Maybe it was the price-gouging for gasoline that followed after Hurricane Katrina swallowed New Orleans whole in September 2005. Maybe it was the poisoned produce on supermarket shelves in early 2006. Perhaps it was the media blitz about the movie "Blood Diamond" at year's end.
Thanks to the Internet and television, this country's malls and main streets are now only a pang of conscience away from the factories and mines where the jewelry and gems we cherish originate. No wonder social responsibility and protecting the environment have become important elements of branding.
Suddenly companies aren't just defined by the products they make, but also the difference they make in their workers' lives or in the places where they manufacture. Owners and executives in companies across the country are changing the way they do business to improve their impact on the environment, on the community, and on the countries where their raw materials come from. And it isn't only corporations that are making social responsibility a part of doing business. Even small companies can change their business models, improving worker pay, eliminating toxic processes, and protecting the environment, supporting sustainable development, and sourcing from suppliers that are equally responsible.
The trouble is that it costs more for goods when companies which make them do more good. Will consumers pay the price for conscience?
They say they will, according to a survey conducted by the Jewelry Consumer Opinion Council for Columbia Gem House in May of last year. Three-quarters of those participating said they would pay more for responsible products.
But doing good isn't just good for the bottom line. Business owners are discovering rewards like deeper bonds with customers, employees, goodwill in the community, and the sense of satisfaction that comes from doing the right thing.
Of course, the core of doing the right thing is make things right. Quality and conscience go hand in hand.