Published December 21, 2010
Volume 18, Number 12

Learn How to Improve Your Profits While Greening Your Business in a Sustainability Circle

Sustainability initiatives in the business arena are becoming more and more common. For example, several retail giants have imposed mandates on their suppliers to reduce packaging materials. While larger companies have the wherewithal to hire consultants and specialists to guide them on this path, mid-size and smaller operations typically have fewer resources. For them, adopting sustainable business practices might seem out of reach.

Actually, however, shrinking a company's carbon footprint can have a very productive financial outcome, advises Elliot Hoffman, a pioneer in the small business and social responsibility movement. A founder of San Francisco's Just Desserts back in the 1970s, Hoffman is now a co-founder of Natural Capitalism, Inc., which has developed an innovative sustainability/profit improvement curriculum for small and mid-size businesses delivered through training programs called Sustainability Circles.

A few years ago, Hoffman ran into L. Hunter Lovins, co-author of “Natural Capitalism: The Next Industrial Revolution” and a Newsweek-dubbed Green Business Icon, at the Presidio School of Management, an accredited MBA programs with the core thread of sustainability. With other like-minded colleagues they resolved to bring the principles of sustainability to smaller businesses. Reasoning that the only way to do so was by directing their appeal to the bottom line, they established Natural Capitalism, Inc., as the vehicle to make this new way of operating affordable and accessible for their target audience.

The Sustainability Circles “bring together two designated representatives from up to eight companies for a full day of training once a month,” Hoffman explains. The six-month long program is led by dedicated coaches and subject-matter experts who take the group through a very specific curriculum with practical and implementable ideas in areas like lighting, HVAC, waste, water, office equipment, business travel, and employee transit.

A big issue is how to get people to change their behavior, not just their thinking. “For example, there is so much waste in electricity consumption ,” Hoffman points out. “If we just focused on energy efficiency, we could increase the national energy supply by 40 per cent without changing our lifestyle and we'd save huge amounts of money.”

The unique approach of the Sustainability Circle “builds a sense of community and promotes a fantastic exchange of ideas.” A year of beta testing has generated as much as $200,000 in savings for individual participants, Hoffman reports.

Having attended the first beta Circle, Daniel Smith, Director of the Operations Services Department for the City of Pleasanton, is very enthusiastic about the contribution the program will make toward building “a strong culture of sustainability throughout the Tri-Valley.” A key factor is the variety of businesses represented and the ongoing relationships they establish.

“We are trying to promote the Sustainability Circles to other businesses. I know that in these economic times, it is difficult to spend the money, but those attending will make it back many times over,” Smith comments. His colleague Laura Ryan, the City’s Manager of Energy and Sustainability, has signed up for the next full session, which starts in Pleasanton in January.

“We would love to do a circle in Hacienda, which has such a rich diversity of businesses,” Hoffman states. To that end he is offering to hold a few two-hour “tastings,” no-charge previews of the program, for up to 15 tenants at a time early next year. “To move the world in a positive direction, many believe it has to be through business, the dominant force on the planet,” he emphasizes.

For more information, contact Hoffman at (415) 412-2237 or at ellioth@natcapinc.com.


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