Engaging Businesses’ Eco-Conscience with Conscious Company Magazine’s Meghan French Dunbar and Maren Keeley

March 5, 2015

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and today is a very special edition of Green is Good. We’ve got the co-founders of Conscious Company Magazine, Meghan French Dunbar and Maren Keeley on with us. Welcome, both of you, to Green is Good. MEGHAN FRENCH DUNBAR: Thank you so much for having us on today. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Meghan and Maren, before we get talking about your great new magazine, and for our listeners out there, you can go to consciouscompanymagazine.com to look at their magazine online, to subscribe to it, or to buy single or multiple issues. Before we get talking about Conscious Company Magazine, talk a little bit about both of your journeys. How did both of you get involved with the green and sustainability industry at first? MEGHAN FRENCH DUNBAR: My foray actually started multiple years ago. I was living in Costa Rica for a long time, and actually saw first-hand how development really impacted these beautiful, pristine, gorgeous areas and decided when I return from Costa Rica to go straight to work for the Environmental Defense Fund, where I spent five glorious years. Then I decided to further my education from there and did my MBA with a focus on sustainability at Presidio Graduate School. I received that in 2012, and for the last two years have been playing in the magazine space, the publishing world. In April of 2014, Maren and I started down this journey of doing Conscious Company Magazine. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And Maren? MAREN KEELEY: My story is actually quite similar. After undergrad, I looked around and I felt like there were so many problems that we were facing in the world today. I actually felt a responsibility to be part of the solution. Treading lightly has always been something that I’ve been concerned with. I did some traveling, and I actually brought William McDonough’s book Cradle to Cradle with me. It was the only book that I carried. Reading that, I was just really inspired to try and figure out my way of having a positive impact in the world. I was a chef for about 15 years, and then I met Meghan when we worked together for Slow Money. We stayed in touch. We were great friends, and we kept having this conversation. I’m also working on getting my MBA in sustainable systems from Pinchot University up in Seattle. I’m going to Bainbridge Graduate Institute, a program that they have. Meghan and I just kept talking, and we have a lot of the same shared interests. Once we stumbled on this idea, we just felt we couldn’t not do it. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Which leads me to the next question. Explain the “we couldn’t not do it.” Explain the journey leading up to the founding and the inspiration to the founding of Conscious Company Magazine. MAREN KEELEY: Oh, goodness. I’ll give you the shortened version of that story. As I said, Meghan and I had been colleagues and co-workers, and we stayed in touch when our career paths took us in different directions. Last winter, in late February or early March, we were out enjoying some lovely pizza and wine together. I asked her, “Meg, there’s no magazine about sustainable business. Isn’t that kind of unbelievable?” She literally didn’t believe me. We went home that night and did a bunch of research and realized that there wasn’t a significant player in this space, at least not in the print world as well. We kept talking about this idea, and we just decided that this was something that the world really needed right now. We decided that it had to be print, as a way of really expanding the conversation around sustainability and the power of business to be a force for good in the world. JOHN SHEGERIAN: How hard was it to go from that epiphany and that brainstorming together to actually getting the magazine off the ground? Explain that journey, both the joy of it, but also the torture of it. MEGHAN FRENCH DUNBAR: I think we can really emphasize the torture aspect of it. We had this idea, and we actually incorporated in April 2014, and then seeking funding and knocked on a lot of doors of friends and family. We weren’t getting quite the traction that we needed, so in August of 2014 we launched a Kickstarter campaign and attempted to raise $50,000 of seed money. We raised $42,000 and came up $8,000 short. As many people might know, if you don’t reach your goal on Kickstarter, you end up losing all of the funds that you raised, so we had to literally watch $42,000 go down the drain. At the time, it was devastating, but it actually really provided that gut check moment that I feel like all entrepreneurs need, where Maren and I had to sit down and say, “Do we really want to do this? Do we really want to keep moving forward? Is there a way to move forward? Can we figure this out?” We asked ourselves the question, a year down the road, if we choose to abandon this, if we choose to quit now, how are we going to feel about this? Are we always going to wonder? Both of us, I think we took a week to kind of digest, and we came back and decided hell yes, let’s go for this. We launched another crowdfunding campaign, this time on Indiegogo. Between that and a couple of fantastically generous family members, we were able to get the seed funding. Around the end of September was when we figured out that we were a go, and we just busted it and got this first issue to press on December 15th and got it to market. Fortunately enough, with that first issue, we managed to get national distribution through every Whole Foods market in the nation right out of the gate. We did catch a huge lucky break with that. Leading up until that point, it was hard, but it was the way it was supposed to turn out. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So many people say print is dead, and you went counter to that. You decided to launch a print publication. I’m holding it, and I wish this was one of our videotaped radio shows because I’m holding your beautiful magazine. For our listeners out there again, it’s called Conscious Company Magazine. You can go to consciouscompanymagazine.com and subscribe. I would do that right away, or you can buy some of these issues that I’m holding in my hand. We have John Mackey, one of the rock stars of sustainability, the CEO of Whole Foods, on the cover. It’s a gorgeous magazine visually. You’ve got unbelievable advertisers in here. You’ve got tons of beautiful content, important content. Print is dead? How did you ladies prove that print is not dead? MEGHAN FRENCH DUNBAR: We obviously had to start from the premise that we don’t believe print is dead, and we did a ton of research around this when we were first starting out. One area that we found was that the Pew Center actually came out with a report saying that the reading behavior of people aged 16-29 is still actually anchored in print publication. We looked at it, and the largest area of growth within print publications is actually niche publications. There might be print that is dying, but this area where we’re playing in is definitely expanding. We operated from this premise of exactly what you just said, People still want a tangible product. People want to hold a product in their hand. They want to interact with it. The beauty of the photos and what we’re putting together is best held. It is best to have the product in your hand to actually look at it. The decision behind the print was based on that, but then we also wanted to have a medium where we could really expand the conversation around sustainability. Although we do have a digital component, the print magazine itself is the part that’s really catching fire and taking off right now. With being in every Whole Foods in the nation, when the shoppers of Whole Foods go through that line, every single time they go through the line, they see our magazine. It actually provides an access point, and it almost sparks an interest. People who might not be that interested in sustainability could potentially pick up a copy. It was twofold, really, just expanding the conversation and then also from a deeply held belief that print is not dead and people still want to interact with their products. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You’ve proven it, because this magazine is just gorgeous, both visually and content-wise and my congratulations to both of you because you’ve created something that’s really a work of art, both from a business perspective and also from a relevancy perspective, so congrats. MEGHAN FRENCH DUNBAR: Thank you. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Yeah, you both deserve that. Talk about some of the trends that you’re seeing. Now that you’re in the middle and you started this journey and you’re having conversations with thought leaders, sustainability leaders and professionals from so many directions, and you have a newfound visibility because of your position and because of your platform. What trends have you noticed that you’ve discovered along the way during this journey? MEGHAN FRENCH DUNBAR: Let me start off by saying perhaps the most exciting thing about our business and what we do is that we do get to have these conversations with so many remarkable people, whether it is someone who’s an expert in their field or just an extremely successful entrepreneur or an entrepreneur who’s just getting their idea off the ground. To be able to have the spectrum of conversations that we have with these people is truly a dream come true, and it’s a big part of what fuels us to keep going. Across the board, though, a lot of the individuals that we’ve spoken to have talked about transparency really being on the rise, and that is true because of really the internet and the speed of information, as well as just reviews and how people, anyone, really, with a connection to the internet, has access to a lot of information about any company or business or person. A lot of the entrepreneurs have spoken about how they feel compelled by this being the only way that they can do business, not including incorporating their values into the way they operate their company, not driving it with mission and purpose being the source of fuel and inspiration. They just couldn’t imagine running their company any other way. There are lots of tangible business benefits that come from leading an organization in this way, employee retention and happiness, and just your consumers also really respond positively. I’d say across the board, those have been some of the more common threads in our interviews. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. From a sustainability perspective, what steps are both of you taking to walk the walk instead of just talk the talk, in terms of your business and your personal lives? MAREN KEELEY: I’ll speak to our business, and maybe I’ll let Meghan chime in about our personal lives. One of the things that we grapple with a lot in choosing to go forward with making this a print publication was the pushback that we got from a lot of our colleagues who were working in the sustainability industry, saying, “How can you be producing a publication that is about sustainability, and at the same time, be using a resource like paper in order to do so?” We thought that, as Meghan mentioned, it was so important for us to be able to expand the conversation, that print was not something we could compromise on, but in order to make it something that didn’t come with negative repercussions and impact, we specifically sought out a printer and are working with two certifications backing our print publication. One is actually really interesting. It’s a Boulder-based company called PrintReleaf. They actually plant trees in order to neutralize our paper consumption. In the future, we actually hope to be able to plant more trees than we use, so we can actually have a positive impact. In the way that we’re setting up our company, we’re also trying to be extremely sustainable and just conscientious, really thinking about the future of our business, how we build in wonderful benefits for employees that we don’t even actually have yet, and then also in other little ways. We bank with a local credit union, things like that. So we’re really actually truly trying to walk the walk as much as possible, support small, independent businesses, local businesses, that sort of thing in large ways and in small ways. JOHN SHEGERIAN: For our listeners who just joined us, we have the co-founders of Conscious Company Magazine, Meghan French Dunbar and Maren Keeley, on with us right now. If you want to buy an issue of their great magazine, you can go to consciouscompanymagazine.com. Subscribe, buy an issue. I am a subscriber and I have an issue right in my hands. It is a gorgeous magazine chockfull of critical and important magazine if you want to be part of the sustainability journey, whether you’re just a consumer or you want to be a thought leader or professional or an eco-preneur one day. Conscious Company Magazine, subscribe, buy it now. Let me go back, ladies, to the magazine. Favorite part to date of running the magazine, one thing. MEGHAN FRENCH DUNBAR: One thing. I think it’s really truly been the feedback that we’ve gotten from this first issue. I don’t know what we were expecting, but the amount of e-mails and phone calls that we get from people, we’ve literally had people say this is a masterpiece, it changed my life, it changed the way my son views business. We’re getting these on a daily basis, and it is the fuel to our fire. It is blowing us away, and we are sincerely touched by every single person who’s reached out to us. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Similar to that, the feedback has been wonderful. When you were envisioning this, who was your target market? Was it millennials? Because I’m 52 years old, and I’m certainly not a millennial, but I’m in love with your magazine and everything you’re doing. Who was your target market, and how did that turn out when you started getting the feedback? MAREN KEELEY: We really had three target market segments, one being sustainability professionals and those working in the sustainability field, the second being conscious consumers, people who really want to support mission-driven businesses that might not know exactly how, and then third is really that millennial generation that you identified. They are looking for purpose and passion and values in the businesses that they support, and basically anyone who shares the values that we do. In terms of the people who’ve reached out to us, we’ve really heard a lot from that second segment, the conscious consumers, people who just want to do better with their purchases and they’re excited to have a guide to help show them which businesses are truly doing this in a fantastic way. JOHN SHEGERIAN: If sustainability was a football game, you have the Tom Brady of sustainability on the cover of your first issue. You have the CEO of Whole Foods, John Mackey. Where do you go from here? What’s your next dream person on some of your upcoming covers of your magazines? MEGHAN FRENCH DUNBAR: That’s a hard one for us to answer because it’s a long list. We’re thrilled to say that we have Chip Conley, the founder of Joie de Vivre hotels, gracing the cover of our second issue. This is going to come out in April. In the future, we would love to have Elon Musk or Richard Branson, Lisa Jackson, Jessica Alba, Tony Hsieh, Al Gore is a huge source of inspiration for us. It’s a lengthy list, but there are some key names that we’d love to see. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Go get them. If you had John Mackey and you’ve got Chip coming on, you’ll get them. They’re all going to be coming. I think they’re going to be asking you to come on the cover of the magazine. Who do you want to interview? If you could sit down with someone to interview and ask all the questions that have been burning on your mind, who would you love to interview for one of your upcoming issues? MAREN KEELEY: I think we’d love to get our hands on Steve Ells of Chipotle. We are fascinated by what they’re doing right now. He’s a hot topic, and we’d love to get his insights and figure out where they’re going. JOHN SHEGERIAN: He’s local. There’s no reason that you ladies can’t get him. He’s a fellow Coloradan, right? MAREN KEELEY: Yes, he is. We’re trying. We’re going to get him. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Steve, if you’re listening now, you’ve got to call these ladies and get in the magazine, Conscious Company Magazine. What’s inspiring you right now? We’re down to the last couple of minutes. What keeps you both going every day, and what’s a constant source of inspiration to both of you? MAREN KEELEY: I’ll jump in with my answer and then turn it over to Meghan. Personally, she, as my business partner, has been a huge source of inspiration. Getting to work with someone who I respect and admire has been a dream. I guess out in the world, I feel like we’re at this really interesting moment in history, and we’re on the verge of a really cataclysmic shift because we need to be, but more and more people are seeing sustainability as something that we really need to focus on, and at the same time, social justice issues are rising to the forefront of so many conversations. It is my hope for our future that we, as a global community these days, which I believe we are, just really start to consider more and more how we can figure out ways of doing things in a better sense, in a way that doesn’t come with negative consequences or repercussions, and in a way that truly makes this world a better place. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I’m going to have both of you, Meghan and Maren, come back in the near future, because we’ve got to wrap up right now, unfortunately. Again, thank you both for Conscious Company Magazine. For our listeners out there, go to consciouscompanymagazine.com. You can buy a single issue or you can subscribe. Thank you both, Maren and Meghan, for being visionary eco-preneurs who are inspiring us all. You both are truly living proof that green is good.