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Walking the Talk
How Clif Bar Is Cultivating the Dual Power of Purpose and Play

In April of 2000, Clif Bar owner and founder Gary Erickson turned down a $120 million offer to buy Clif Bar & Company. Instead of taking it easy the rest of his life, Erickson decided to keep Clif Bar private and pursue a unique business model known as the Five Aspirations: Sustaining Its Business, Brands, People, Community and the Planet.

In April of 2000, Clif Bar owner and founder Gary Erickson turned down a $120 million offer to buy Clif Bar & Company. Instead of taking it easy the rest of his life, Erickson decided to keep Clif Bar private and pursue a unique business model known as the Five Aspirations: Sustaining Its Business, Brands, People, Community and the Planet. Since then, the company has stayed true to its purpose — the Clif brand is now synonymous with outdoor recreation, adventure and respect for nature; and its company culture and products, both developed with health and wellbeing in mind, have created a loyal, engaged workforce and customer base.

We recently spoke with Keely Wachs, Clif’s Director of Company Affairs, to hear about the company’s latest efforts to Redesign the Good Life for all of its stakeholders.

Last week, Clif launched a Business with Purpose Scholarship, aimed at graduating students who would like to pursue meaningful post-graduate experiences but feel financially pressured to accept the first high-paying job offer that comes their way. What was behind the decision to help foster the next generation of change-makers in this way?

Clif Bar
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Canada’s Great Trail
SB'18 Vancouver!
Keely Wachs: Financial debt is a real problem for graduating college students today — especially as it relates to pursuing a job or career they care about. In fact, we recently conducted a survey that found 56 percent of young adults aged 18-34 believe that debt from their education limits their ability to pursue a job or career they would find fulfilling — and that their overall financial situation has a large impact on almost everything they would like to do.

In 2000, our owners, Gary and Kit [Erickson], turned down an offer to sell Clif Bar for $120 million because they knew they could do more good with the company than with the money. From that time forward, Clif has been run as a thriving Five Aspirations business. Our experience at Clif Bar has taught us that it’s possible to be successful in business while also being focused on a greater sense of purpose. We’ve proven it can work; now we want to support new graduates who truly care about leaving their mark on the world — empowering them to take action and make a positive impact on people, their community and the planet by removing the financial burdens that may be preventing them from doing so.

Health, outdoor recreation and adventure are all part of Clif’s company culture — you sponsor athletes around the world and aim to inspire your customers to get outdoors and stay active. How is Clif working to shift the sports industry to be inherently more purpose-driven?

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KW: Sports has the power to transform people and society. Yet the sports industry itself has lagged behind most sectors in terms of embracing purpose. At Clif Bar, we have a team of athletes who excel on and off the field. We’ve seen these athletes harness their power and influence to help create a healthier and more sustainable world. We want to share this experience with other brands and spark a conversation around how the sports industry can be at the forefront of the purpose movement, inspiring other sectors while having impact at scale. We’ll be discussing this topic and more during a Sports and Purpose panel at Sustainable Brands on Thursday afternoon. Please join us!

In 2017, to commemorate Canada’s 150th anniversary, 432 existing trails in 10 provinces and three territories were officially connected to create The Great Trail, a 15,000-mile (24,000-km) urban, rural and wilderness route across Canada. What was Clif’s role in the creation of the Great Trail?

KW: A living symbol of national collaboration, the world’s longest recreational trail — The Great Trail — was a huge effort brought to fruition by thousands of local municipalities and organizations, grassroots supporters, volunteers and partners such as Clif Bar, all of whom recognized in The Great Trail common values of raising awareness of the outdoors and protecting the places where we play.

At Clif, we already support a roster of more than a dozen exceptional Canadian pro athletes and we absolutely love playing in and protecting the country’s rich outdoor heritage, so it seemed only fitting to support 150 kilometers of connecting pathway in honor of Canada’s 150th anniversary. We’re excited by The Great Trail’s potential as an exercise and adventure corridor for athletes and recreation seekers of every fitness level. At Sustainable Brands ’18 Vancouver, Clif will be showcasing its support for The Great Trail and the diverse culture, connection and endless adventure it has to offer — including hosting daily hikes! Join us and sign up here to experience the beauty of The Great Trail, Stanley Park and the Vancouver Seawall.

Clif Bar’s commitment to purpose is embedded in its culture, as evidenced by its work to achieve its Five Aspirations — with such a high bar already set for itself, how does Clif continue to improve and create further positive impacts for all of its stakeholders? What are some of the highest-priority areas at the moment?

KW: At Clif, we believe food can move us forward — specifically, shaping the future of the intersection of food and human adventure. This means supporting people with nutritious and delicious organic food. It means reducing food’s footprint by championing sustainable farming and investing in supply chain innovation. And it means paving the way for economic opportunity — sharing company ownership with our people, providing a living wage in our bakeries, supporting economic development in the communities in which we work and play and providing opportunities to rural communities. We want to continue to make food with energy to push people, our food system and our planet forward.

Clif Bar’s ethos is all about “Redefining the Good Life” (our global theme for 2017) — as evidenced by the Ericksons’ decision not to take a lucrative buy-out and to instead build a purpose-driven company guided by Five Aspirations … what do you see as Clif’s role in this year’s theme, “Redesigning the Good Life”?

KW: We know that great food — made with wholesome, sustainable and delicious ingredients — has the power to inspire greatness in every(body), improve our food system and heal our planet. For the Clif Bar team, providing people with the energy to live their “good life” — while using our own energy to create a healthier and more sustainable world — is our purpose.

At SB’18, we’ll be inspiring attendees to spend some time outdoors, taking in Vancouver’s beautiful natural legacy and sharing facts about Canada’s wondrous landscape. We’re truly honored to be attending this year’s conference and look forward to spending time with all of you in such a beautiful place.