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Natural Awakenings Boston

Sustainability is Good for Business, People and the Planet

Nov 29, 2012 05:00PM ● By Katrina Kazda and Taryn Johnson


Bleak headlines paint a distressing picture of America’s ecosystem and economy. From unusually violent storms to low jobs reports, people are increasingly wondering what can be done to turn things around. One answer lies in a growing local and sustainable economy movement that’s driving positive environmental action and transforming local economies across the nation.

This grassroots movement encourages a return to locally owned and independently run businesses, from stores and restaurants, to banks. Recent studies show that supporting local businesses provides an incredibly high return on investment, impacting job growth, wage increases and economic stability. According to a 2008 study commissioned by the Michigan-based advocacy group Local First, for every $100 spent at a locally owned and independent business, $73 remains in the local economy, versus $43 spent at non-locally owned businesses. This results in significantly more money being re-circulated in the community.

The local and sustainable economy movement also encourages a shift to more environmentally responsible ways of doing business, from decreasing energy use to reducing transportation emissions and diverting waste. Companies large and small are discovering ways to reduce their carbon footprints, save money and revitalize their businesses.

Here in Massachusetts, the local and sustainable economy movement is grows stronger each year. Behind this growth are a number of pioneering organizations, including the Sustainable Business Network of Massachusetts (SBN), a local non-profit with the mission to build “economies that are green, local and fair.” Founded in 1988, SBN is composed of individuals, businesses and community leaders who are committed to changing the way companies and consumers do business.

Through its Sustainable Business Leader Program, SBN supports locally owned and independent businesses in greening their operations and practices through holistic environmental change. Program graduates complete an average of 30 sustainability action items for certification, often saving significant money in the process. They are then listed in SBN’s online Local Green Guide (, alongside SBN members and businesses who have taken the Local Green Guide Pledge. Environmentally conscious consumers can view this online guide and look for Certified Sustainable Business Leader decals to support businesses and non-profits that are serious about sustainability.

SBN is behind the annual Boston Local Food Festival, which this year drew more than 40,000 visitors and 120 local food vendors from across New England to the Rose Kennedy Greenway. The festival, along with other SBN local food events throughout the year, helps to spread awareness about the wealth of local and sustainable food in the Boston area, with the goal of encouraging a statewide shift to at least 10 percent local food consumption.

Networking and collaboration among local and sustainable business leaders is another function of SBN, which hosts a Sustainability Leadership Summit each year. The event gathers pioneers from across New England in conversations about actions that build strong local, green and fair economies. Discussions range from how to build a local ecosystem of business-to-business relationships, methods to raise capital for localized economic development and ideas about transforming the local food system.

SBN is also involved in the development of Local First networks in such places as Brookline, Cambridge, Somerville, Watertown and Worcester. These networks, which are committed to building vibrant local economies and communities, are conducting such Local First campaigns as Shift Your Shopping and Plaid Friday for the holidays. Of course, no sustainable economy movement will thrive without participation from consumers. Those who want to help can look for Local First decals and patronize local and sustainable businesses this holiday season, opt for farmers markets over supermarkets when possible, and join SBN in an exchange of ideas and actions for real and lasting sustainable change.  

Katrina Kazda is Managing Director and Taryn Johnson is an intern at the Sustainable Business Network of Massachusetts. For more information visit or e-mail [email protected].

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