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17th Annual Business Ethics Awards honor South Mountain Company

John Abrams and the South Mountain Company have won Business Ethics’s annual award for Workplace Democracy. Marjorie Kelly at Business Ethics annouced the award this week. What’s Right, What’s Wrong, and It Depends noticed the award, and posed this question: “Do most companies now “preach” about ethical behavior but don’t really act on it? Or do we just not hear about all the good that companies do because the news media wants to focus on the corrupt and greedy because it makes a better story?” The other three winners of this year’s BE awards were Intel, for CSR management, New Leaf Paper, and the Weaver Street Cooperative food store in Carrboro, North Carolina.

Here’s the full scoop on South Mountain Company’s recognition:


W. Tisbury, Mass. – On Thursday, November 3, the South Mountain Company was one of four companies selected for the 17th Annual Business Ethics Awards when they received this year’s Workplace Democracy Award for “using employee ownership as the foundation of a life-enhancing company.” The Business Ethics Annual Awards are a salute to four companies, large and small, leading the way in ethics and corporate social responsibility excellence. Each year, the Awards are presented by Business Ethics magazine, an 18-year-old publication focused on ethics and corporate social responsibility.

South Mountain Company, a design/build firm located on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., shares honors with Intel of Santa Clara, Calif., who received the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Management Award; New Leaf Paper of San Francisco, who received the Environmental Excellence Award; and Weaver Street Cooperative of Carrboro, N.C., who received the Living Economy Award. “South Mountain was a run-away favorite of all judges this year,” said Business Ethics Editor Marjorie Kelly. “This selection was the easiest I’ve seen in 17 years of awards.” South Mountain describes itself as committed to creating buildings and settings that are enjoyed for generations and that stand as worthy expressions of a humane, well-crafted, environmentally-sound architecture. The company’s goal is to serve their several constituencies at once—employees, clients, community, and region—in an exemplary and responsible way that nurtures and strengthens all.

When asked to describe his company’s entrepreneurial point of view, Abrams said “we limit our work to the island of Martha’s Vineyard—the region we know best and the place where we live. We take seriously our responsibility to make it a better place for all by participating in regional efforts to provide high quality affordable housing, preserve rural character, support traditional economies, and promote environmental stewardship.” The 30 year-old company has annual revenues of $6 million and 30 full-time employees, 16 of whom are owners. In 1987, Co-Founder Abrams transferred the ownership to a new worker-owned cooperative corporation. In describing the opportunities of employee ownership and management, Abrams said: “When employees are the owners, essential business priorities change. If the people who make the decisions are the people who will also bear the consequences of those decisions, perhaps better decisions will result.”

Abrams recently charted the course of South Mountain’s inception and evolution in The Company We Keep: Reinventing Small Business for People, Community and Place (Chelsea Green), a book that explores the role of small business in promoting community, creating social equity, and maintaining ecological balance. Therein he states, “The employee-owners share the wealth the company creates and control its destiny. This is not about a sense of ownership or a sense of control. Corey Rosen of the National Center for Employee Ownership once said that ‘giving employees a “sense” of ownership is like giving them a “sense” of dinner.’ This is the whole meal.” South Mountain hopes their business practices will provide a model for a 21st century economy that balances profits with environmental restoration, social justice, and community involvement.

Speaking about the award, Abrams said, “We’re very proud, but mostly we want to commend Business Ethics Publisher Michael Connor, and Editor (and Co-Founder) Marjorie Kelly for the exemplary work they have done, and the impeccable information (and inspiration) they have provided to the corporate social responsibility movement.” South Mountain is proud to share the platform with three other recipients of this year’s Business Ethics Awards, described as follows by Business Ethics magazine:

· Intel of Santa Clara, Calif., who won the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Management Award. For over 35 years, Intel Corporation has developed technology enabling the computer and Internet revolution that has changed the world. Today, Intel supplies the computing and communications industries with chips, boards, systems, and software building blocks that are the “ingredients” of computers, servers and networking and communications products. (

· New Leaf Paper of San Francisco, who won the Environmental Excellence Award. With $18 million in 2005 revenue, the company aims to “inspire the paper industry toward sustainability,” said Founder and CEO Jeff Mendelsohn. Since 1998, New Leaf has saved nearly 700,000 trees, since over half the fiber is used in its papers from post-consumer waste. (

· Weaver Street Cooperative of Carrboro, N.C., who won the Living Economy Award. In its small town, the 17-year-old Weaver Street Market is more than a food store – it’s a community hub, featuring outdoor space with sculpture, fountain, tables and benches. (

The Awards were distributed at a breakfast on November 3 in Washington, D.C. by Business Ethics magazine in conjunction with the Business for Social Responsibility conference. Business Ethics Award winners are chosen for being leaders in their fields, out ahead of the pack, showing the way ethically; having programs or initiatives in social responsibility that demonstrate sincerity and ongoing vibrancy, and that reach deep into the company; having a significant presence on the national or world scene, so their ethical behavior sends a loud signal; being a stand-out in at least one area of social responsibility, though recipients need not be exemplary in all areas; having faced a recent challenge and overcome it with integrity, or taken other recent steps to show their commitment is currently active; being profitable in the most recent year, or show a strong history of healthy profitability. Previous Business Ethics Award winners have included companies such as Aveda, Patagonia, Timberland and Whole Foods Market. For information about the Awards and Business Ethics magazine, visit: To learn more about South Mountain Company, visit:

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