Reaching Higher Grounds

Working among coffee farmers in Mexico on a post-grad internship, Chris Treter made a life-altering decision. Fusing the ideas of selling coffee and improving conditions for poverty-stricken communities, he went back to the states and took steps to open his own coffee shop. Founded on the motto "People, Planet, Profit", Higher Grounds in Traverse City offers high quality coffee grown by small scale farmers from three different continents. The coffee farmers Chris met on his internship were only able to sell their coffee in small, local markets. By partnering with Chris, they suddenly had a link to a much bigger market and the opportunity to sell much more coffee.

In 2016, Higher Grounds received B Corp certification, meaning they met the non profit's rigorous standards of social and environmental responsibility. It's about transparency, accountability. It sets rules and standards in place to ensure the mission doesn't end with the entrepreneur. All the employees in the company take part in it. B Corp certification is going to be increasingly important in the changing market. Consumers, particularly millennials, are demanding more sustainability and social responsibility from the companies they buy from. There's a push to do more, to give back. 

Chris Treter credits community engagement as the main reason for his brand's success. It's the reason the company was started and the driving factor behind the pursuit for B Corp certification. Building better communities by putting people first.

How to Use a Photo and Not Get Sued

Photography is everywhere. We see it in billboards, on our walls, our screens, our phones. It's so entrenched in our environment and our culture we don't spend much time thinking about it, specifically the ownership rights of the photos we're using. Enter risk. While photography is ubiquitous, it is not exempt from laws and regulations. It's super important for companies to be informed on the legal aspect of using someone else's images.

The first thing to know is the difference between editorial and commercial intent. This is important because the cost and legal requirements will be very different depending on how you are using the photos. Using a photo for editorial purposes means the image is published to inform the community. This could be a news article, blog, textbook, documentary. On the other hand, commercial purpose is using an image to promote something or someone, i.e. print and digital ads, brochures, commercial websites, etc. Usually areas that help the company make money. The big thing to remember is if you are using something for commercial use, you MUST have a signed model release form. Without proof of consent, the model can potentially sue the company for exploitation. This is not necessary if the photo is being used editorially. 

The next order of business is creating an appropriate licensing agreement with the photographer. This is a bit more complicated and, again, depends on how the images are being used. The two critical factors to consider here are duration and scope. How long do you want to use the photos for and in what aspect do you want to use them? A photo used once on a company's website will not cost nearly as much as a photo used multiple times over many years for a national marketing campaign. The broader the scope, the greater the price. You can also choose to buy the image outright and be cleared of any limitations on use. In the end, licensing is very negotiable and agreements depend on the scenario. Just be sure an agreement is in place before using the images.

Frequently where clients go wrong is in poor education. Most people are unaware of photo ownership rights and use photos outside of an agreement without even realizing it. A lot of times, companies will put all their images in a database where they are up for grabs by staff. This happened when Adam photographed a product for a non profit company for editorial use. A designer found the photo in the company's database, and decided to use it for a blog post and also on the "About Us" page of their website. This started heading into commercial territory, so Adam sent a friendly email to the director. The director promptly apologized and began licensing the photo for commercial use. 

Licensing transgressions usually stem from ignorance, not malintent. It's incredibly important to be well informed, especially as society becomes more and more focused on the visual. If you have any questions about photo ownership rights, staff at Bird+Bird Studio are always open to answering questions over the phone, email, or any of our social media outlets.


A few examples of commercial use photographs:

A Tale of Two Cities

Grand Rapidians aren't shy about bringing up our "Beer City USA" title given us by a variety of magazines and "best of" lists. I even saw it boasted on a billboard on the freeway. Something you won't see on a billboard, however, is our 2015 ranking as 2nd worst city for African Americans by Out of the 52 biggest cities in the nation, Grand Rapids beat out only Milwaukee in home ownership, entrepreneurship, income, and change in population for African Americans. While some citizens and community leaders were surprised by and spoke out against the ranking, others used social media, specifically the Twitter hashtag #BlackinGrandRapids, to share their truth about gentrification, low employment, and high poverty rates among African Americans in the city.

Though unflattering, the new ranking brought a problem into the spotlight, and with it the question: what can we do about this? Start Garden and Grand Rapids Area Black-owned Businesses (GRABB), two organizations meant to help start ups and black-owned businesses thrive, teamed up to improve the disparity among populations. They created a new venture, GRABB5, aiming to help five black-owned businesses improve their capital and increase patronage. By focusing on five businesses at a time, GRABB5 works closely with each business, identifies their unique obstacles, and brainstorms solutions to navigate them.

One of the biggest barriers for the black community is being disconnected from the rest of the business world. It's a cliche but true. Business is about who you know. And if the relationships aren't there, the business will struggle. Many white entrepreneurs can look to family or friends to support their new business venture. They have a safety net. This just isn't as common in underserved populations. To encourage networking, GRABB5 hosts monthly dinners for entrepreneurs, investors, and service providers. They also have informative, "how to" presentations that help business owners learn to do market research, pitch an idea, etc.

A healthy ecosystem is a diverse one, and that's true of the economy as well. We need a range of people and businesses for longevity. And to reach that, we need to make Grand Rapids a place where everyone can find opportunity.

95 Years of Food, Farming, and Community

This year marks the 95th anniversary of the Fulton Street Farmer's Market. After nearly 100 years, the tradition of buying produce straight from the farmer in a simple, open market set up is still going strong. Although the market has gotten a few face lifts, most recently the $3M renovation in 2013 which put a roof overhead, the advantages of shopping in the market are still the same. Customers have a wide array of produce, plants, meat, dairy, baked goods, and prepared food to choose from. Buying directly from the farmer ensures the produce is in season, meaning it's at its peak flavor and nutritional value-a stark difference from produce in grocery stores that's been plucked before ripening, stored, and shipped hundreds of miles. Not to mention the environmental and economic benefits of supporting local farmers.

But the most valuable commodity the farmer's market has to offer is the relationships it curates. Buy produce from the person who grew it, and you have an opportunity to tap into their knowledge of how it was grown, how to prepare it, favorite recipes...there's a wealth of information available to you if you ask. It's better than the internet. The relationship is mutually beneficial as the farmers are able to see the end result of their hard work: customers enjoying their product. The market is also a place where vendors can network with each other and potentially create partnerships. 

There's something especially genuine about a trip to the Fulton Street Farmer's Market. It's an opportunity to connect with the people who cultivate our food, get in touch with the growing seasons, show our children where our food comes from. It's a place for food and community, a long-standing tradition, and something to look forward to on Sunday mornings.

Learn more on the Fulton Street Farmer's Market website.

B the Change

Over the years, the greed of businesses has created and magnified many problems in this world. So conversely, couldn't businesses provide the answers to such problems, using their powers for good before profit? "We envision a global economy that uses business as a force for good," begins the opening line in B Lab's mission statement. B Lab, a non profit organization that audits and certifies "B Corporations", is striving to create a community of businesses that seek to have a better impact on their environment. For a company to become a B Corp, it has to pass the 200 point impact assessment with a score of 80 or higher. The assessment covers a multitude of areas that measure how completely the company is doing what they say they're doing, including environmental sustainability, transparency, and legal accountability. It's incredibly thorough.

Last year, 616 Lofts became a B Corporation, joining the likes of Gazelle Sports, Brewery Vivant, and Cascade Engineering, among others. And while this status adds a lot of responsibility and motivation in becoming a better company, it all starts with knowing and understanding the surrounding community. Having a good impact on the community means preserving and enhancing the culture that already exists there. You can't know how to do that without first knowing the environment, the people, the need. This means getting involved, listening, joining neighborhood associations... It's an enormous amount of work on top of the already challenging workload of running a company. You have to be really dedicated to your mission and have the perseverance to maintain that focus. 

The 616 Lofts team was in the studio a couple weeks ago for new head shots and a group photo. I love hosting groups, particularly this one, because they have this fun energy that lightens the mood and radiates in the photos. I've shared a few below. Find out more about 616 Lofts on their website.