Rethink, Refresh, Rebound…The Sustainable Enterprise Conference 2015

Submitted by JENNIFER ANN GORDON

I was planning to write an article with all the details of the Sustainable Enterprise Conference on April 30 in Rohnert Park, Sonoma County, California at the Net Zero community, Sonoma Mountain Village, but I don’t want to do that. The details can be found elsewhere.

Instead, I want to share my feelings and the inspiration that found me at the conference. I want to share that very smart, caring people from the public, private and education sectors are working incredibly hard together to create a sustainable future with great (and profitable) results. I am eager to reveal that many big companies, such as Traditional Medicinals, Patagonia, and Guayaki Yerba Matte Tea, and thousands of small companies, too, are making sure that no one is harmed in the making of their products. The conference traveled far beyond “damage control” of the environment and its peoples to designing and building a good way to take care of people, grow businesses, and value our resources.

Everything We Need

I became increasingly excited as the conference unfurled.  Mine was a simple epiphany: The collective intelligence, heart, understanding, social and intellectual capital, technology, humanity, experience, passion, ideas, science, words, and everything else we need to create sustainable enterprises are right here, right now. We’ve had it all along, but the urgency to act is causing many to step it up.  

B Corps

I am excited to have learned that even as big a corporation as Unilever is becoming increasingly sustainable and moving toward becoming the new category of corporation, a Benefit or ‘B’ Corporation. In case the term is new to you, a “B Corp is to business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee or USDA Organic certification is to milk. B Corps are certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards for social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.” Source: www.bcorporation.net.

In Awe and Motivated

But let’s begin at the end. While most conferences have left me feeling “peopled out,” drained and asking myself, “What of value did I really glean from this event?,” I left the Sustainable Enterprise Conference inspired, uplifted, in awe, and motivated to do my part. I left feeling more knowledgeable and aware of the very real potential of business to benefit people, the planet and profitability.

“Business is the vehicle to end climate change and to bring about equality/income.”

—Traditional Medicinals

And I left feeling secure that there are people who have stepped up to the plate and have accepted the position of humble steward of the environment, and who are teaching others to do the same.

An Invitation to the Conversation

There was, however, one expected element missing from the Sustainable Enterprise Conference: blame. There were no hatred, angry rants, disparaging comments about “those who don’t give a damn,” or hopelessness and fatalism that we’re all going to hell in a handbasket as far as the planet is concerned.

“There are signs that sustainability is making it into the mainstream.”

—Charlie Stauffer, PR, Nordex Wind Farms

Also noticeably absent was moral superiority or a “them and us” attitude. The conference was a “we”event. An invitation. All-inclusive. There was nothing anti-establishment or hippydippy about it. It was a confluence of manufacturing, education, technology, communication, business, finance, and resource management innovation. In fact, the conference was the most innovative event I’ve ever attended, even more so than a conference a couple of years ago on innovation!

The Company We Keep

When is the last time that you kept company with people who were 100% solutions oriented? People who continually ask, “How can we educate, connect, inspire, bring out the best behavior in everyone? How can we show that being more environmentally sustainable and paying acute attention to people’s wellbeing can yield the same or better outcomes for the company, the people and the planet?”

“The old, loveless ways don’t work anymore.”

—Tim Sanders

The best route is most often not the shortest. Enterprises of all shapes, sizes, and industries are proving that it pays to pay attention to a company’s every touch point. The conference was chalked full of living, profitable examples that sustainability is good for everyone.

Seeing and Being Differently

This conference changed everything for me. A serial entrepreneur, I am beginning to see and be differently. I am much more conscious that every penny I spend is a vote as to how we do things. A professional communicator, I no longer want to write for just any company. I want to write for and about successful, sustainable enterprises that do good, not evil. I want to be a Sustainability Storyteller. No, nothing is the same. Thank goodness! I examine my assets and resources through different lenses now.

Resiliency and Collaboration

 “Resiliency” cropped up everywhere at the conference. Resilient … springing back … rebounding … returning to the original form or position after being bent, compressed, or stretched … recovering readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like … buoyant.

Resilient design. Resilient economy. Resilient investors and investments. It really does take an entire village—scientists, educators, forward thinking entrepreneurs, environmentalists, financial institutions, corporations, communicators, and many, many others—to design, refine and align our personal and collective attitudes and practices with sustainability. It takes collaboration.  

Investing in the World We Want

One of the most radical aspects of the conference was the representation by sustainable finance companies. In the kickoff keynote, Investing in the World We Want, Marco Vangelisti, founder of Essential Knowledge for Transition, illustrated just how unsustainable the finance model of Return-Risk-Liquidity is and called it the “narrow lens of conventional finance,” He said that the Return-Risk-Liquidity model was born of greed and fear.

“It’s very difficult to make a man understand something, when his salary depends on not understanding.”

—Upton Sinclair

Vangelisti shared that the dissemination of forests was the type of transformation that impelled him to leave the finance industry. He said that the financial industry’s quest for “perfect assets for perpetuity is not a right afforded to trees. According to finance, a tree is worth more dead than it is alive.”

Financial Intensity

“There is too much capital floating around the world, and it’s all created by debt,” Vangelisti said. “We have too much money around the world, and that money is not as real as we think … we already have more [fossil fuels] than we can burn …” Vangelisti explained that we don’t take our Natural Capital into consideration, but treat nature “as a business in liquidation.”  He referred to himself as an “Angel Divestor,” investing in local businesses, with most of his investment being in food and farming.

Empathy and Biophilia

What if we were to think differently? Vangelisti urged the audience members to ask themselves, “What would my portfolio look like if empathy and biophilia [a love of life and the living world; the affinity of human beings for other life forms] were its drivers?” Vangelisti ended his startling keynote with a call to action: “Assess your net worth. Take 1% of your money and invest it in one of the businesses here today. Then email me and tell me about it.”

The Future of Water

The public, education and private sectors converged for the panel conversation on The Future of Water—Cordell Stillman, Deputy Chief Engineer of Sonoma County Water Agency; Claudia Luke, Director of Sonoma State University Preserves; and Eppa Rixey, Strategic Planning Manager of Lagunitas Brewing Company.

Ninety-five Percent!

The challenge of educating children and adults in ways to evoke behavioral change arose repeatedly. Sonoma County, the county in which the conference took place, is an award-winning water conservator and has a robust water education program in its elementary schools. Ninety-five percent of Sonoma County’s citizens support having environmental education programs in the schools.

“Water is the foundation of everything we make and everything we know.”

—Claudia Luke

 Luke said, “Americans are, by and large, uninformed and misinformed. The challenge is that students entering college have had very little contact with the natural world.”  Luke shared that partnerships of the public, private and education sectors that encourage investigation, outdoor learning, and place-based learning are key. To accelerate water education, Sonoma State University’s (SSU) Water Collaborative links faculty advancement to community engagement. SSU also offers Watershed Year, a freshman course founded by the National Science Center for Sustainable Communities.

Water Management Innovation

Sometimes innovation means using existing technologies and resources differently…connecting previously unconnected dots. Water management is complex. Surface water, recycled water, groundwater and water conservation all need to be addressed. “Groundwater plays an important role in building resiliency,” said Stillman. Sonoma County Water Agency’s strategy includes: Combining storm water management and groundwater recharge; a groundwater banking schematic, which includes aquifer, storage and recovery; and forecast-informed reservoir operations.

Same Quality. Same Output. A lot less water.

Rixey of Lagunitas Brewing Company in Petaluma shared two vital water-aspects of beer making: water quality and water availability. The majority of the brewery’s costs are tied to wastewater, rather than incoming water. For example, Lagunitas spends $26k per month on incoming water and $180k per month on wastewater removal. They analyzed their processes to see where water is being wasted. And they reduced their wastewater loading by 70% using Cambian Innovation’s EcoVolt technology. They’ll recoup their multi-million dollar investment in 1.5 years. Not bad. Win/win. Save money. Use less water. Create less wastewater. And achieve the same or greater high-quality output.

In Conclusion …

This very long article is only the tip of the conference-berg. I could write a tome. There were many astounding keynotes, boardroom sessions, and 10-minute breakouts. The entire day was abuzz with productive conversations among new and old friends.

The Sustainable Enterprise Conference, now in its tenth year, exuded sustainability through every pore. In addition to overseeing the other aspects of the conference, Oren Wool, Conference Director, made certain that all the finer details were lovingly attended to. The meals were organic, fresh and delicious. The wine and beer were superb, along with the tea provided by Guayaki. Gary Tharler, LMT, of Touch and Go Massage (corporate massage) provided free neck and shoulder massages. A fabulous trade show that covered everything from Sunspeed Enterprises,a company building solar-powered Electric Vehicle charging stations along Highway 1, to RSF Social Financecompany and Christopher Peck, one of the authors of the The Resilient Investor: A Plan for Your Life, Not Just Your Money…and more.

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JENNIFER ANN GORDON
Smart and Simple Writing & Editing

P.S. A Few More Morsels from the Conference

  • Trending: a flight to quality and a demand for transparency
  •  “We have to be resilient and rigorous in how we maintain our focus.”— (Traditional Medicinals)
  • Sustainability is where the environment, social and economics intersect.
  • There are 18 million companies in U.S. and 90% of them have 1-100 employees.
  • “80% of life is just showing up.” (Traditional Medicinals)
  • Top 2 issues: Income equality and climate change
  • “We are each the problem and we are each the solution.” (Traditional Medicinals)
  • “Who must do the really hard work? Those who can. Can you?” (Traditional Medicinals)
  • Website: SustainableInnovations.com
  • Book: The Good Companyby Robert Girling, PhD, cofounder of the Sustainable Enterprise Conference. (And stay tuned for Dr. Girling’s forthcoming book, The Good Company in Hospitality, Tourism and Wine.)
  •  “We’ve streamlined everything we do and have almost no waste because we’re ‘really cheap,’ and want to keep costs down. Little things make a huge difference.” (Tara Sharp, Sonic).
  •  “Constantly be questioning and evaluating everything you eat and pay for. Every time you purchase something, you’re voting/investing.” (Tara Sharp, Sonic)
  • “We’re the little company that’s trying to disrupt the space that’s screwing everyone over.”(Tara Sharp on Sonic)
  • “We’re too happy, too comfortable. We’re in a bubble. Step out. People are still very disconnected from it [sustainability, the environment, the reality] and we have to make the connection stronger.” (Charlie Stauffer, Nordex Wind Farms)
  • “Everybody should be nice. Our entire culture is about being nice. The culture of nice. The impact of ‘nice’ is astounding.”(Tara Sharp, Sonic)
  • Mobile App: GoodGuide