Laguna Beach resident Ed Orem is an unlikely capitalist. Passionate about organic food, environmental sustainability, and fair trade, he works in shorts and flip-flops and lives three minutes from the beach. But Orem also believes his new coffee company, Blended Giving, proves there is a “sweet spot” where business and benevolence can overlap to make the world a better place.
It all began when Orem was invited to visit extremely poor coffee growers and their families high in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico. Orem says his first encounter with that remote farming community left him “heartbroken” by the realization that many Latin American coffee growers earn less for a full day of hard work than most Americans pay for a single latte at a local coffee shop.
Several more trips followed. Orem saw the same problem everywhere among the coffee growing families of the remote mountains of Mexico and Honduras: good, hard-working people living hand-to-mouth in spite of the high value of their crops. He felt he had to do something to help.
Abandoning a career in telecommunications, Orem went to work for a non-profit that was focused on the problem. There, he learned firsthand how hard it is for benevolent organizations to balance the time required to do good work with the time required to raise money for doing good. It was another serious problem, and again, Orem felt he had to help.
Eventually Ed Orem launched BlendedGiving.com to solve both problems simultaneously. His idea is simple. Benevolent causes in the Blended Giving program raise money by selling their own “private label” premium organic coffee, and the BlendedGiving.com donates much of its profits to support impoverished communities where the coffee is grown.
“Our causes get at least two dollars for every bag they sell, and there’s very little time required,” says Orem. “It takes about half an hour to set up an account, and then it’s just a matter of asking donors and supporters to shop for coffee at BlendedGiving.com, instead of at the grocery store. The coffee is so good it sells itself after the first taste. And for every bag sold, we contribute a dollar toward projects that improve the quality of life for the coffee growers’ families.”
In business-speak, Orem’s strategy is pure Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Once considered the realm of unrealistic dreamers, CSR has gone mainstream in the world of commerce. Harvard Business School even has a full CSR program in its Executive Education curriculum.
But the marriage of social action and corporate policy is uneasy at best. Critics believe many corporations knowingly exaggerate benevolent claims to polish their image with token efforts, or to distract consumers from the harm their products actually do to the environment or society. It’s a practice known as “greenwashing,” and using deceptive and legally meaningless labeling terms such as “green” and “all natural” is one common example.
How can busy consumers verify which products actually deliver on socially conscious promises? That’s another problem Ed Orem hopes to solve with BlendedGiving.com.
“We’re specific,” says Orem. “Our label says exactly what we do for the customer’s chosen cause and for the coffee growers. One gets at least two dollars per bag and the other gets a dollar, period. There are no vague claims or unprovable promises. And I personally walk the fields with growers, sleep in their houses, and break bread at their tables to learn what they need and how we’re doing. It doesn’t get more transparent than that.”
Laguna Beach non-profits like KX 93.5 FM and the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association were quick to embrace Ed Orem’s idea. “Most of us realize we’re very fortunate to live as we do in Laguna,” says Orem, “and we’re a people who want to share our blessings. My neighbors get excited when I share the Blended Giving vision. Of course the coffee is fantastic, but mostly people in Laguna get involved to help poor farming families and worthy causes. I love living in such a generous town.”
For more information please visit www.BlendedGiving.com, or contact:
Ed Orem, Founder
253 Bluebird Canyon Dr.
Laguna Beach, CA 92651