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Liz Brenna, founder of Socially Good Business. Photo: Zack Seward, Innovation Trail
Liz Brenna, founder of Socially Good Business. Photo: Zack Seward, Innovation Trail

Start-up wants to do good in the for-profit world

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More and more companies are making the business case for "doing good." A Rochester woman who cut her chops at the socially-conscious ice cream-maker Ben & Jerry's is trying to spread the word in New York State's for-profit community. The Innovation trail's Zack Seward has more.

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The journey for Liz Brenna begins at Ithaca College, at a talk by entrepreneur Jeff Furman. “They call him the ampersand in Ben & Jerry’s. And I just remember sitting there and thinking, 'Oh my god, this guy has all the answers,'" she said. 

It wasn’t so much the ice cream that got her hooked; it was the other thing Ben & Jerry’s is known for: corporate social responsibility.

Soon the ice cream maker was her go-to company for case studies. And with a little serendipity, the Rochester native landed a job at Ben & Jerry’s main office in Vermont shortly after graduation. Then she started getting the calls. “So many business owners and brands would call us and basically ask how we did such a great job being such a good company,” she said.

Brenna says the business owners wanted to know how Ben & Jerry’s was so successful at championing social and environmental causes. Corporate social responsibility, or CSR, was growing in popularity and these business owners wanted to know the secret. “And so it kind of occurred to me that there really weren’t a lot of resources out there for for-profit businesses who want to join this movement. So that’s where I thought, you know what, I need to do this,” Brenna explained. 

So three months ago, after about four years at Ben & Jerry’s, she moved back to Rochester and founded Socially Good Business, where she takes what she leaarned at Ben & Jerry’s and applies it to other companies. Basically, she wants to find your company’s version of a low-emissions freezer or a specialty flavor that benefits a good cause. “Consumers are demanding it," Brenna said. "So to be as genuine about it and to get the most value out of it, I say, make a commitment first.”

Still Brenna admits it’s a tough time to be launching a newfangled consulting firm. She says it’s an easier sell than it would’ve been a couple years ago, but it’s still hard to get companies to sign on the dotted line.“The level that they’re at right now especially in this economy is 'show me the numbers, why do I want to invest this money, why do I want to do this,'” said Brenna. 

Brenna has one client so far, a Rochester hotel, but she’s optimistic that more will follow. And if all she accomplishes is spreading the word about ways businesses can do good, then she says she’s fine with that.“This is what I’m passionate about, this is what I believe in and I’m just kinda trying to do my thing.”

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