“Good Eyewear, Good Outcome”- Warby Parker


“For every pair of glasses that Warby Parker sell, they give a pair to someone in need.”-Warby Parker’s BCorporation Summary.

This is not the first company with this type of one-for-one giving strategy, everyone knows Tom’s Shoes. However, Warby Parker is unique in their strides to promote CSR.

Warby Parker’s Buy a Pair, Give a Pair Program has distributed over a million pairs of glasses to people in need. They have focused on glasses in underprivileged areas, because 703 million people worldwide currently do not have access to eye care. Glasses have been shown to increase productivity by 35% and income by 20%. Along wight their main charity partner, VisionSpring, Warby Parker has worked to not only donate, but also to train. VisionSpring has trained 18,000 workers in the manufacture, distribution, and reception of glasses.

Warby Parker is carbon neutral. They have invested in renewable credits to offset their greenhouse emissions. However, they are not generating any of their own renewable energy. In their 2013 report from BCorporation, while the average company received a grade of 9, they received a 5. This seems like an unusually low score for a carbon neutral company.

Warby Parker was founded on the principle of delivering designer-quality eyewear at an affordable cost. While they have philanthropic ends, they care about the customer as well. The majority of their lenses sell for $95, prices never exceed $300.

I started researching Warby Parker very skeptically. I had believed in Toms Shoes, and was distraught over the allegations of ineffective shoes and dubious distribution efforts. I’m not as naive anymore. But Warby Parker seems like the real deal. They may want to invest in renewable energy to decrease dependency on credits.

I’m cautiously optimistic about Warby Parker’s genuine aims to be a better business.

We’ve all been burned by greenwashing before, but could Warby Parker be the real deal?

Featured Image Courtesy of: VisionSpring

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7 thoughts on ““Good Eyewear, Good Outcome”- Warby Parker”

  1. Undoubtedly many companies greenwash their way into appearing ethically better. I think Warby Parker will aim to do the most it can, in the most ethical way it can. But at the same time, I think that is the goal of many companies that end up in unethical issues. Similar to the saying, “the path is filled is paved with good intentions,” I think most companies begin with great principles, and somewhere along the line, they fall of the path. Since the company is so new (started in 2013), I think time will have to tell.

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  2. To me, Warby Parker seems to be ethically responsible. Since the company has just been formed, it will be interesting to see if they can sustain their “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” program. They seem to already have low profit margins with prices never exceeding $300.

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  3. Even while they may struggle to meet their standard as carbon neutral, Warby Parker’s business strategy is based around the “buy a pair, give a pair” strategy. This in itself makes the purpose of the company ethical, as it is devoted to improving the lives of people living in underprivileged areas. It will be interesting to see how they transform over the years.

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  4. I guess there are some people out there who may criticize the buy one-give one models (Toms Shoes) as undermining local economies. I don’t know. Are there really cobblers and optometrist on corners being pushed out off business by these do gooders?

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  5. In terms of an ethical approach or perspective, there are several possibilities. One is that by tying consumption to the need, the firm is bringing people into a more-than-minimal set of duties to others. Donaldson set the bar “too low” for multinationals. This is aiding the deprived. So you may start with deontology.

    Perhaps there is also an ethical analysis in terms of justice. Some of the concerns about Warby Parker or Toms Shoe sis that perhaps they are recreating dependencies in what are really former colonies. In that case, are donations doing some harm in terms of perpetuating needs or dependencies? I think the answer depends a lot on the details. In my experiences in Central America, there is not a local shoe-maker or optometrist being put out of business by donations. So, maybe there are two cases, where one-for-one charitable consumption increases dependency versus when it increases autonomy. You can set those two up and then look at what would be the difference in the details to see where WP stands.

    For policy angles, one is the need for eyewear in developing countries. How can it be met? Or health more generally. Another aspect of eyewear is that it is ever more necessary for schooling or for certain kinds of work (tailoring, electronics) in developing countries. However, unlike many health care needs, there is this fashion component. We can get affordable glasses into those places, but if people opt out of wearing them for fashion reasons, what to do?

    Bucknell’s Prosec project addresses these concerns in a micro way. You could look at policy or technology that might minimize the fashion “problem” for adopting eyewear when it is needed.

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