers, most of them locally owned and operated. I buy a lot of bread from them.

    And part of my belief in people helping people is buying local, keeping money in my own local economy (or the local economy where I happen to be traveling)–as well as, where practical, reducing my environmental footprint. So I shop local a lot. The majority of my food dollars, at least in the summer time, are spent at farmer’s markets, our local Community Supported Agriculture farm store. I’ve even managed to find a local supplier for the recycled paper I feed my computer printer.

    But in two ways, I’m not a purist. I do spend a fair amount of money in the local branches of nationally owned food stores, because selection, price, and convenience make that a sensible path for me, at least in the winter. (I’ve been shifting more and more to local markets, however–and when I happen to be in the town 25 miles form me with that local supermarket, I shop there.)

    And I’m not yet willing to live the stark and barren life without the stuff that doesn’t grow around here. I want my daily cup of cocoa, my wife wants her black tea, we add those Oriental hot sauces to our cooking.

    But bread? What was I thinking?


    Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), a nationwide network working on keeping money in the local economy. Website is unintuitive–even s a member, I had to hunt for it:

    Community Involved in Local Agriculture, a group here in Western mass focusing on buying local.

    29,10o answers to the question, “Why Buy Local?”

    Tuesday, July 03, 2007

    Bush Keeps Libby Out of the Clink

    Remember George W. Bush’s pre-election promises to clean up what he saw as corruption of the Clinton era?

    Already this administration held the dubious distinction of most corrupt in my memory. Now he’s granted clemency to Scooter Libby, shifting his prison sentence from 30 months to zero.

    This is the same president who said he would bring the leaker to justice. But even one day behind bars would apparently offend the sensibilities of Cheney’s good friend Libby.

    Some anti-corruption president, huh? What a lovely legacy.

    Hidden Tech’s Founder Profiles Me

    Hidden Tech was founded by Amy Zuckerman five years ago, to provide both virtual and physical networking for those of us who work at home or other nontraditional settings and use technology to get our work done.

    Originally it was focused on the hidden economy of the four westernmost counties of Massachusetts, including my home base of Hampshire County–but now there are members in all sorts of places, like Arizona.

    Wile Amy has left the H-T board, she’s still very committed to the concept. She’s recently begun to profile some of the members, and I’m honored that she chose me as the second person to profile.

    Here’s a bit from her article that not a lot of people know about me:

    He has also been living the virtual American dream by operating a successful virtual business owner for the last 13 years — Accurate Writing & More — from a bucolic farm-house setting in Hadley, Mass. He and his wife, Dina Friedman, a children’s book author and academic, came to this lifestyle region in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts (also known as the “Five Colleges” region) “as a compromise between Brooklyn and the Ozarks.” They wanted “fresh air, clean water and an easy pace. Dina wanted job possibilities, friends, others of her ethnicity in the area, so we looked at the intersection of our needs and came to the Valley,” said Horowitz.

    I’ve donated a fair amount of time to Hidden-Tech over the years, mostly as a speaker on various aspects of frugal and ethical marketing–and Amy and I have had some preliminary conversations about a book project. It’s nice to get some recognition. Thanks, Amy, and good luck with the new blog!

    Sunday, July 01, 2007

    Palast: How Tim Griffin Commited Vote Fraud and Lied About It

    Remember a few months back, when we learned that Karl Rove had engineered the firing of several highly competent, high-performing U.S. Attorneys and their replacement by Bush loyalists who wouldn’t question their orders?

    One of those who got kicked out was Bud Cummins, who was replaced by a particularly disgusting hack named Tim Griffin–a good friend of Karl Rove’s.

    Griffin, according to BBC investigative reporter Greg Palast, left his cushy appointment in a hurry once the story broke about his criminal activities stripping likely Democratic voters, disproportionate numbers of whom happened to be black–including active-duty service men and women in Iraq!–of their right to vote, through a process known as “caging.”

    Palast says:

    “I didn’t cage votes. I didn’t cage mail,” Griffin asserted.

    At the risk of making you cry again, Tim, may I point you to an email dated August 26, 2004. It says, “Subject: Re: Caging.” And it says, “From: Tim Griffin - Research/Communications” with the email RNCHQ is the Republican National Committee Headquarters, is it not, Mr. Griffin? Now do you remember caging mail?

    If that doesn’t ring a bell, please note that at the bottom is this: “ATTACHMENT: Caging-1.xls”. And that attachment was a list of voters.

    Two U.S. Senators have already formally asked Attorney General Gonzales to investigate.

    This, of course, is only one scandal. Just a week ago, I wrote two posts about Cheney setting himself up as above the law, again. If you want more background on that, I heartily recommend the Washington Post’s four-part series on Cheney’s various power grabs. And then of course there’s the stuff we’ve known for years–lying about WMDs, cooking up backroom deals with big energy corporations, suspending the civil liberties of Americans (including illegal wiretaps), intimidation and fraud in multiple elections, and on and on it goes.

    And still, the Democrats don’t talk about impeachment. Just what will it take to get these villains out of office?