Working for the greater good

Walking the talk on corporate social responsibility

Julie Talbot
Julie Talbot

Quitting her first job out of college before noon on her second day, Julie Talbot (MKTG ’03) vowed to seek work that fed her passions, not just paid her well.

Some years later, she left a major chocolate company, even though she had a great team, was learning about business, and enjoyed eating a lot of chocolate in the cause of product development. “It was about as fun as you could imagine and even a bit glamorous,” she recalls of her marketing management post at Godiva Chocolatier in New York City. It is a “fantastic company,” she says, and she had expected to put down stakes.

But something was missing, Talbot says. What she sought, she realized, was an employer with values and beliefs in sync with her own. Landing at Burt’s Bees, she found more than a match: “Burt’s Bees has made me a better person and taught me a thing or two about good values. Not everyone you meet today will be able to say that about the company they work for.”

Talbot joined the Durham, N.C., personal care products company in 2008. She worked in nearly all its other product categories — baby, men’s, personal wash, kits, and outdoor — before being promoted in 2010 to her current position as global brand manager for lip products, a $100-million-plus business of balms, glosses, and shimmers.

Culture day at Burt's Bees
Burt's Bees employees volunteer to build community gardens in Durham, N.C.

Blending business and social responsibility

Drawn by the company’s commitment to corporate social responsibility and environmental sustainability, Talbot says Burt’s “walks the talk” on these fronts: “We really do believe that we’re making people’s lives better every day through our products and practices.” These include formulating products to be as close as possible to “100 percent natural” (see sidebar), no product testing on animals, sending no waste to landfill, and giving back to the community through volunteer work.

“We wouldn’t compromise our Greater Good model to make an extra dollar,” she says. The Greater Good, Talbot says, is Burt’s maxim about making “the highest ethical choice to maximize our overall well-being.” Its employees seek to adhere to this standard in “everything we do every day, to try to leave the world and environment a bit better for the generations to come.”

With a “zero-waste-to-landfill” policy, for example, the company doesn’t just provide waste bins for sorting trash to promote recycling and composting. “We do spot checks of these bins — and a portion of our bonus is tied to our sustainability achievements.”

Asked how she strives to “Live the Greater Good” (the company’s campaign to engage all employees in social action and more sustainable practices by providing them tools and time off from work), Talbot says: “I am now much more cognizant of my footprint. I am conscious about always recycling and making good choices for the environment. I donate much more frequently than I did before coming to Burt’s.” She also volunteers on company-sponsored community projects, such as Habitat for Humanity home building.

talbot presents a project in Jane Machin's class
Julie Talbot presented a project for students in marketing assistant professor Jane Machin's Class.

Balancing business and social responsibility

Living the Greater Good life isn’t always convenient. Months after signing up to work on a Habitat house, for example, Talbot regretted it when it was time to show up. She had a mountain of work at the office, she griped, and the weather was foul. She dragged herself to the construction site, however, and moments later felt contrite.

“In my moment of wanting to be at work to get things done, get ahead, drive more business for the company, I lost sight of not only what was important to me but also to the company that I’m fortunate enough to be a part of. What I was able to do in eight hours out in the community was much more important than being at the office working on my next new product launch — there’s always tomorrow to do that.”

When corporate and personal core values align

The core values aside, Talbot says Burt’s is “just a great place to work, with a culture befitting a brand that came out of nowhere, started by a simple bee-keeper and a savvy business woman just trying to scrape up enough to pay the rent and feed her kids!” (Burt’s Bees was purchased by the Clorox Company in 2007.)

Running the company’s lip and gift businesses “like they’re my own business,” Talbot says her duties include deciding what products to launch based on strategy she developed; leading a cross-functional team in developing the formulas, packaging, and merchandising; and working with the marketing communications team and the company’s ad and public relations agencies on integrated marketing campaigns for new products. “I’m responsible for all aspects of the product lifecycle, from idea generation all the way through product discontinuation.”

She describes her colleagues as a “smart and dedicated group” and her work life as “fast paced, exciting, and ever challenging.” Her frequent travels include jetting recently to London, Paris, and New York for presentations to distributors and meetings with magazine editors and customers.

The perks also include never having to buy lip balm. Indeed, her last such purchase was in February 2008, the month before she joined Burt’s. (And yes, she says, it was a Burt’s item: “I’ve always been a lover of the brand and its products.”)

A New Jersey native, Talbot also earned an MBA at Rutgers University. She credits her parents, both small-business owners, for inspiring her to pursue her dreams of a marketing career and giving her the opportunity to live those dreams, and the Pamplin College for giving her “a great education — it’s a huge part of how I’ve been able to succeed.”

Talbot serves on the marketing department’s advisory board and has given talks on campus to students at a leadership conference and in marketing classes. This spring semester, she will conduct a project in classes taught by marketing assistant professor Jane Machin. The project will require students to develop solutions to an actual business challenge facing Burt’s Bees, and the winning teams will receive a prize of Burt’s products.

Asked about her interest in being actively involved with her alma mater, Talbot agrees that there are synergies in the marketing department’s focus on social issues, her company’s Greater Good philosophy, and industry trends in natural/green products.

Burt's Bees headquarters
Julie Talbot works at Burt’s Bees headquarters in downtown Durham, N.C. in the historic Hill Building, a renovated tobacco warehouse.

How giving back makes business sense

She was lucky to have had mentors and role models in college and her early career, she adds. “If I can say just one thing to inspire just one student, it’s worth it. Giving back was always important to me, but I’m reminded of giving back every day, working at Burt’s Bees.

“At the end of the day, no one’s going to care about the last lip balm flavor I launched. What will matter are the four Habitat houses I helped build, the money and clothes I donated to help those less fortunate, the community gardens we planted, the community playground we built, working for a company that leaves the world a better place for generations to come — at the end of the day, these are the things I’ll be proud to say I was part of.”

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