Saturday, May 3, 2008

Start-Up Leader in Corporate Social Responsibility Shuts Down

Oh, I'm so sad at this news. Just yesterday morning our local news source quoted the President and CEO of Nau, Inc. saying that the company was closing in on its capital raising goals and was poised to take off.

Then later that afternoon, the company announced instead that it is closing its doors. I just read the news in my morning's paper, but apparently it was put up online yesterday at World Changing.

For those of you who haven't heard of Nau, they were a Portland start-up that manufactured eco-friendly clothing and deployed a radical business model of sustainability. From their corporate charter to their employment practices to the low carbon-footprint of their retail locations, the company was committed to living and breathing environmental leadership.

The bold founders of the company dreamed big, acted big and enacted big goals, successfully garnering international attention for their efforts and more than $35 million in venture capital investments.

But it wasn't enough.

And the news is a heavy dose of reality to those of us starting businesses of our own. It's a humbling reminder that included in the reality of starting up a small business is the looming possibility of not making it. And if a heavily financed company led by top-level executives from companies such as Patagonia and Nike can crash and burn...what about the rest of us?


In March, I met Nau CEO Chris Van Dyke after he delivered an inspiring keynote address to kick off the Shop 08 Conference for retailers. His belief in the utter rightness of companies to protect the community, employees and the Earth was practically tangible. His belief that it is possible for companies to be committed to profitability as well as to a social bottom line was sincere.

I believe in those things, too, and I know that with the closure with Nau, the passion, beliefs, goals and visions of the founders and employees don't disappear. They will find their way back into the market soon.

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