The Sustainable Business Network of Massachusetts: Changing the Way the World Does Business
Mar 29, 2013 01:09PM
By Kim Childs
The Sustainable Business Network of Massachusetts (SBN) was founded in 1988 by Laury Hammel, a pioneer in the local economy movement. With its mission to “build economies that are local, green and fair,” SBN reflects a growing awareness that business practices work best when they benefit profit margins, people and the planet. Today SBN is a network of businesses, community leaders and individuals committed to local economies, environmental sustainability, social justice and local food production and consumption. Natural Awakenings (a proud SBN member) spoke with managing director Katrina Kazda to learn more about SBN’s current work in the Boston area.
What projects and programs are currently underway at SBN?
Right now we have Sustainable Business and Sustainable Community Leader Programs, the Boston Local Food Program, our Local First Network and Local Green Guide and the ongoing SBN membership activities and events.
What are the Sustainable Business and Sustainable Community Leader Programs?
These are green technical assistance and certification programs for small and medium-sized local businesses, nonprofits and community groups. We work intensively with the participants, leading them through a sustainable change process that begins with an energy efficiency audit, looking at such things as water conservation, transportation and waste management. From there we make individually tailored recommendations on how they can become more sustainable, suggesting vendors they might use and incentives and rebates to make those changes.
We work with them to carry out a customized action plan and, once they’ve completed 80 to 100 percent of those actions, they get certified as a Sustainable Business or Sustainable Community Leader. We then stay in touch with participants and offer them the chance to re-certify every two years if they continue and increase their sustainable practices.
How do participants benefit from this certification?
They reduce their resource consumption, which leads to cost savings from such things as switching to energy-efficient light bulbs, appliances and practices. It also creates a sense of pride, and many participants tell us that going through the process changes their whole culture and the way they do business and communicate with others in the community. Often the sustainability impact expands to the clients and customers they’re working with, too. Participants also get the marketing and public relations benefit from being a green business, which is very important now because a lot of consumers really care about that and seek businesses that share their values.
Can you tell us more about the Boston Local Food program?
Our goal is to increase the percentage of local food consumed in Massachusetts and our biggest annual event is the Boston Local Food Festival, which takes place every October on the Rose Kennedy Greenway. It features more than 120 local food vendors, including farmers, food producers and restaurants. Each year we attract 30,000 to 40,000 visitors who get to sample local food products, meet with growers and producers, purchase local and sustainable produce, watch chef demonstrations and take part in do-it-yourself demos.
Other things that we organize include educational seminars and the Buy Local Trade Show to connect food producers with wholesale buyers, and our all-local dinners. These are really fun and creative events that challenge area restaurants to source and prepare threeto four-course meals from 100 percent local ingredients, right down to the oil and salt they use. The events page of our website, SBNMass.org, lists all of these activities.
What is your Local First program all about?
It’s a network program that’s currently in Cambridge, Somerville, Belmont, Watertown, Jamaica Plain, Newton/ Needham, Brookline and Worcester. We launch hyper-local nonprofits in these communities that work to promote local businesses, nonprofits and artisans, connecting them with citizens and consumers and encouraging local trade to create vibrant communities and economies. The networks create their own boards and staffs and make their own decisions but we are affiliated with them and provide support. There’s also a lot of cross-collaboration between the networks.
How is SBN membership these days?
It’s amazing. Everything that we’re doing is gaining in momentum every day. In the last several months we’ve had an influx of new members joining the network. More and more people are coming to the Boston Local Food Festival each year and more businesses are reaching out and wanting to get certified as Sustainable Business Leaders. The local and sustainable food movement has also grown tremendously in the last few years and it’s one of the fastest-growing sectors of the state economy.
Right now more than 100 businesses are SBN members and we recently launched a B2B Networking Group, in which business leaders and entrepreneurs work together to not only grow their own companies, but also support each other. It gives each business owner a whole new group of spokespersons to promote what they have to offer. We also organize the longest-running Sustainable Business Conference and a Sustainability Leadership Summit, which allows business leaders to collaborate on projects and programs that lead to great innovations. Our members can meet monthly in entrepreneur groups, too, and the networking and exchange opportunities increase exponentially as we grow. There’s been a huge boom in the sustainable business movement and I think people are really seeing the upside of working to strengthen local economies.