Better World Books: A story about literacy and the triple bottom-line
Better World Books has a one-for-one campaign called Book for Book. It has a campaign which funds non-profit organizations dedicated to improving literacy. It has instituted a sustainability program aimed at helping libraries re-use or recycle old books as well as metal shelving. Finally, as the cherry on top, they offer a carbon-neutral (through carbon offsets) shipping option for a few extra cents an order.
Better World Books has not settled on one aspect of social enterprise. Rather, it has decided to create impact in every form it can and create a company that is truly embracing the concept of the triple-bottom line.
Better World Books sells all sorts of readable material, in both paper and digital form. They offer a great selection of used books and their textbook section is especially robust.
Want to sell a book? No problem. They’ll even pay for carbon-neutral shipping when you sell them something.
Honestly, it’s a great online bookstore, but it’s really Better World Book’s dedication to its causes that makes it stand out.
This is a modern social enterprise. Better World Books embodies the concept of the triple bottom-line — social, environmental, and of course, economic.
“Book for Book” is Better World Book’s one-for-one model. For every book purchased, these guys donate a book to someone in need. They’ve partnered with Books for Africa and Feed the Children to help facilitate the process and as of this article, they’ve donated just about 7 million books.
Now, if Better World Books just donated a book for every one it sold, it would be considered a good social enterprise. But no. They are looking for greatness — to innovate. In addition to its one-for-one program, Better World Books also works with multiple partners to help fund literacy programs with its profits. They’ve raised over $13 million for literacy through their sales and worked with partners like the National Center for Family Literacy, Worldfund and the New Orleans Public Library Foundation.1
In addition to all that great work, Better World Books also funds Literacy and Education in Action Program (LEAP) grants for specific project that directly fight to reduce global poverty through education. For example they awarded one such grant to help train teachers in rural Guatemala since the indigenous children in the area suffered from low literacy and high dropout rates. Not only did they train 65 teachers in 18 elementary schools, they helped 1,876 children by putting 3,708 books into circulation.2
How are we getting such specific numbers? Well, these guys also provide incredible impact assessment. They clearly are proud of their accomplishments and show their customers what a simple book purchase can accomplish.
The second leg of the triple bottom-line deals with environmental sustainability. Better World Book approaches this element in two ways: (1) by reducing landfill and (2) utilizing carbon offsets.
They have recycled over 93 million books and and reclaimed more than 900,000 pounds of metal shelving from libraries across the United States. In addition, they partner with 3Degrees to buy carbon credits and support the Tatanka Wind Farm.3
Now, if Better World Books just donated a book for every one it sold, it would be considered a good social enterprise. But no. They are looking for greatness — to innovate.
Finally, we come to what is one of the most important aspects of social enterprise — profit. Without the incentive of making money, many of these ventures would be dead in the water. Better World Books is a founding B Corporation, helping push for companies that are profitable and socially impactful. Not only do they practice what they preach, they preach what they practice.
If it seems like we are gushing about Better World Books, it’s because the company is really a paragon of effective social enterprise and the triple bottom-line. They are part of a new generation of business that was born with a mission in mind, and Better World Books is certainly carrying out its mission of literacy with a business and social intelligence that hopefully, will become the new normal.
We’ll leave you with a few snippets of how impactful one book purchase can be: