Last week, Green For All partnered with University of Phoenix to host a workshop designed to give San Francisco Bay Area small businesses the tools they need to grow and succeed.
Dozens of small business owners and entrepreneurs came together in Oakland Thursday, December 6 to learn about running and funding green businesses, how to work with government agencies, and how to effectively pitch business ideas.
One question that participants grappled with was what it means to create a truly sustainable and socially responsible business, and how to make a profit in the process. Several local experts shared their perspectives as part of a panel on sustainability and local resources.
Alison von Schlieder, president of Net Impact’s San Francisco chapter, noted that we still have a long ways to go before we perfect the model for businesses that benefit people and the planet. “There’s no such thing yet as a truly sustainable business,” she said. “But companies are doing amazing things.” Transparency, she noted, is really important, and is something companies like Clif Bar are using in an effort to become truly sustainable.
Zakiya Harris, who co-founded Hub Oakland—a resource for entrepreneurs, innovators, and change agents—said the ultimate goal of the sustainable business movement is to make it so pervasive that we don’t have to think about it anymore. “Our work is about eliminating the word ‘green’ in front of ‘business.’ Every business should be that way,” she said. She added that equity is a key ingredient in building a better business world. “You can have sustainable businesses treating the planet and workers right, but if we’re going to address inequality, we need to push the envelope more,” she said.
Regina Dick-Endrizzi, executive director of San Francisco’s Office of Small Business noted the importance of incentives in helping support and grow businesses. The city is working to incentivize and recruit more sustainable and socially-responsible businesses to the city through efforts like a payroll tax credit, she said.
Melissa Antone, Director of Sustainability for the University of Phoenix, noted that the movement towards local business is becoming more and more important. “We globalized. Now we need to localize,” she said.
Andy Fyfe, of B Lab, which works to build a community of certified Benefit Corporations, noted that consumers are hungry for truly sustainable and socially responsible businesses, but it can be confusing to identify them as greenwashing becomes more widespread. “Consumers want to chase better brands. They want to vote with their dollars, but sometimes it’s hard to trust what businesses are saying,” he said. He pointed out that businesses have begun to take sustainability to the next level by looking at their own investors’ portfolios to make sure they’re responsible, too.
When asked for advice for entrepreneurs looking to build their own sustainable and socially-responsible businesses, the panelists urged them to plan, be prepared to adapt, and be ready to bounce back from setbacks.
Another key, Harris noted, is getting out of your comfort zone. “Successful people are used to being uncomfortable,” she said. “You need to get into rooms with people who aren’t the choir.”
These panelists, and the green entrepreneurs at the Business Academy, are part of a rapidly-expanding Bay Area movement that is creating a better world through more responsible business. The Oakland Business Academy was the 11th in a series of events that Green For All and University of Phoenix have hosted across the country to help entrepreneurs and small businesses grow and prosper, with a focus on underserved communities. The Green Business Academy series will continue in 2013 in cities across America.