Loyola University’s Baumhart Center recently recognized three companies for their dedication to social innovation and environmental stewardship.
Cleveland Avenue and The Cleveland Avenue Trust, Sweetgreen and Honeywell are this year’s recipients of the Innovator Awards. The companies recently were recognized in a virtual awards ceremony.
In its second year, the Baumhart Center Innovator Awards highlight companies that are “marrying purpose with profit, social impact and environmental stewardship,” said Seth Green, founding director at the Baumhart Center.
“When we asked for nominations, we received a lot of different companies who were really harnessing business for good,” Green said. “Amidst all of those we found these three to be the most compelling.”
Cleveland Avenue and the Cleveland Avenue Trust
Cleveland Avenue and the Cleveland Avenue Trust received the Social Impact award for its dedication to backing Black, Latinx and female entrepreneurs and its investment in education. The venture capital company was started by Don and Liz Thompson, both of whom grew up on Cleveland Avenue, four blocks from each other, in Chicago.
“Liz and I started Cleveland Avenue because we had a vision to create more opportunities,” said Don Thompson, who served as the first Black CEO of McDonald’s.“ It’s a blessing to help people who have every bit as strong a worth ethic, every bit as strong an idea, competency and capability but sometimes they just lack those enabling resources.”
Launched in 2015, the Chicago-based company supports new and innovative food and restaurant concepts. The company is known for its own Chicago restaurant, Taste 222, and for investing in companies like Beyond Meat, the popular plant-based meat substitute. Through public and private partnerships, the company has developed two funds aimed at improving educational opportunities and economic mobility for minorities and women.
“Cleveland Avenue’s mission not only embodies the Baumhart mission, but that of equity which will ensure that entrepreneurs of color, especially those from underserved areas, can reach parity,” Jonathon McGee, a Baumhart Scholar MBA Candidate and Deputy Director of Regional Economic Development for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, said during the awards ceremony.
“I’m inspired by Don and Liz’s personal story, courageous leadership and unrelenting grit because it serves as a roadmap for myself and so many other black leaders from Chicago looking to drive equitable change,” McGee added.
Cleveland Avenue’s CAST US fund (Cleveland Avenue State Treasurer Urban Success), is a $70 million initiative that takes aim a reducing the economic gap Black, Latinx and female entrepreneurs in the city’s south and west neighborhoods often face, according to the company’s website. The CAFE (Cleveland Avenue Foundation for Education) invests in organizations that help further the foundation’s mission of making advanced education attainable for all. The CAFE’s 1954 Project, named for the year the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in the Brown V. Board of Education case, recently awarded five $1 million grants to organizations that support their goals in education and increasing economic mobility in the Black community.
“We believe in investing in the talent that is abundant in our community and the genius of all background of people because it brings a richness to our work,” said Liz Thompson, who heads the CAFE. “We want to be an engine that helps create more educators, social innovators and entrepreneurs.”
Sweetgreen began in 2007 out of the desire of three Georgetown students looking for a healthy alternative to fast food.
Today, the fast-casual dining chain has more than 100 locations around the country, including several in the Chicago area. It is known for its salads, which feature locally and regionally sourced ingredients.
It is the company’s commitment to sustainability and its investment in employees through benefits like five-month family leave that earned it the Parkinson Award for Profit and Purpose at the Baumhart Center’s Innovators Awards ceremony this year.
The Parkinson Award is named for Loyola alum, Robert Parkinson, who “believed in the positive power of business,” according to the Baumhart Center website. Parkinson’s business career found him at the helm of Abbot Labs and Baxter. Parkinson also served as dean of Loyola’s School of Business, where he “championed the importance of ethics in business education.”
“It was (my dad’s) belief that a business that focused on the betterment of its employees, customers and communities was inherently a more valuable business,” said Rob Parkison, son of the late Robert Parkinson.
He said Sweetgreen’s “wholistic approach to sustainability” made it stand out.
Pointing to the company’s efforts to create healthier lives, support employees and focus on sustainability through its supply chain, Baumhart Scholar MBA candidate Margaret Skrmetti said Sweetgreen is a “trailblazer” in the food and restaurant industry.
“I know they’ve made me question why should we think of impact work as a separate arm of the business when literally your entire company can be designed to to drive good at scale … and what a fundamental shift in thinking for students of business,” said Skrmetti, who also serves as senior manager of community engagement and social impact at Morton Salt.
Sweetgreen CEO Jonathan Neman said “service to both business and society” was at the heart of the company’s start in 2007.
“Mission and impact need to be integrated into the business model,” Neman said. “There is a way to make an impact and have it strengthen your business. We try to find that creative tension around all the decisions we make.”
The company, which already has a small carbon footprint by industry standards, aims to be carbon neutral by 2027. Key in reaching that goal is working with suppliers focused on sustainability and reducing their own carbon emissions. The company has undergone its own carbon audit and has worked with suppliers to look at agricultural practices, water conservation and other aspects that could help reduce carbon emissions. Though Sweetgreen emits less carbon per dollar of revenue than the restaurant industry standard, it hopes to improve on that in the coming years.
A global giant, Honeywell, earned the Environmental Stewardship Award at the Baumhart Center’s Innovator Awards.
The company was recognized for its “significant contributions” to advancing environmental stewardship. Presenters noted 50 percent of the company’s technologies are directly related to improving the environment and energy efficiencies and pointed to the company’s commitment to make “human life better, safer, more secure and more environmentally sustainable.”
“Honeywell positively influences other businesses, clients and communities by exemplifying the importance of social and environmental responsibility through business operations, innovations and leadership,” said Nancy Tuchman, dean of Loyola’s School of Environmental Sustainability.
Since 2004, Honeywell has reduced greenhouse gasses at its own facilities by more than 90 percent and has seen a 70 percent improvement in energy efficiencies, said Shane Tedjarati, president of global high growth regions for Honeywell. The company also has initiated 5,700 greenhouse gas and energy efficiency projects since 2010 and saved 128 million gallons of water in water stressed regions since 2013 and has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2035.
“The innovation that Honeywell has led in the past years is impressive,” said Amaya Aranzabal Torre, a Baumhart Scholar MBA candidate and lawyer. “Its commitment to positively impact our communities has made Honeywell a positive agent for change.”
Tedjarati noted that Honeywell has embarked on a number of projects across the world such as supplying integrated building management systems for hospitals in the Middle East, powering smart city projects in India that help reduce traffic congestion and emergency response time and lead to crime prevention and improved pedestrian safety or working with companies in South America to convert used vegetable oil into renewable diesel and jet fuel.
“Honeywell supports its customers sustainability goals with innovative products that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, saves energy and supports the adoption of renewable sources,” Tedjarati said.
In accepting the award, Tedjarati said the award recognizes more the global issue of environmental stewardship than a person or company.
“Today’s award is a milestone in our shared journey and we look forward to more partnerships in making this world safer, healthier and more sustainable,” he said.
View the entire presentation below:
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Alicia Fabbre is a Chicago-area freelance writer. Her work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Naperville Sun and Daily Southtown. She lives in the suburbs with her husband and their twin teenagers. When she’s not working, she enjoys bike riding or walking the trails at her local forest preserve, cheering on her student athletes and family game nights.