This article is part of our series on small companies with a big mission in five areas: women, kids, community, planet, and hope. Click here for more articles in the series.
Are we unreasonable to suggest there’s a substance that can provide meals for hungry children, improve a farmer’s living conditions, provide jobs to individuals with disabilities … and heal your skin at the same time?
Maybe not, because being “nuts” about doing good is literally the name of the game for one social enterprise where a passion for well-being extends beyond simple body care and into the realm of nourishing dignity. And it all begins with a fibrous brown fruit.
From cooking to cosmetics, oil is perhaps the coconut’s most famous and widely used asset. Coconut oil is comprised of 45-53% Lauric Acid, a fatty compound reputed to improve the skin’s elasticity and combat conditions like acne and dry skin. Women using unrefined coconut oil with a base lotion experienced a 25% increase in their skin’s moisture retention – almost twice as much as those using lotion alone, researchers from Malaysia’s University of Technology reported in a 2013 study.
With more than four times the antioxidants of the average coconut oil, Conscious Coconut offers products geared for skincare use rather than cooking. But in addition to the proven wellness benefits, founder Danielle Conte worked to ensure that social impact was fully integrated from production to packaging to giving back.
An Accidental Entrepreneur
Danielle became a coconut oil apologist entirely by accident – in the most literal sense of the word.
Though volunteering in her community with Feeding America was integral to her formative years, the 90-hour work weeks demanded by an investment banking career left Danielle little time to rest, much less lend a hand to others. By 2012 she was ready for a change, so she jumped at the opportunity to teach English and math for a year in Bali, Indonesia.
But when she was involved in a motorbike accident shortly after her arrival in Bali, Danielle’s career took another unexpected turn.
“A healer, who helped her recover from the motorbike accident, treated her injuries with coconut oil,” says Kaelie Phillips, Conscious Coconut’s Marketing Director. “Danielle was familiar with coconut oil for cooking and eating purposes but had never known the topical benefits of using it for skincare and treatment.”
Rather than dismiss her healer’s methods as ‘nuts’, she continued to use coconut oil throughout her time in Bali and was astounded at the way it helped her recover from the accident and clear her skin.
“Danielle returned home knowing she had to share this natural remedy while creating a social enterprise that gave back,” Kaelie explained. “After a few months, her friends said, ‘If you’re going to talk about coconut oil so much, why don’t you sell it?’ That gave her the push to start creating the company.”
As those in her circle started incorporating coconut oil into their wellness routines, she connected with organic coconut farmers in the Philippines through Fair Trade USA and launched an online store in May 2015.
Grounded in Good
Conscious Coconut seeks to make a positive difference in the lives of people in need, both at home and abroad. It all starts with Fair Trade, certified organic coconut oil sourced from small farmers in the south of the Philippines.
Using a technique called “wet-milling,” farmers hand-grind the coconut flesh until its liquid components are released, knead the mixture, then let it separate naturally. The progression takes around two days, its heavy reliance on manual labor creating additional, decently paid employment.
Between traditional production methods and organic techniques aimed at preserving the trees’ health, Conscious Coconut is helping steward the earth and regenerate an otherwise unprofitable sector that young farmers often quit.
Of the Philippines’ 3.5 million small coconut farmers, 60% survive on less than a dollar per day. Conscious Coconut’s commitment to Fair Trade helps slowly reverse that injustice by assuring proper compensation to farmers. Further, the premium that farmers receive is their principal means of providing their communities with access to clean water, healthcare, and educational opportunities.
Fulfilling the Vision
The social impact continues back in the U.S., with packaging and fulfillment jobs offered through MacDonald Training Center, a nonprofit that provides disability-neutral employment services in Tampa, Florida.
“MacDonald Training Center is more than a warehouse: they are the premier employer in Tampa Bay of adults with disabilities,” Kaelie says. “These adults have a wide range of disabilities, anything from a hearing disability to a mental disability.
“They’re not just packaging products. They’re being trained and empowered in inventory management and fulfillment, and other types of controlled-environment tasks that will help them eventually move on and get paid jobs in the workforce.”
MacDonald trainees also learn to put together kits, which means anyone who orders one of Conscious Coconut’s new Hair Mask or Dry Brush Kits will have these dedicated individuals to thank.
Danielle’s early habit of giving back isn’t neglected nowadays, either. Conscious Coconut has donated 500,000 meals to children in need over the past five years. Much of that food is distributed through Feeding America’s backpack program, which sends children home with enough food to last them through the weekends.
“More than 16 million people go hungry in the US, and most of us aren’t even aware of it,” Kaelie remarks. “For every product sold, we feed a child in need through Feeding America. Even if an order includes only a few products, that equals 4-5 meals.”
It’s an impact that’s nuts to think about, but in a really good way.
Spend for good:Whether it’s in a wipe, a tube, or a jar, the coconut oils at Conscious Coconut are always virgin, cold-pressed, Fair Trade Certified, and 100% USDA organic. In addition to oil products, the online shop features select personal care items like dry brushes and hair mask kits – and two meals are donated to children in need for each product sold.
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