Are Evergreen Companies Really Built to Last?

Evergreen Certified Companies are interesting to me because I didn’t realize that a term had been coined for this concept until I started at Aptify. As I continued to learn more about it and the 7 tenets that comprise it, it got me thinking about my favorite brands and if they embody any of the Evergreen-like characteristics. Sure, they might not be Evergreen Certified companies nor do they necessarily possess all the qualities, but it occurred to me that many of the products I buy on a frequent basis do practice some if not all of these tenets.  

Lately, I’ve become more aware of where my clothes are being sourced from and if humane practices are being observed when producing them. And as far back as I can recall, I’ve always gravitated towards skin-care and cosmetic brands that were eco-friendly, ethical, and environmentally-conscious because those are values that I identify with. Realistically though, I’m not in a position where I can always buy products that promote these Evergreen-like values. However, I admire companies who are making a conscious effort to practice these distinctive values because every company has the power to lead the way for a sustainable future.  evergreen companies.jpg

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Check out some of these companies practicing Evergreen and/or Built to Last (BTL) principles and how both types of companies are actually more similar than different.

The following is an excerpt from David Frick’s blog post “Are Evergreen Certified Companies Built to Last” in the Aptify blog

Evergreen’s Defining Characteristics


Built to Last


Possessing a passion,
vision, & mission.

Perhaps the concept introduced by the authors of BTL companies having a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) is close to the idea of purpose. A BHAG may seem outlandish like putting a man on the moon or a computer in every home, but it inspires the organization to achieve unimaginable goals.


Never give up attitude.

Good enough is never good enough. 

People First

Take care of your people
and they take care of the business.

“Visionary” companies are not for everyone. The company demands employees live the core values and continually improve. Not so “touchy-feely”—more of a get on board or get out mentality.


The ability to make
decisions based on the
long view.

The 18 companies in BTL are not private: 3M, American Express, Boeing, Citicorp (now Citigroup), Disney, Ford, General Electric, Hewlett Packard, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Marriott, Merck, Motorola, Nordstrom, Philip Morris (now Altria), Procter & Gamble, Sony & Wal-Mart.

But even these companies focus on the long-term vs. short-term.


Profit represents a number that
is an accurate gauge of
customer value.

Visionary companies may have many areas of focus and “making money is only one—and not necessarily the primary one.” As important is a company’s core ideology.

Paced Growth

A focused disciplined long-term steady growth strategy.

BTL’s “Build Clocks” and aren’t focused on “Telling Time.” A clock builder is a company that can succeed beyond multiple product cycles and endure changes at the leadership level.

Pragmatic Innovation

Focus on continuous improvement—taking
calculated risks to creatively innovate within the constraints
of the business.

BTL companies try a lot of new things. They keep what is promising and kill-off quickly what is not. They accept failures as a natural outcome of experimentation and growth and never stop experimenting.

Purpose: Both EG & BTL companies express a purpose for their existence albeit in different ways and with a slightly different twist.

Take for example General Electric:
General Electric’s mission and vision:

“General Electric Company’s (GE) mission is to usher in the next industrial era and to build, move, power, and cure the world.” GE’s vision is to focus on businesses that connect to its core competencies and are market leaders.

“GE’s strategy is to reshape its portfolio from a broad conglomerate to a more focused industrial leader. The portfolio goal for 2014-2016 is to achieve 75% of operating EPS from industrial businesses and to grow EPS each year, returning $50 billion to investors to repurchasing shares in order to increase margins and returns. The company also plans to exit those businesses that are deemed to be non-strategic or that are under performing or does not have a dominant market share.”


Smitten Ice Cream

“We believe ICE CREAM = JOY. Pure, wholehearted and untarnished so that you can totally and utterly melt into the moment. We elevate the ice cream industry by thinking from the heart-side out, owning our impact on the world, pushing boundaries and inventing solutions to take quality, purity, positive impact and joy to the next level.
Hell no status quo. Ice cream can and should be better. Get smitten.”

Clearly, they’re very different types of messages. GE is reaching out to shareholders and investors, while Smitten is reaching out to the consumer in a soft/cutesy/friendly and non-threatening manner. Smitten’s Founder and Chief Brrrrrrrista (yea, really) is all about providing a superior product sans the unnecessary additives found in large commercial ice cream products.

Would I invest in GE? Probably. GE’s five year trend is upward? Would I prefer Smitten Ice Cream over a more commercialized product? Definitely.

People First: I wonder about this. The BTL companies are pretty upfront: embrace the core ideology and culture, work your butt off, or find another place to collect your check.

What if you worked for an EG company and the CEO had all of her life savings invested in the business and you didn’t align from an ideological, cultural, or work perspective? My guess is the CEO would release you to the universe. Maybe it would be done more gingerly, but I suspect the end result is not much different between an EG company and a BTL company.

Pragmatic Innovation: Both EG and BTL companies realize the importance of continuous improvement—perhaps the biggest difference is the deeper resources available to the BTL. EG companies truly must be pragmatic in their decision-making capabilities, whereas the BTL companies are able to make a greater number of experiments. BTL’s “can try a lot of stuff and keep what works.” It is important for both to fail quickly before too many resources are exhausted, but continuous innovation is imperative, for as a friend of mine, Andy Bailey, has been known to say “Change or die.” 

Does this mean Aptify, as an EG-certified company is in the same league as a 3M, American Express, General Electric, or Wal-Mart? Nope, but it does mean by following Evergreen’s 7 principles we share much of what makes those companies great. In our industry, there has been significant consolidation, disruption, an infusion of private equity and venture capitalist money. Much of this change appears focused on capitulating to the whims of investors—get in—get out—get rich. How can this be good for our industry? I don’t believe it represents a healthy trend, which is why Aptify remains independent, focused, and committed to membership organizations and to the 7 Evergreen principles.

Keep in mind there are 4 other tenets that Evergreen Companies strive to uphold. These are the ones that resonated with me. Whenever I come across a brand that I might want to buy, I’ll be paying more attention to what their vision is and if they embrace any of these qualities. 

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