Designing A Generosity-Driven Company With Miir’s Bryan Pape | Convoy
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Designing A Generosity-Driven Company With Miir’s Bryan Pape

There’s a funny thing that happens when a company’s mission and purpose is tied to sustainability and social responsibility from ground zero. This commitment to doing the right thing, to being environmentally aware, to helping communities and empowering people often becomes as esteemed as the product you are selling. Consumers want to do business with organizations who do good, and success and profitability become a simple byproduct of your values. 

I have long been intrigued by the mission of Miir, a maker of premium stainless steel vessels for coffee, beer, wine and food, which sets aside a portion of revenue to fund projects focused on clean water, a healthy environment, and strong communities, and so I invited CEO Bryan Pape to join my “Business of Sustainability” series.

Bryan provided insight as to how the company got started, its original mission and goals, how they baked sustainability into the business from day one, and the ways Miir engages its customers on its sustainability journey. The key takeaways of our conversation follow.  

  • How MiiR Got Started: Miir is a combination of life experiences for me which emanated from the idea of merging business and philanthropy into one mission. The first was observing my grandfather who started a family business. Then my grandmother started a foundation in his honor and I saw the power of community-based philanthropy. In 2006, I was in a really bad skiing accident and had a life-or-death experience. One of the things I thought about was what people would say about me at my funeral, and I realized that nobody would have said anything positive about me helping the community. It was really a catalyst for me to start thinking about what I could do to better improve the world and empower people. Fast-forward a couple years and I had the opportunity to start Miir with this idea of merging business and philanthropy. We started off with making simple drinkware — insulated bottles, tumblers, camp cups, etc., designed to last a lifetime and beyond. And then every single transaction gives to a variety of nonprofits or grants that we give out as a company. Since 2010, we have been able to grant $1.5 million dollars, which has been really really fun to be a part of that. (1:06)
  • How To Measure The Business Value of Sustainability: It primarily starts with the products and services you choose to create as a company. For Miir, we’re obviously choosing not to produce or sell bottled water. We are making a product that is reusable by its nature. And then there are also many impacts as a company. Just because we’re making something that’s reusable, doesn’t mean there isn’t an environmental impact. Everything we consume in the world is either grown or mined. So, iron ore has to be mined out of the earth to make a durable product. There’s an impact there on the environment. Everything has to be shipped, so there is carbon emissions through shipping. And through a whole variety of things, we measure it partly by being a certified B corp. We go through the B corp assessment every 3 years, which means you have to score above 80 points of their 200-point assessment. They study five values of your company. So, there’s an aspect there that we measure. We are part of 1% For the Planet, so we commit at least 1% of our top line revenue to environmental causes, and then we are a founding member of Climate Neutral. We are choosing to offset all of our carbon emissions from all three scopes — scope one, two, and three. You could look at it as though we are spending money on something we wouldn’t necessarily have to, but we like to do our best part as a company to be responsible. We see it as a multiplier and part of the reason we do is because it creates further clarity of alignment. So, companies like Convoy or Patagonia, or Blue Bottle, or some of our customers then want to work with us even more because we have that value alignment of who we are as a company. If anything, I feel like sustainability clarifies who your customers are or are not. (3:45)
  • The Reason We Became A Certified B Corp And Participate In 1% For The Planet: We started Miir with giving back clean drinking water and developing water programs in Southeast Asia as well as Africa. From there, it expanded to clean water being clean water that you drink, but then also clean water as far as our water streams and that sort of aspect of it. We’ve also expanded into environmental initiatives and then community-based organizations. Our circle of giving has expanded to community empowerment as well as clean drinking water around the world. Philanthropy is changing quite rapidly. One example is Mackenzie Bezos with her grant making recently where there are no strings attached. So, the power dynamic with grant making in the past has been what is called power-based grant making. You require nonprofits to fill out all of these grant requests, all these forms, exactly where the dollar is going to go, is it going to fund this or fund that. Now it’s moving toward relationship grant making, meaning you build trust with the nonprofit. What’s their track record, what area or focus do they look at, and can you empower that nonprofit to do their work in empowering the people on the ground. Our clean water partner is Water Frist and Splash, fantastic examples of nonprofits who work with local communities who actually employ locals on the ground whether it is in Ethiopia or India or Nepal to actually do the work effectively as opposed to a bunch of Americans going somewhere and do their “effective change.” We also recognize it’s an endless journey, it is somewhat daunting, but at the same time, it also keeps us motivated to know the more we can grow, the more we can give and help out these amazing nonprofits around the world. The need is definitely great and it is beyond what we, as an individual company, can do. (6:14) 
  • How We Project Our Business Goals: We forecast our revenue growth every year. For the first five years as Miir, whatever we ended up selling, we would figure out how we’re going to give. Now, we peg about 3% of our revenue annually to be part of our charitable contributions, so we forecast out for the year, and then start to align how much money are we going to give to clean water projects, how much are we going to give to community-based projects, and then start to look through our rolodex a little bit. We have some legacy nonprofit partners who we continue to work with year in and year out and provide them a bit of a runway because it can be somewhat jarring and jolting for a nonprofit to get a big grant one year, and then not have a grant the next. It’s very wasteful for these nonprofits to go through these grant cycles every single year. We look at commitments over the long term saying, “Hey, our goal is to meet these financial objects and if we do, we can get more money into your hands for the incredible work you do.” Some of that is planning. Some of it changes based upon the natural elements of the world. We don’t do disaster relief, so we aren’t reactionary there. But in 2020 with the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement coming, we looked and questioned what else we can be doing as allies to the black community? (8:25)
  • Getting Customers Involved In Our Efforts: We began our product to project concept upon returning from one of our first nonprofit partnerships in Liberia. We had photos and stories and shared them with our first customers. One of my friends, who was our first customer, said, “Wow, that’s incredible. This Miir bottle that I bought helped fund that clean water project.” And that’s when a huge lightbulb went off and we started this thing called the “Give Code,” where customers can look on the bottom of their tumbler or their Miir bottle, reference the code there, and register this give code on our website to get updates on the exclusive benefits we are working on for that community. These customers also get early access to new products, special discounts throughout the year, etc. More importantly, there’s an open invitation to be a part of our grant making process. Customers can see the nonprofits we are granting toward, the metrics, and how we look at empowerment and what that looks like. If there’s a project in a specific location, you’ll see GPS coordinates or photos or videos or a holistic kind of report depending upon the nonprofit and how they do their nonprofit work. It is all about transparency for us. Inviting our customers to come along on the journey is incredibly important. Our goal is to be a bridge between the individual consumer as well as the nonprofit partner as well. (10:27)
  • Why It Is Important For Customers To Get Involved In The Sustainability Journey: Customers being along on the journey is not just a marketing concept. We really mean what we say and we’re really serious about empowerment. Our goal is that our consumers do become involved with these incredible nonprofits and if we can be that conduit through the purchase of a product, awesome. We would also love for people to check out the nonprofit partners and become monthly donors or activists for those nonprofits too. (11:38)
  • How Companies Can Get More Comfortable Making A Larger Investment In Sustainability: It was easy for us because we started with the concept of sustainability from day one. So, it’s easier for us to bake it into the model and it becomes second nature. For a company who doesn’t grant money or give in a way that we do, it’s hard to go from not doing anything to doing it. My encouragement for anybody who is not doing it or doing it lightly is just take that next step. What is that next step for you as a business to either look at grant making or setting aside a little bit of money for your employees to help out with? Even in sustainability, it’s the same thing. Just take the best next step. Whether that’s reducing plastic in your packaging or offsetting one of the three scopes within becoming climate neutral or researching being a certified B corp. There are always a couple of steps and it can be very daunting at first thinking you have to do all of this work, but it just takes one better step day after day to achieve the sustainability goals you have. (13:00)
  • How Miir Is Becoming Even More Sustainable: We’re working on reducing all of our plastic packaging so we’ve moved entirely from a plastic-based poly liner to one which is basically compostable to protect the product from being scratched during transit of the package. We do have compostable liners holding the product inside of the box and we are almost there to completely eliminate any sort of poly bag to protect that product. We are trying to think holistically about sustainability, not just the end product, but also what is on the product between transfer of the goods. It is an evolving journey for sure. (14:10)

TRANSCRIPTION

Jennifer Wong: Hi everyone. Welcome back to The Business of Sustainability. Today we have Bryan Pape, the CEO of Miir. Welcome, Bryan.  

Jennifer: I’d love to hear your founding story of Miir. I’m pretty familiar with the brand. In fact, I have one of your tumblers with me today and it still has the tag because it has never been used. It’s more like memorabilia for me because we, at Convoy, actually created these for our Series D announcement. 

Bryan: I love it. That’s awesome, thank you. 

Jennifer: Well, tell me more about how you founded the company. 

Bryan: Yeah. Thanks again for having me on. We, you know, Miir has really been a combination of life experiences for me so part of that comes from this kind of idea of merging business and philanthropy together into one mission. So that came about from a couple of different life experiences of, you know, the first observing my grandfather who started a family business on the west coast and then, unfortunately, he passed away in 96. Then my grandmother started a foundation in his honor in 97 and so, kind of firsthand seen the power of philanthropy, the community-based philanthropy of helping out in your own community. So that was a piece of it and then in 2006, I was in a really bad skiing accident. Had this life-or-death experience where I ended up hitting a tree, broke my femur, kind of had this moment in time where I didn’t know if I was going to live or die. When you hit your femur, you can hit your femoral artery and essentially bleed to death internally in 10 or 15 minutes, like I said. So, I kind of had this moment of, you know, things kind of flashed before [2:00] my eyes and two things happened landing against that tree. The first, I was dating my now wife. We had been dating for about 3 years and at the time I was super selfish. It took me hitting a tree to be like, “Oh, I should probably, you know, marry this incredible woman.” Fast forward a year later, we got married and, you know, we’ve been married 13 years and we work together at Miir and have two beautiful children which is a blast. And the second thing I thought about, yet again, very selfish, like, what would people say about me at my funeral and I realize that nobody would have said anything positive about me helping the community. So, it was really kind of a catalyst for me to start to think about what I could do to better improve the world and to empower people. So, fast-forward a couple years, had the opportunity to start Miir and really this idea of merging business and philanthropy. So, we started off with making simple drinkware. What that means, you know, insulated bottles, tumblers, camp cups, all, you know, kind of designed to last a lifetime and beyond. And then every single transaction gives to a variety of nonprofits or grants that we give out as a company. So, since 2010, we have been able to grant 1.5 million dollars, which has been really really fun to be a part of that. So, yeah, that’s the quick story about Miir. 

Jennifer: How do you measure the business value of sustainability?

Bryan: It primarily starts with the products and services you choose to create as a company. You know, so, for Miir, we’re obviously choosing not to produce or sell bottled water. So, there is that aspect of it, we are making a product that is reusable by its nature. [4:00] And then there’s also lots of impact as a company. So, just because we’re making something that’s reusable, doesn’t mean that there isn’t an environmental impact. You know, everything that we consume in the world is either grown or mined, right? So, iron ore has to be mined out of the earth to make a durable product. So, there’s an impact there on the environment. Everything has to be shipped, so there is carbon emissions through shipping and all that. And through a whole, you know, whole variety of things, you know, we measure it partly by being a certified B corp. So, we go through the B corp assessment every 3 years, which means you have to score above 80 points of their 200-point assessment. They kind of study five values of your company. So, there’s an aspect there that we measure. We are part of 1% For the Planet, so we commit to at least 1% of our revenue, top line revenue, to environmental causes and then we are a founding member of Climate Neutral. So, we are choosing to offset all of our carbon emissions from all three scopes. So, scope one, two, and three. And, you know, you could look at it as though we are spending money on something, we wouldn’t have to necessarily but, you know, we like to, you know, do our best part as a company to be responsible so that’s one way that we measure it. We see it as additive; we don’t see it as a tradeoff. We see it as kind of a multiplier and part of the reason we see it as a multiplier, we then think it creates further clarity of alignment. So, companies like yours, like Convoy, or Patagonia, or Blue Bottle, or some of our customers then want to work with us even more because we have that value alignment of who we are as a company. So, if anything, I feel like sustainability clarifies who your customers are, or not, right? 

Jennifer: You are a certified B corp, 1% For the Planet, when you’re deciding all these partnerships or commitments? 

Bryan: [6:00] It’s a great question and it’s one that is hard because, you know, for the world that we are, you know, with everybody being affected by the human condition, there is so much need and so many great causes around the world. You know, we started at Miir with giving back clean drinking water. So, developing water programs in Southeast Asia as well as Africa. And then from there it expanded to clean water being clean water that you drink, but then also clean water as far as our water streams and that sort of aspect of it. We’ve also expanded into environmental initiatives and then, kind of, community-based organization whether its helping build schools or helping refugees or under privileged kids on bikes in the US. Our circle of giving has kind of expanded to community empowerment as well as clean drinking water around the world. And, you know, I think philanthropy is changing quite rapidly. One example would be, you know, Mackenzie Bezos, you know, with her grant making recently where its kind of no strings attached grant making and its changing. So, the power dynamic with grant making, you know, kind of in the past, is what is called power-based grant making. So, you require nonprofits to fill out all these grant requests, all these forms, exactly where the dollar is going to go, is it going to fund this or fund that. Now its moving toward kind of relationship grant making, meaning you build trust with the nonprofit. What’s their track record, what area or focus do they look at, and can you empower that nonprofit to do their work in empowering the people on the ground. So that’s one way, you know, we look at it. Our clean water partner is Water Frist and Splash…are fantastic examples of nonprofits who work with local communities who actually employ locals on the ground whether its in Ethiopia or India or Nepal to actually do the work effectively as opposed to, you know, a bunch of Americans going somewhere to go and do their “effective change.” So that’s one way to look at it. We also recognize that its an endless journey [8:00], you know. Its somewhat daunting but at the same time it also keeps us motivated to know that, you know, the more that we can grow, the more that we can give and help out these amazing nonprofits around the world because the need is definitely great and it is beyond what we, as an individual company, can do. 

Jennifer: For the contributions that you’ve made so far, do you also have goals for what you want to make in the future or is it just based off of, kind of, your business growth? 

Bryan: Yeah, you know, we certainly have…we forecast our revenue growth every year. So we do, you know, before I’d say probably the first 5 years as Miir it was kind of like, whatever we end up selling, you know, we’ll figure out how we’re going to give, and now, you know, we peg about 3% of our revenue annually to be part of our charitable contributions and so, when we forecast out for the year, we then start to align, okay, how much money are we going to give to clean water projects, how much are we going to give to community based projects, and then start to look, kind of through our rolodex a little bit. We kind of have some legacy nonprofit partners, like I said, Water First and Splash, that we continue to work with year in and year out and provide them a bit of a runway because it can be somewhat jarring and jolting for a nonprofit to get a big great, and then not have a grant, and then have a big grant, like it’s very wasteful for these nonprofits to go through these grant cycles every single year. So, can we look at commitments over the long term of kind of saying, “Hey, our goal is to meet these financial objects and if we do, therefore, we can get more money into your hands for the incredible work you do.” So, some of that’s planning. Some of it, I don’t want to call it spontaneous, but it changes based upon some of the natural elements of the world. We pretty much don’t do disaster relief, so we aren’t reactionary there. But, you know, like in 2020 with the murder of George Floyd and kind of the Black Lives Matter movement coming, we looked and said what else can we be doing as allies to the black community. Ended up funding an incredible nonprofit called Black Girl Ventures which helps women who are black and brown to create their own companies, to become entrepreneurs, we’re very passionate about entrepreneurs and business solving the needs of communities. So that was a nonprofit that we chose to fund [10:00] in 2020 and we’ll continue to work with in the future. 

Jennifer: Can you share more about your product to project concept?

Bryan: It’s kind of been there almost from day 1. So 2011, we can back from one of our first nonprofit partnerships in Liberia. My wife and I were over there working on some clean water projects with some locals that we had met through a friend. And so, came back from that trip with photos and stories and shared them with our first customers. Then one of my friends who was our first customer said, “Wow, that’s incredible. This Miir bottle that I bought helped fund that clean water project.” And that’s when a huge lightbulb went off and we started this thing called the give code where customers, if you look on the bottom of your tumbler or your Miir bottle, there is a code on there and you can go to our website and your can actually register your gift code and you’ll get updates. We’re working on exclusive benefits for that community. So, you’ll get early access to new products, you’ll get special discounts throughout the year. But then I think more importantly, there’s an open invitation to be a part of our grant making process. So, you can see the nonprofits that we’re granting towards, you can see the metrics and how we, you know, look at empowerment, what that looks like. You can see, often times, if there’s a project that is a specific location, you’ll see GPS coordinates sometimes. Sometimes you’ll see photos or videos or a holistic kind of report, so to speak, depending on the nonprofit and how they do their nonprofit work. But its all about transparency of us. Also, inviting our customers to come along on the journey. So, if you, maybe, come on the website and follow along on a project that your passionate about with Splash, then you can become an individual donor to that nonprofit. So, our goal is kind of to be a bridge, you know, between the individual consumer as well as the nonprofit partner as well. 

Jennifer: That’s great. I love how you incorporated the consumer into that journey. [12:00] You’re involving the person in the experience in itself, you’re not just selling the product and saying you made the donation. People can actually get personally invested as well. 

Bryan: We think it’s really important for customers to be along. And not for it to be a completely marketing concept, right? So, it’s also, like, we really mean what we say and we’re really serious about empowerment. And our goal is that our consumers and our customers do become involved with these incredible nonprofits and if we can be that conduit through the purchase of a product, awesome. But we’d also love for people to check out the nonprofit partners and become monthly donors or activists for those nonprofits too. 

Jennifer You’ve incorporated sustainability since the day 1 of your business and you’ve done it for longer than most companies. What advice would you give to companies so that they are comfortable making larger investments in sustainability? 

Bryan: Yeah, you know, it was easy for us day 1 because we started with the concept of sustainability from day 1. So, it’s easier for us to bake it in the model so it’s kind of becomes second nature, right. It’s kind of like a company who maybe doesn’t grant money or give in a way that we do, it’s hard to kind of go from not doing it to doing it but my encouragement for anybody who is not doing it or doing it lightly is just take the next step. What is that next step for you as a business to either look at grant making, setting aside a little bit of money for your employees to help out with whether its an employee grant. And even in sustainability, it’s the same thing. Just take the best next step. Whether that’s reducing plastic in your packaging, whether that’s offsetting one of the three scopes within becoming climate neutral. Researching being a certified B corp. You know, there’s always a couple step and it can be very daunting at first thinking you have to do all this work, but it just takes one better step day after day to kind of achieve the sustainability goals that you have. 

Jennifer: For the average person that might have a Miir bottle or [14:00] tumbler at home already, what’s one thing that they might be surprised to learn about sustainability for the company? 

Bryan: We’re working on reducing all of our plastic packaging so to speak and so we’ve moved entirely from a plastic based poly liner to protect the product from being scratched and everything during transit to, it’s basically compostful. So, we do have compostable liners holding the product inside the box and we’re developing and we’re almost there to completely eliminate any sort of, basically poly bag, or compostable liner to protect that product through, kind of, some innovative cardboard packaging which is really really exciting. So, we’re trying to think holistically about sustainability, not just the end product but also, what is on the product between transfer of the goods. So, it’s an evolving journey for sure. 

Jennifer: That’s exciting. Well, Bryan, thank you so much for sharing your time with us today. 

Bryan: Yeah, thanks for letting us share. 

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Jennifer is the Head of Sustainability at Convoy, helping transportation leaders make progress against their environmental and social impact goals.