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Profits with Purpose: Better World Books

43 entrepreneurs who are changing the world
Social Capitalist 2008 Winner

Profits with Purpose: Better World Books

Xavier Helgesen, Chris "Kreece" Fuchs, Jeff Kurtzman, co-founders
David Murphy, CEO
Mishawaka, Indiana

Imagine a company with a revolutionary vision for buying and selling books.

Imagine an innovative new social enterprise that meets 21st century demands of the triple bottom line.

Imagine harnessing the collective consumer power of a global network of book lovers to fund literacy programs, support the environment, and create good jobs.

Imagine a Better World.

Established in 2003 by three Notre Dame graduates, Better World Books began with a simple, yet transformative idea -- run a book donation drive, collect as many titles as possible, then sell those books to fund a reading program at a local community center.

Entrepreneurs at heart, Better World Books founders quickly grew their idea into an online retail presence which integrates social impact into the core of its business model. By sourcing and reselling used books in a way no major book seller had ever before tried, Better World tapped into a burgeoning new consumer market with a desire and passion for social responsibility.

Today, Better World Books is a fast-growing 130 person company focused on promoting literacy, providing good jobs for its employees with health care and benefits, and doing its part to protect the environment. The business has grown quickly in complexity and scope, but its core mission remains clear: take books that people don't want, find people who do want them, and use the proceeds to fund literacy. In addition, the company has signed on as a founding B Corporation agreeing to amend corporate governing documents to incorporate the interests of not just the shareholders but also the social stakeholders -- employees, community and the environment.

Better World Books has more than two million new and used book books for sale. Buyers typically come through established Internet marketplaces like Amazon and eBay. In 2006, Better World Books also launched its own retail site The company acquires its large and growing inventory of used books from two primary sources: a Campus Collection Program organizes regular book drives for world literacy at more than 1200 colleges and universities; and a Library Discards and Donations Program provides more than 1000 local libraries a needed outlet for redistributing donated books they can no longer keep or shelve.

The company capitalizes on the intrinsic value of books to fund and support literacy initiatives -- locally, nationally, and globally -- through its partnerships with well established and widely respected organizations working on four continents: Room to Read, Books for Africa, Worldfund, and the National Center for Family Literacy. Its support is not limited to simply funding these organizations, however. Better World Books also partners with them to ship books to classrooms and libraries where they are needed most. With support from Books for Africa, for instance, more than 550,000 textbooks have been delivered to resource-starved colleges and universities throughout the continent.

Complementing this focus on literacy, Better World Books' corporate values are also guided by a deep commitment to the environment. As a seller and re-distributor of used books, Better World Books keeps tens of millions of pounds of paper waste from unnecessarily filling our nation's landfills. Its warehouse shelving is all reclaimed and recycled from libraries around the country. And in a breakthrough for e-commerce, Better World Books pioneered the industry's first Carbon Neutral Shopping Cart, collecting a few cents from every customer at checkout to pay for renewable energy credits and reforestation projects.

Better World Books is blazing a new trail in the online book selling market, one in which creating a nursing library in Somaliland, supporting employees with equity opportunities, and offering customers carbon neutral shipping are all not just bi-products of the business -- they are the business.