Growing a Green Economy
By Dave Cocchiarella
It sometimes seems sustainability can be a shot in the dark. What does it look like to achieve sustainability? Is it a destination or is it a journey? Is it black or is it white? Does it have to come with a splash of red?
For most businesses, achieving sustainability is a bit of a moving target.
Messaging is easy enough. “We are committed to sustainability,” proclaimed loudly and often by major corporations around the world. But, what does that really mean and, more importantly, what does it look like? It can’t possibly look the same for every business, organization or government entity.
It’s an easy mandate to make. “XYZ Company needs to be more sustainable!” But, unlike other objectives, sustainability can be tough to quantify. Profitability? Subtract one column from the other. Increase output, decrease overhead, even the diversity of a workforce can be assessed with simple math.
CONTEXT AND PERSPECTIVE
But assessing sustainability is largely a matter of context and perspective. Asking three different regional sustainability subject matter experts what it means to be sustainable results in three remarkably different answers.
Jeff Benavides is vice president of innovation and strategic partnerships for 15 Lightyears. They are a building performance contractor providing green building and clean energy solutions for developers and homeowners.
He says sustainability is “operating day to day in order to be more cost effective, to conserve on resources, reduce waste, and improve the overall customer experience.”
City of Orlando Director of Sustainability Chris Castro says, “Sustainability seeks to enhance quality of life, reduce inequity, drive economic development and limit environmental impact.”
And Ken LaRoe, the founder and C.E.O of First Green Bancorp and regarded by many in the Central Florida business community as the “Godfather of Green” tells us we need to move beyond the word sustainability. “It’s not very compelling,” said LaRoe. “‘Sustainable’ means status quo. We need to be working toward regeneration. We need to start fixing stuff!”
SO WHAT IS IT?
How do we decide what sustainability really is, so we can start moving forward in that direction? It might seem all-American to simply put it to a vote. Not a bad idea; we vote on a lot of stuff.
Every four years we vote on the leader of the free world. The World Meteorological Organization votes on the names of tropical storms and hurricanes. And in 2006, the International Astronomical Union voted Pluto out of the solar system’s most exclusive club. By simple majority, Pluto is now a dwarf planet. Goofy is still a cartoon dog.
So, maybe voting on sustainability isn’t such a great idea. There have been some notable exceptions, but design by committee can completely complicate, rather than resolve, complex issues.
Perhaps sustainability is illusively undefinable. Not quite tangible, but still something to be savored. One of those “it’s more about the voyage and less about the destination” situations.
Chris Wilczewski is an applications specialist with Faro Technologies. He works with technology to reach new customers worldwide in order to reduce the economic and ecological costs associated with the typical sales cycle. “Sustainability is a journey, something that does not end as we always strive to use less, waste less and have less of an impact on the environment,” Wilczewski says.
Sustainability can’t necessarily be a goal set out by executives for subordinates to achieve. It’s more like a path upon which we follow our leaders. Achieving sustainability is not so much about telling others what they should be doing, but leading them in that direction.
Leadership is needed. But, not necessarily guidance from government. Legislated solutions to global concerns rarely result in happy endings. After all, sustainability is a dish best served willingly.
BUSINESS AS LEADERS OF CHANGE
Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said during the 2016 Economic Summit, “Achieving a more diverse, resilient, and thriving economy, while protecting and enhancing our environmental and cultural legacy requires businesses to be leaders of change.”
One such emerging leader in Central Florida is the Florida Green Chamber of Commerce (FGCC). A chapter of the U.S. Green Chamber of Commerce, the FGCC’s mission is to empower businesses and communities in Florida to grow through the achievement of three principles the organization calls the triple bottom line: economic, environmental and social sustainability.
The FGCC says it represents the voice of all Florida companies “understanding business success and sustainability go hand-in-hand, while shareholder value and social consciousness co-exist side-by-side and long-term profits and environmental stewardship are ultimately inseparable from one another.”
Jeff Benavides and his company, 15 Lightyears, are members of the FGCC and Florida Solar Energy Center. “In my eyes, the FGCC is simple. It is a group of business owners, company executives, employees, and advocates that have united with a common purpose,” he said,“to achieve economic development, but founded on a social well-being and environmental sustainability backbone.”
Helping Central Florida businesses have a backbone is the work of the FGCC.
The organization connects businesses, sharing ideas and resources while educating leaders and community members on sustainable concepts. They advocate at the local, county and state level for those pursuing social and environmental practices. Working to increase the visibility of “green” businesses and assist companies embracing innovation and transitioning to sustainable operations, the FGCC seeks to inspire Floridians to lead the charge on the “green movement.”
Wilczewski is the president of the Florida chapter of the FGCC. He says the chapter is continuing to grow and recently merged with Green Destination Orlando. “We are taking a multidirectional approach, working with different groups to exchange new ideas and ways to focus on challenges while working on changing politics,” he said.
“The goal is not to point out bad methods, but to help connect and learn, and then to focus on ways to improve in your own business.”
Members of the FGCC and other companies around Central Florida took part in the Central Florida Workplace Challenge in 2016. Organized with Green Destination Orlando and with support from the City of Orlando, the City of Winter Park, and Orange County Government, the Challenge asked organizations to look at how they do business and document the ways they incorporate either environmentally-responsible, employee-friendly or community-serving activities into their day-to-day operations.
The Challenge helped illustrate the manner in which individual businesses could be leaders in their own communities. Participants were asked to report the initiatives, incentives and policies that brought about healthier workplaces, limited environmental impact and enriched the local community through service. Members of the Florida Green Chamber of Commerce were among the winners in the three categories celebrating green, healthy and involved workplaces.
And while companies operating from a position of social and environmental responsibility serve as shining examples in our community, FGCC members had the additional goal of using the Challenge to show Central Florida companies that green can also be the “color of money.” Leadership in sustainability for the FGCC depends on all three pillars: social and environmental responsibility along with profitability for their members.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Experts say companies with an environmental view in their business strategy realize higher revenue, lower operational costs and healthier workplaces, while experiencing improved worker productivity and decreased absenteeism, as well as lowering insurance rates. Companies leading efforts toward sustainability can create more innovative and entrepreneurial cultures, as well as improved employee morale, creating positive feelings toward their employer and a strengthened bond with their co-workers. All of this adds outwardly to the organization’s reputation, attracting quality candidates while increasing employee retention, and helping to promote a positive public image.
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The FGCC is bringing together businesspeople from every sized company and from across Central Florida determined to benefit economically while working for the good of their community, their employees and their environments.
“Every person I meet in the FGCC inspires me with the projects they are working on or the business practices they have implemented to make their companies more sustainable and create a better workplace for their employees while reducing their environmental impacts,” said Benavides. “My mission is to integrate sustainability into day-to-day business practices at 15 Lightyears, and the FGCC provides a network of like-minded business owners and newcomers to share resources, share ideas, and share challenges so that we can all succeed.”