Better World Books Embeds Social Mission in Business

Better World Books Embeds Social Mission in Business

Triple-bottom line company committed to promoting global literacy

Better World Books is harnessing the power of capitalism to bring literacy and opportunity to people around the world, and the for-profit social enterprise ensures this mission is embedded into the core of its business model.

Embedding the mission into the business model is something the organization has been successful at, says president and CEO David Murphy, as every time a book is received and sold literacy dollars are generated for its non-profit partners.

“I think of it as essentially using capitalism for good in a for-profit business model,” says Murphy, noting there is room for multiple business models that focus on changing the world for the better.

Founded in 2003, the U.S.-based global bookstore collects and sells books online to fund worldwide literacy initiatives. Through conducting book drives on 1,800 college campuses and collecting discarded books from more than 2,000 libraries, Better World Books diverts books from landfills.

The triple-bottom line company is a founding B Corporation (B Corp) partner, an international network of purpose-driven businesses dedicated to setting a new standard for social and environmental performance.

B Corp member companies amend their corporate governing documents to incorporate the interests of employees, community and the environment.

For its social impact, Better World Books has 100 non-profit partners that receive funding. The five primary partners are Books for Africa, Room to Read, Worldfund, the National Center for Family Literacy, and Invisible Children.

With the power of e-commerce to generate funding for these literacy initiatives, the partners use the funds to build schools, start libraries and provide scholarships.

“Every single day we see benefit in the fact we’re generating something in the ballpark of about $10,000 a day in cash funding that we know we’ve just generated from a good, honest hard day’s work that we know is going to support literacy, both here and abroad,” says Murphy.

When it comes to the environment, the company website points to The Ecology of Commerce, by Paul Hawken as what “really got us thinking,” with ideas about how economy mimics ecology with no-waste systems.

“In a perfect world, we'd package your books in edible bamboo pouches and load them into Willie Nelson's biodiesel bus, where he'd hand deliver them with a song. We’re not quite there, but we've got some things we think you'll like,” the site states.

Customers are offered carbon neutral shipping on their orders. Better World Books also works with, a non-profit provider of carbon offsets, and collects a few cents from each order, which offsets its shipping as well as that of its literacy partners.

But the biggest contribution for the environment is saving orphan books and finding new readers for them, re-using or recycling more than 26,000 tons of books.

The organization donates around 7,500 books per day, or 150,000 per month, to a variety of organizations to support literacy.

Among the benefits of its business model is attracting talent.

“We are a different kind of company, people are watching us, they are very interested in what we are doing and anytime we go to hire . . . it’s amazing to me the talent that we get in terms of people saying you know what, I want into this kind of space,” says Murphy.

He notes with all positions, from hiring a young person out of college to recently hiring a Chief Operating Officer, people want to find something meaningful in their professional life.

“It’s amazing the level of talent that is very interested in joining the organization, even if you are not in a position to pay top wages, to compete with the corporate world,” he says.

“We’ve seen that throughout the last several years and I think if anything it seems to be growing.”

- More to Come

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Jennifer Neutel

Jennifer Neutel is a Story Advocate and Generative Journalist at Axiom News. She completed her Bachelor of Journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa in 2006, and joined Axiom News in 2007. She has taken on a variety of roles at Axiom including new social media intiatives and has a passion for creating strengths-based questions that can lead to positive change.

Contact Jennifer:, or 705-741-4421 ext. 26.

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