A tale of a ‘5 bottom line’ business model

It’s an incredible time to be in communications. Our roles have always provided the opportunity to shape how a company creates and communicates its strategy and help leaders form their approach as they convey where the company is headed. What’s exciting now is the expectation that a company’s leaders will help solve major societal problems and what that means for our profession.

When an opportunity at Clif Bar & Co., a private, family and employee-owned business, presented itself, I was excited to learn how this values-led business ran. Rewind to February 2019. Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford, Clif co-CEOs and husband and wife duo, decided to address the pay inequity the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) faced by closing the roster bonus pay gap for the USWNT World Cup team. Simply put, when players are named to a World Cup team they receive a roster bonus. Women players receive $31,250 less than men players and no one at Clif believed this was fair.  

Through our LUNA Bar brand, Kit and Gary chose to close that gap, which cost the company $718,250 and was, in part, in response to a lawsuit that players filed against U.S. Soccer for gender discrimination. LUNA Bar was not, and still is not, a USWNT sponsor, but the brand’s rich history in addressing equal pay made this purpose-driven donation a natural decision.  

The announcement was planned for April 2, Equal Pay Day, the symbolic day when women’s earnings “catch up” to men’s earnings from the previous year. We shared the news with the players six weeks beforehand. Initially, some were skeptical. Why would a brand that wasn’t even a sponsor offer to close this gap? As our team shared the brand’s history and conveyed that we didn’t expect anything in return – we just wanted to right a wrong – the players were thrilled.  

An abundance of awareness has been raised for women’s equality, generating a global conversation. So LUNA Bar’s announcement was culturally relevant, and reported not only on Equal Pay Day, but throughout the World Cup games. Beyond media coverage, employee pride was palpable – yet for many, this was just one example of what they have come to know, love and expect from the company.  

Kit and Gary told me this experience was one of their top three most memorable and impactful moments in Clif Bar’s 28-year-history. Wow.  

Why “wow”? In 2010, their “5 Aspiration Business Model” was written into the company’s bylaws. Also referenced as “5 Bottom Lines,” their innovative model focuses on balancing the needs of five key stakeholders: the business the company operates, its brands, the people Clif employs, the communities where Clif operates, and the planet we all inhabit. And every year Clif’s leadership team creates goals for each bottom line and reports results to employees quarterly.  

There have been many “wows” over Clif ’s 28 years and employees are engaged to think about how to solve vexing problems like climate change, living income for farmers, better packaging solutions, sourcing sustainable ingredients, creating a better work environment and on and on.  

Through the Business Roundtable’s (BRT) efforts, 200 CEOs are seeking a new purpose for American corporations. Based on the business model at Clif, there’s pretty clear evidence investing in all stakeholders works.  

As you navigate serving all stakeholders, ask yourself and your team:

  • What does serving and partnering with all stakeholders look like? What hard trade-offs are you and your organization willing to make?  
  • If you aim to be more vocal about social issues, what is authentic to your company or brand?  
  • What problem are you solving? Will solving it help people? Will it tap into what matters to them?  

To download a full copy of the 2020 Relevance Report, click here.

Molly Keveney is vice president of communications & digital for Clif Bar & Company, a family and employee-owned company crafting energy food with organic and sustainable ingredients to feed and inspire adventure.