charitable-office-products.jpgWhat’s in a name? When it comes to the California-based office products firm, Give Something Back, almost everything. GSB gives back more than half its after-tax profits every year to organizations that support better education, healthcare, arts and culture, and environmental stewardship. Based on Paul Newman’s food company, which donates all profits to charity, GSB was founded in 1991 by friends Mike Hannigan and Sean Marx, who’d worked successfully in the office products business for years but yearned to give something back. And have they ever! In 2007 GSB donated more than $432,000 to California nonprofits, and this year the total donations will top $4 million. 

Hannigan and Marx attribute Give Something Back’s success to not only its mission but its superstore prices and its personal, dependable service. (It’s one of the few companies you can still call and a human being picks up the phone.)  gsb_logo.gif

GSB was named among the most generous companies in America by Paul Newman, John Kennedy, Jr., and others, and has won dozens of awards and been featured in media worldwide. Begun as a literal living-room start-up, 17 years later it’s become the western states’ largest independent office supplier and has expanded beyond California. Anyone can now go online and shop for office supplies from GSB.  

Not only can customers buy affordable, quality  products, but they can also choose from more than 6,000 green and sustainable products, in addition to the 40,000 others that are offered. A pioneer in the recycled paper movement, GSB has continued to lead by powering its Oakland headquarters with solar panels, installing low flow toilets, and making numerous other improvements that earned it certification as both a Green Business and a B Corporation.

Does this sound too good to be true? Maybe to some, but not to many young entrepreneurs who have been inspired by GSB president Mike Hannigan and gone on to become founders of their own socially responsible businesses. 

So who are these guys who started this unlikely company? Here’s the answer, in their own words:

What kind of businessperson starts a company designed to give its profits away?

Sean Marx, CEO: Any kind of businessperson who wants to make a living and a good life at the same time. Really, I’m motivated by the same things that motivate most of us – wanting to earn enough to live comfortably, and wanting to feel like I’m making a difference in the world. It’s a no-brainer, but it’s not something a lot of businesspeople even know is possible. That’s why one of our goals is to spread the word about this business model. Imagine the impact businesses could have if they gave even a little bit more back to their communities.

Do you ever meet with cynics who think there’s a catch?

Mike Hannigan, President: Sure, and I don’t fault them at all. It’s so hard to tell good companies from good marketing these days, and that’s why we’re so transparent. We publish our financial statement each year in our annual report, which gets sent out to all our customers and anyone else who’s interested. Also, we’re a certified B Corp, which means we have had to meet more than 100 rigorous, comprehensive and transparent social and environmental performance standards.

Why don’t more people run their businesses the way you do?

Sean: Great question. Again, I think if more people knew about companies like Give Something Back, Pura Vida Water, the Endangered Species Chocolates, Hope Wine, and the many others out there, they’d follow suit. And that’s why Mike and I try to get out there and talk with business owners, students and anyone else who will listen about our business model whenever we can. It feels so good to know that it’s possible to have it all – to make a living and enjoy a life that’s comfortable, healthy, and meaningful!

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