Update from Cultivating Capital

Thanks for stopping by the Cultivating Capital Blog! You might have noticed that it’s a bit quiet over here. It’s not that I’ve stopped blogging. In fact, I’ve been blogging over at the Cultivating Capital marketing blog: CC Marketing Online. Some of the topics that I blog about over there include SEO, business blogging, making the most of your business website, and other things related to marketing your business online.

The Cultivating Capital site will be redesigned soon to make it easier to share with you information to help you green your business and market it online. In the meantime, please visit CC Marketing Online and stay in touch!



The Sustainability Progression for East Bay Businesses

Green earth

© Mopic | Dreamstime.com

As a business owner in the East Bay, you are in a unique position with the sustainability options available to you.

There’s a sustainability progression that is available to East Bay businesses, and each step along the way provides an opportunity for you to establish a solid sustainability foundation for your business:

  1. Get started on going green – everyone has to start somewhere, and making sure that you cover the basics is a good first step.
  2. Work on Green Business Certification – meet the third-party standards of the Alameda County Green Business Program, which addresses energy efficiency, water conservation, pollution prevention, and waste reduction.
  3. Work on B Corp Certification – build upon your environmental efforts through B Corp Certification, a national certification for companies that harness the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.
  4. Go beyond and blaze a trail for other triple-bottom line businesses – this is the new territory in which you join other companies that are breaking new ground in reimagining business for the 21st century.

It could be argued that business owners everywhere have access to this same sustainability progression. However, there are a few features that make the East Bay unique:

  1. Getting started – an abundance of resources exist here that facilitate the process of getting started in the greening process. Looking for free energy audits? Both Smart Lights and the BEST program serve Alameda County. Interested in recycling options? Stopwaste.org can assist with everything from setting up recycling programs to figuring out how to properly dispose of almost anything you can imagine. Would you like to network with other green business owners? Both the Sustainable Business Alliance and the Green Chamber of Commerce can facilitate that. The list of resources to help you go green that we have available here is quite extensive!
  2. Green Business Certification – the Alameda County Green Business Program is a robust program with over 500 certified businesses. The program sets clear standards for certification and has developed strong partnerships with utilities and municipalities throughout the county that support the program. In addition, certified businesses go through an audit process that ensures that their practices meet the program standards, which strengthens the credibility for this program over others that forgo confirmation of a company’s practices.
  3. B Corp Certification – while B Corps exist throughout the US and Canada, the East Bay is home to many B Corps, including Give Something Back, Green Retirement Plans, Numi Tea, Free Range Studios, Cutting Edge Capital, Sungevity, Wendel Rosen, and Scientific Certification Systems, to name just a few. Plus, the West Coast B Corp staff office is just across the Bay in San Francisco. The combination of a local office and numerous certified businesses results in an active community that can provide support to new B Corps.
  4. Go beyond the Bay Area is a hub of activity right now around sustainable business, social entrepreneurship, impact investing, clean tech, green building, progressive legislation, and numerous other factors that are paving the way towards new models for the socially and environmentally responsible businesses of the future. If any company is interested in pushing the boundaries of old business models and trying something new and innovative, this is the time and place to do it.

Do you own a business in the East Bay? Where are you in this progression?


California Passes Benefit Corporation and Green Business Legislation!

Over the weekend, Governor Brown signed two important pieces of legislation that will help to advance socially and environmentally responsible businesses in the state: AB 361 and AB 913.

AB 361: Benefit Corporations

With AB 361, California joins a growing list of states that now recognize Benefit Corporations. The bill was introduced by Assemblymember Jared Huffman and creates a “new, entirely voluntary type of corporate entity to let California businesses balance the pursuit of corporate profits with environmental and social goals.” Under current state law, corporations are required to prioritize profit and financial interests. Benefit corporations are different in that they allow corporations to give equal consideration to social and environmental interests instead of just to financial profit. This is a significant step that gives triple bottom line businesses legal recognition in California.

AB 913: California Green Business Program

AB 913 requires the Depart of Toxic Substances Control to establish a California Green Business Program. Under the Hazardous Waste Source Reduction and Management Review Act of 1989, the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) is already required to establish a program for hazardous waste reduction. AB 913 requires that, as part of implementing its source reduction program, the DTSC develop:

“A California Green Business Program that provides for the voluntary certification of businesses that adopt environmentally preferable business practices, including but not limited to, increased energy efficiency, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, promotion of water conservation, and reduced waste generation.”

Green and Sustainable Businesses: Onward and Upward!

Taken together, these two pieces of legislation can have a significant impact on businesses that want to incorporate the triple bottom line into their business practices. AB 913 will provide additional resources to the many small businesses in the state that want to go green but may need guidance and support in order to do so. AB 361 will give corporations that are ready to adopt a new corporate form that better reflects their social and environmental mission an option for legally doing so. Both the creation of a statewide Green Business Program and the new Benefit Corporation entity will also help consumers to distinguish between businesses that make green claims versus those that either meet green business certification standards and/or incorporate social and environmental interests into their legal framework. It should also be noted that both Benefit Corporation status and Green Business Certification are entirely voluntary.

Additional information about AB 361: Benefit Corporation legislation and the Green Business Program is available on the blog.


Sustainability for One Small Business

When I started Cultivating Capital, I wanted to create a company that would not just help others to become more sustainable, but would also incorporate the best sustainable business practices. After all, if we are to reimagine business for the 21st century, we can’t just set up and operate our companies in the traditional way.

Supporting Companies with Shared Values Small business sustainability on main street

Most of the companies that I’ve worked with are B Corps or Certified Green Businesses. When it comes to defining what it means to actually be a green or sustainable business, there are few agreed-upon standards, which makes it easy for a business to call itself green even if it isn’t. However, Certified Green Businesses have met local standards in the Bay Area for environmental responsibility, and B Corps have met national standards for social and environmental responsibility. I know that these companies share my social and environmental values and have been vetted by reputable, third-party organizations. If we are to transition to an economy that supports local, sustainable businesses that minimize their environmental impact and give back to local communities, we need to support those businesses financially. This means making conscious choices about how we spend our business dollars and remembering that every dollar spent is a vote in favor of a company’s practices.

With that in mind, below is a list of some of the things that I’ve done and suppliers I’ve used to help Cultivating Capital be more sustainable:

  • LLC Filing & Legal Services: Katovitch Law Group, a local Certified Green Business and B Corp in Oakland. We specified in the LLC operating agreement that due consideration would be given to the company’s effects on stakeholders and the environment. This ensures that the triple bottom line of “people, planet, and profit” is in the DNA of Cultivating Capital (it’s also the legal framework for B Corps).
  • Business Banking: Mechanics Bank, a local community bank. One of the most important decisions that any of us can make around sustainability is deciding where we put our money. We may want to create jobs in our local community and support local, green businesses, but if we then give our hard-earned money to big banks that do not act in the best interests of that community, we actually undermine our best efforts.
  • Business Cards: Greenerprinter, a local Certified Green Business and B Corp. Beyond using recycled paper, Greenerprinter has implemented progressive practices within the printing industry, and offers high-quality printing at competitive prices. [Full disclosure: I was a Greenerprinter employee for two years.]
  • Business Insurance: Avail Insurance, a local Certified Green Business based in Berkeley.
  • Office Space: Cultivating Capital is based at the Hub, a progressive co-working space that attracts people working on “solutions for a better world.” The Hub is located in the David Brower Center, a LEED certified building in Berkeley and itself a Certified Green Business in Alameda County.
  • Office Purchases: Most of my office supplies come from Alko Office Supply, a local, independent business in Berkeley just around the corner from the Brower Center.
  • Transportation: With the excellent public transit system that we have in the Bay Area, I rarely drive anymore. BART can usually get me anywhere I need to go. In addition to reducing emissions and avoiding the traffic congestion on Bay Area freeways, there’s the added benefit of being able to use the time in transit productively to get work done.

Of course, this isn’t to say that I’ve done everything that I can to make Cultivating Capital the kind of company that I want it to be! These are simply the first steps that I took when I started the business; I just didn’t feel that I could honestly say that I wanted to create a triple bottom line, sustainable business if I created a traditional LLC, banked at Bank of America, printed my business cards at Vistaprint, and purchased my office supplies at Staples. But there’s still a lot more that I’d like to do. Here are some projects that are on deck:

  • Green Business and B Corp Certification: I would be remiss if I didn’t adhere to the very standards that I most respect for sustainable businesses! As a result, Cultivating Capital is currently going through the auditing process for Green Business Certification in Alameda County, and I’ve begun the process to become a Certified B Corporation (the first step of which is to take the Impact Assessment). [I'm also a Green Business Consultant with the Alameda County Green Business Program, but my business is, of course, subject to the same standards and auditing process as any other business.]
  • Giving back to the community: Currently I volunteer on the Board of the Sustainable Business Alliance, but I would like to identify other ways in which Cultivating Capital can give back to the community, including perhaps donating a percentage of profits to a local non-profit or making a micro-loan to an entrepreneur through Kiva.
  • Local, green web hosting: This was a tough one. I had wanted to use a locally owned, green web hosting service but for practical purposes, it was easier to use the hosting service that my web designer used; fortunately, his choice (Servint) has implemented some green initiatives, but I would still prefer to use a local service. This is one area that I’m hoping to change at some point in the future.

It’s important to remember that what it means to be a sustainable business is still being defined: “Make my business sustainable” is not something that can just be checked off a list! Rather, it’s an ongoing, evolving process of continual improvement. Nevertheless, that’s a rundown about what I’ve done so far to make Cultivating Capital a sustainable small business. I’d love to hear about what you’ve done in the comments.

Green Business Certification in Alameda County


If you offer a green product or service, it’s important to also incorporate green initiatives into your own business. That’s why I’ve enrolled Cultivating Capital in the Bay Area Green Business Program.

The Bay Area Green Business Program was launched in 1996 and serves to “distinguish small businesses that protect, preserve and sustain our environment.” It operates in all nine Bay Area counties and has certified over 2200 businesses. The program is unique in that it is coordinated by the Association of Bay Area Governments and has partnerships with cities, utilities, and environmental agencies.

Why Should You Get Certified?

Going through the Green Business certification process can help you in different ways. First, you can identify opportunities for reducing expenses through implementing water and energy conservation measures, among other things. Second, you’ll be able to differentiate from your competitors who either may not be green or may not have the third-party certification to support their claims. And of course, there’s the satisfaction of knowing that you’re doing your part as a responsible business owner to reduce your environmental impact!

As more businesses go green, it’s becoming increasingly important to be able to verify the claims you make about how your business is sustainable. Indeed, if you market your business as green, you should be aware that the FTC is revising its Green Guides and that there are guidelines regarding the claims that you can and cannot make. As part of this, the FTC is cracking down on rogue certifications that are effectively worthless. Receiving third-party certification can be an asset to your business, but only if it comes from a reputable organization; aside from the Green Business Program, B Corp certification is also worth looking at. [Full disclosure: As a Green Business Consultant with Alameda County, I assist businesses that are going through the certification process.]

The Green Business Certification Process

The process for getting certified is simple. You can enroll online by filling out a short form. After you enroll, you will need to fill out an online checklist. The checklist consists of six sections: Solid Waste, Energy, Water, Pollution Prevention, Wastewater, and General, and in each section you will need to indicate if you are performing both required and additional measures. The final step after you submit your checklist will be to coordinate on-site audits.

For an overview of ways to cut costs and emissions in your office, you might be interested in this previous post about “Going Green in Alameda County,” which features an interview with Alameda County Green Business Program Coordinator Pamela Evans.

Why Your Small Business Needs to Go Green & Market Online

Isn’t one of the ongoing challenges of being a business owner just keeping up with the changes around you?

Your customers are constantly looking for a better value, your competitors don’t let up for a moment, the technology you’re used to becomes obsolete quickly, and you need to run your business while also trying to have some balance with your personal life. No wonder you’re so busy!

However, keeping up with changes becomes especially important in this day and age. In particular, there are two recent developments that have changed the landscape of business and that will affect you now and in the future. All businesses, large and small, will need to incorporate these into their overall strategy in order to be successful in the 21st century. These two changes are the need to become more sustainable and to effectively leverage online and social media marketing.

By now, you probably know that going green and marketing online are important. The question is: are you doing both effectively? Consider that 46% of small businesses don’t have a website (still!) and many businesses are still learning how to integrate sustainability into their overall strategy and operations. If you’re focused on just surviving in the present, you’re missing out on gaining a competitive edge for the future.

If you go green but don’t market, you may not generate enough sales to make your business profitable. Most customers, including older Baby Boomers, are now going online for information. Without an online presence, your business simply can’t be found. Without social media, it’s harder to connect with and educate your customers.

If you market but don’t go green, you will be at a disadvantage in several ways. First, your expenses may be higher than those of competitors who have implemented green practices such as conserving water and energy, which can directly benefit your bottom line. Second, you may be missing out on potential customers who are factoring environmental considerations into their purchases. And finally, you may be unprepared for how changes such as increases in gasoline prices may affect the shipping of your products.

Ultimately, the best way to ensure that your business will survive and thrive for the long-term is to integrate sustainability and the triple-bottom line into your business and market yourself online effectively.

Going Green in Alameda County

We are fortunate in the Bay Area to have a well-developed green business program. The Bay Area Green Business Program includes Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, and Sonoma Counties. San Francisco and Monterey also have Green Business Programs. Since 1996, over 2200 businesses have been certified.

In this short video segment hosted by Bill Roth of Earth 2017, Alameda County Green Business Coordinator Pamela Evans talks about “Best Practices for Cutting Costs and Emissions in an Office.” Tips and information for helping businesses to go green include:

  • What is the quickest way to reduce energy in your office?
  • What uses the most water in your office, and what can you do about it?
  • What is the number one reason that businesses go green in Alameda County?

If you’re interested in pursuing Green Business Certification, you can visit the California Green Business Program website and enroll online.

5 Resources for Small Green Business News & Information

News sources for small green businessesLet’s face it: a lot of the sites for green news tend to focus more on large businesses. The blogosphere is overflowing with posts about everything from Pepsico’s ongoing effort to develop a quieter, compostable Sunchips bag and to the sustainability efforts of companies like WalMart and GE.

It is important for us to understand how large corporations are undertaking and reporting on their green initiatives. However, these sites often don’t address the issues that most small businesses are facing when it comes to going green. Most small business owners aren’t writing CSR reports, implementing sustainability initiatives across multiple business units, or developing sustainability scorecards for suppliers. Instead, the business owners I’ve spoken with are trying to figure out how to grow their business with limited financial and human resources, while also trying to do right by people and the planet.

With that in mind, here are five resources for green news and information that are relevant to small businesses:

  1. Greenbiz: As “the business voice of the green economy,” Greenbiz is one of the best all-around sources for green business news. The content is overwhelmingly focused on corporate news, but there is a section that specifically focuses on small business.
  2. Green Marketing TV: The mission of Green Marketing TV is to inspire individuals to participate in the green economy. From interviews with entrepreneurs to a series of posts about unique green business ideas, the website provides solid information and resources.
  3. New York Times: The standard-bearer of news publications that provides “all the news that’s fit to print,” (or, in this day and age, “all the news that’s fit to publish online”) has not missed a beat in keeping up with the times. Within its “Business Day” section is a section on “Small Business,” and within that, you’ll find the small business sustainability news.
  4. Small Business Trends: This award-winning site is a great resource for all small business owners. Posts on the site are written by their Small Business Experts and cover topics ranging from marketing to financial management. While it’s not updated too regularly, they do have a Green Business category that provides some helpful posts.
  5. Triple Pundit: This new media site focuses on triple bottom line businesses that value people, planet, and profit. Although it covers its share of corporate news, its comprehensive coverage of all things related to green business on its website is helpful for small business owners as well.

With all of the information out there, I’m sure that there’s a few sites that aren’t on this list. What would you add?

What is Sustainability?

There are various definitions of sustainability. One of the most commonly accepted definitions comes from a 1987 UN Conference: “Sustainability is the ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” This sounds good, but what does it really mean?

What is sustainability?

Meeting the Needs of the Present

Think for a moment about our most basic needs: food, water, and shelter. Traditionally throughout human history, these were provided on a local, moderate scale. Food was grown locally, water came from a clean local source such as a river, and shelter was modest. In recent decades, however, this has completely changed.

Now, our food is mass-produced on huge farms using pesticides and then transported halfway around the world, which has resulted in the displacement of small farmers, pollution from pesticides, and significant energy requirements from the transportation alone. Our water supplies are strained as a result of increased demand from growing populations and reduced supply from the pollution of our waterways. Finally, the size of our shelter has increased as well: the average American home has increased in size from 983 square feet in 1950 to 2,434 square feet in 2005. These homes require great amounts of energy to heat and to cool, not to mention the amount of resources used in building them in the first place.

Beyond food, water, and shelter, it’s worthwhile to look at our wants in addition to our needs. We want to have the latest electronics and gadgets, the latest fashions, the latest cars, etc. – all of which require raw materials and energy to produce, transport, and maintain, and most of which will ultimately end up in landfills. Multiply this by 300 million people in the U.S. alone, and you can begin to see how this can create a strain on a planet that has never in its history had to produce so much for so many people.

Sustainability: Beyond Green

Although sustainability is often thought of as “going green,” it actually goes beyond that. Green can be limited to environmental issues such as reducing our carbon emissions, conserving water, and minimizing waste. These are, of course, all important activities that are needed for us to work and live within the natural limits of the planet.

Sustainability, however, challenges us to look at both social and environmental impacts. When the air and water are polluted, those are not just environmental issues – they are public health issues for the people who will breathe that air and drink that water. When development expands into isolated areas, the effects go beyond just the loss of forests and habitat destruction – it’s a cultural issue for indigenous people who may lose their traditional way of life. When oil spills occur, the effects aren’t limited to the loss of animal life and damage to ecosystems – they are a blow to local communities and people whose livelihoods are threatened.

By examining more closely the interactions among our economic activity, our environmental impacts, and our social impacts, we can begin to understand how sustainability is, ultimately, a much more holistic and comprehensive way of looking at our lives and understanding the world in which we live.

The Implications of Sustainability for Business

This is why the triple bottom line has emerged as an important concept in sustainable business. The triple bottom line takes into account that every business needs to be financially profitable – the traditional “bottom line” of business. In addition to this, it takes into consideration the environmental impact as a result of business operations (such as its use of energy and water) and its social impact as well (such as its treatment of employees and people in the local community). The idea is that for a business to be sustainable in the long-term, it will need to be profitable in a way that operates within natural limits and respects the well-being of people affected by the business. In short, it will need to factor people, planet, and profit into all business considerations.

This is not a perfect model, of course, and many businesses large and small are struggling to adapt to it. After all, it goes against traditional business practices, which have focused solely on maximizing profits. On a positive note, there are interesting and innovative models emerging that are helping to pave the way for sustainable business, such as B Corps.

Sustainability can actually be quite complex and is subject to different interpretations. How would you define sustainability? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

AB 361: Benefit Corporation Legislation Introduced in CA

The state of California recently became another in the growing list of states to consider Benefit Corporation legislation. Introduced by Assemblymember Jared Huffman of the 6th Assembly District, representing Marin and southern Sonoma County, the legislation proposes establishing a new type of corporation in the state.

Assemblymember Jared Huffman’s website explains the proposed legislation:AB 361: Benefit Corp legislation - B Corp logo

AB 361 – Benefit Corporations: This bill creates a new type of corporation for a new type of corporate social responsibility. Current law requires corporations to prioritize financial interests and shareholder profits. This bill creates a new, entirely voluntary type of corporate entity to let California businesses balance the pursuit of corporate profits with environmental and social goals. “Benefit Corporations” would operate under a broadened definition of fiduciary duty that allows business leaders, shareholders, and employees to include environmental stewardship and community development as part of their companies’ mission – people, planet, and profit.

The ability to incorporate consideration of people, planet, profit – the triple bottom line – will allow Benefit Corporations to move past the limited focus on pursuit of financial profit, regardless of social and environmental impact. Instead, Benefit Corporations will be able to focus on making a financial profit while also being socially and environmentally responsible.

This follows on the heels of increasing momentum for Benefit Corporations nationwide:

  • Maryland and Vermont became the first states to pass legislation last year.
  • New Jersey and Virginia are awaiting the governor’s signature; legislation in both states has passed the state Senate and Assembly and both houses of the General Assembly, respectively.
  • Colorado, Hawaii, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania have all introduced legislation this year.

The B Corp website provides a complete list of Benefit Corporation legislation on their public policy page.

If you’re interested in learning more about B Corporations, the post “What Are B Corps?” contains some helpful background information.