7 questions for CREDO cofounder Laura Scher

It’s not easy to run a socially responsible business, to offer products that make sense for your customers, make revenue for your company—and make change for the world. But it can be done. CREDO has done it for 30 years. Recently we sat down with cofounder Laura Scher to discuss her social-change journey with CREDO.

1. Obviously you’re proud of building a company like CREDO. What gives you the most satisfaction?
The victories we win for progressive change. For example, CREDO was instrumental in stopping the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have been a disaster for our climate. We fought against Keystone for over five years. We raised more than $2 million for groups opposing the pipeline. We generated 42,000 phone calls, over half a million public comments and 4 million petition signatures against it. We organized a civil-disobedience pledge with nearly 100,000 anti-pipeline demonstrators. We even protested at the White House, where our cofounder, Michael Kieschnick, got arrested—twice!—by the D.C. police.

But I’m equally proud of all our victories, because all of them have made positive change in the world. CREDO is the largest corporate donor to Planned Parenthood, so I’m proud that action by our members helped convince the Susan G. Komen Foundation to reverse its decision to defund Planned Parenthood. For years we fought destructive oil drilling in the Arctic Refuge. And we’ve been working for marriage equality and LGBT rights since the day we opened our doors. I was thrilled when the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal.Years ago we helped convince Mercedes Benz to pay reparations to laborers and their families forced to work for the Nazi war effort. We helped stop a Mitsubishi salt mine in Baja that would have disrupted one of the last gray whale breeding habitats in the world. I’m proud of so much that CREDO has done.

2. CREDO is running a number of activist campaigns right now. Are there any you feel strongly about in particular?
With the presidential election coming up, I’m happy that we’re continuing to advocate for voter rights and raise money for nonprofit groups that register voters. We had a fantastic win recently when California passed a law that automatically registers people to vote when they apply for or renew their driver’s license. Right now we’re fighting to stop Alabama from suppressing hundreds of thousands of African-American voters.

3. Telecom is a competitive and fast-moving industry. Why has CREDO been successful?
We’re like a lot of small companies that succeed. We have a good product, great prices and we have excellent customer service.

And then we offer something no other phone company does. It’s the feeling you get when you buy a product or use a service that gives back. Like driving a hybrid car or buying fair-trade coffee. People feel good when they use CREDO because they know we donate millions every year to progressive causes they believe in and they get to vote to decide where the money goes.

If you care about our world, then CREDO is a no-brainer. Literally. You make a call or you use your credit card and you make the future better—without even thinking about it.

4. Let’s talk about CREDO’s future. What do you see coming up for the company you founded?
Well, more of the same. And that’s a good thing. We’ll continue to offer the latest phones. We’ll continue to generate millions of dollars for progressive groups. And we’ll continue to fight to do positive things for this planet. People get frustrated; they look at the gridlock in Washington and think nothing ever gets done. That’s not true. We’re making progress at the grassroots level. I see it every day.

5. What do customers say about CREDO when you meet them?
What makes me most pleased is when I meet people who have been with our company for the entire 30 years, who had our socially responsible credit card back when that was our first product. Then, when we went into the phone business, they had our landline, they had our pager—we used to have pagers! I’m feeling old now—and today they have our cellphone service. Obviously we’re doing something right. We have so many loyal customers. I remember setting up a booth at a Holly Near show in Oakland in the ’80s and signing up people for our credit card. I still see some of them today and now they have a CREDO iPhone.

6. You haven’t slowed down since you stepped away from the day-to-day at CREDO. You’re still with CREDO as executive chair, you teach at Stanford, you’re on several boards. How do you stay on top of it all?
I teach at Stanford as a way to inspire the next generation of social entrepreneurs, the young people who will follow in my footsteps. At the same time, I tell them you don’t have to be the CEO of a socially responsible company to make change in the world. You can make change simply by choosing to do business with companies that share your values. There are a lot of us out there nowadays—like CREDO.

7. When you’re not making change in the world, what are you doing?
I work with social change startups, advising them. And I’m a busy mom of a high school student! When I really have nothing on the agenda, I hike the trails of Marin. It clears my head and gets me ready for what’s next.