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.

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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.

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