Q & A WITH DENVER URBAN GARDENS' LINDA APPEL LIPSIUS

About Denver Urban Gardens 

Denver Urban Gardens (DUG) was established in 1985 to support Denver residents in creating sustainable, food-producing neighborhood community gardens. Over the past 35 years, the DUG network of community gardens has expanded to six metro Denver counties as they have championed the power of plants, the people who grow them, and the communities they nourish.

About Linda Appel Lipsius

Linda joined the DUG board in 2020 and stepped into the Executive Director role in 2021. She brings strong business and entrepreneurial experience to the role, as well as a commitment to regenerative business and living.

She is the Co-Founder & former CEO of Teatulia Organic Teas, a universally-respected brand known for doing things better: From the 3,000-acre regenerative garden itself to Teatulia’s stunningly sustainable packaging, Linda's focus has always been to use business as a force for good. In 2012, Linda also started the mama 'hood (a resource for new & expecting moms & their families) and opened Teatulia Tea & Coffee Bar, next door to Teatulia’s Denver Headquarters.

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Sean:

Tell me about what you do…

Linda:

For the last 14 months, I have been the Executive Director at Denver Urban Gardens. This is a new world for me. I've never played in a nonprofit before. We design, build, and manage 190 community gardens across six counties in Metro Denver. It’s been quite fun. I have learned a lot. Previously I started and ran Teatulia Organic Teas, which is a B Corp.  And I'm still involved by sitting on the board. I also still have another business called the mama’hood, which is a resource for new and expecting moms and their families.

Sean:

Do you think there will be an increasing number of companies that are B Corps?  Is it an underutilized corporate structure technique?

Linda:

I absolutely do. My hope is that the B Corp is an idea for the current times. I think people are at last wondering, “What are they doing going to work every day, if they're not doing something useful and positive?” And I think with the Great Resignation going on, if you don't love what you do, why bother? Ultimately, the market will affect how big it gets and how many larger companies of scale can really, really drive attitudes.

Sean:

Do you think ultimately all companies will become purpose-driven and social impact companies?

Linda:

No, not at all. No, I think there's a lot of people with attitudes and a worldview that is: They don't care. And never will. And it's not an abundance mentality. Rather it's a, "I got to protect what's mine" mentality, and that'll never go away. I'd like B Corps and the like to grow. I don't expect it to ever take over.

Sean:

Do you think the ROI issue is a stumbling block and hurdle for more companies to engage because putting an ROI metric around social impact or purpose-driven initiatives is ambiguous and hard?

Linda:

ROI is definitely an issue, and I think my ongoing frustration, or my ongoing dream, is that at some point externalities get taken into consideration when measuring ROI. When you look at the impact of your toxic food or toxic product on healthcare or low quality foods on education, and crime, and behaviors and the systemic impact of all this…only then, I think, will the ROI be truly compelling.

I don't know that we will ever get to the point where we're really going to be measured holistically or systemically. I think from a big picture, ROI would be amazing, and we certainly have a long way to go. However, I do think that more and more ROI is becoming compelling with retention and productivity of employees. And then it also flows through to consumer buy-in and loyalty. The supply chain I think is where, at least in my experience, it gets a little harder, because if you're going for higher quality, lower volume ingredients or raw materials, then it's going to impact your profitability. But overall, if you have stickier customers who repeat purchase, it does deliver in the end.

Sean:

Do you think that when the demographic changes in the country – when older, white males who are running corporations retire and are replaced by a younger, more socially conscious and digitally native demographic – that will change Corporate America?

Linda:

I think it absolutely does. I think it feels a little bit like we're on the cusp of that change at the government level, for sure. But that's another topic. I do think the trend towards diversity, some of it feels a little bit top down and forced, but at the same time I think it's finally starting to become not just a thing you do, and not just a thing you're “supposed” to do. It's absolutely going to affect how businesses are run.

Sean:

Do you think we are in a unique moment in time for this kind of work?

Linda:

I think the Me Too movement, COVID, Black Lives Matter – there's been so much social upheaval, or just social evolution that there's just an awareness and a demand. And honestly, I think from a big sector of society, an expectation that things change. My daughter, my sweet 15 year old, everything she buys is based on sustainability criteria. She knows every product out there. And, when you look at what's important to the upcoming buying generation, or the next generation with purchasing power, the environment is number one - or at least it was a couple years ago. I'm sure now it is actually number one, probably in bigger, bolder font after the last couple years. In 10 to 15 years down the road, I can't wait to see what it looks like. Assuming we're still here, and the kids don't think we will be. They truly think that in 2050 it's done. It's horrifying. They think the end is here.

Sean:

Does that mean that creating a purpose-driven or social impact-focused culture should become easier?

Linda:

I think so. Assuming they don't just become too apathetic and depressed to do anything. I think they feel sold down the river, the intentionality of everything they do is so much higher - the consideration for all of their actions. I know I have my little group of people I hang out with. I know that it's not that way everywhere, but with this group it is very much that way.

Sean:

Share with me the difference between social impact and purpose-driven. We hear about CSR, corporate sustainability. Are these all the same or are they different?

Linda:

I think, in general, social impact and purpose-driven campaigns, are all ladders back to a B Corp and using businesses for good. I am a very strong believer in the power of business for positive social change. I'm going to speak wearing my Teatulia hat, I think using lay products, and consumables, and things that you just interact with on a day-to-day basis to communicate messages and to try to influence behavior and attitudes is incredibly compelling because consumers and the public is receiving the messages in a non-threatening, non-preachy way. I'm an enthusiast for using business as a force for good, for social impact, purpose-driven campaigns.