Green Chamber of Commerce Interview with Cultivating Capital

Green Chamber of Commerce

One of the organizations that is leading the way in advancing the green economy is the Green Chamber of Commerce. The Green Chamber of Commerce is a growing and diverse business network dedicated to:

  • Promoting the success of its members,
  • Supporting the development of sustainable business practices, and
  • Advocating for  green public policy

As a member of the Green Chamber, I was recently interviewed and invited to share my thoughts about Cultivating Capital, working with women entrepreneurs, and sustainability. The full interview is available on the Green Chamber website and is reposted below.

GCC: Tell me about the founding vision of Cultivating Capital and how the company was started?

CM: The vision for Cultivating Capital emerged while I was getting an MBA in Sustainable Enterprise from Dominican University. I was interested in sustainability consulting and was thinking about working with women business owners. As I did some market research, I came upon compelling statistics about the expected growth in women-owned businesses in the next few years. I realized that if that entrepreneurial activity could be harnessed and steered in a sustainable direction, it could prove to be a critical leverage point for transformation in business. Cultivating Capital was started in order to bring attention to and accelerate that process.

GCC: How did you come to Cultivating Capital and what is your background?

CM: My background is in non-profit and small business management. As Health & Safety Director for the American Red Cross, I managed all First Aid and CPR classes and related programs for the Palo Alto chapter. As the Sustainability & Marketing Manager for Greenerprinter, I developed and implemented the company’s first social media marketing strategy, worked on SEO, and restructured the Adwords account, ensuring that all would coordinate with our overall marketing strategy. On the sustainability side, I handled two certifications for the company, B Corp and the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership. After completing my MBA, I decided to start my own company, Cultivating Capital. At about the same time, I also began working with the Alameda County Green Business Program as a Green Business Consultant and shortly thereafter joined the Board of the Sustainable Business Alliance, where I chair the Marketing Committee.

GCC: What kind of consulting services does Cultivating Capital offer?

CM: Cultivating Capital helps small business owners in the two areas that are shaping business in the 21st century: going green and marketing themselves online. Specifically, an audit of the business can serve as a starting point for evaluating its current sustainability and online marketing practices and then serve as a foundation on which to develop the overall strategy in both of those areas. I also work with business owners in business plan development and overall business strategy.

GCC: Can you describe examples of women’s businesses with whom you have worked and describe how you have helped them develop more sustainable businesses?

CM: Some current projects include working on an online marketing strategy for a firm that helps social enterprises to raise capital; working with a sustainability-minded bookkeeping business on green business certification, marketing and operational improvements; providing business planning and development support for a sustainable business incubator; and developing a business plan for a boutique offering sustainably-produced clothing.

GCC: What advice do you have for others in your industry who are trying to be more green?

CM: I think that consultants and business service professionals can do quite a bit to go green, beyond just using recycled paper or minimizing paper use. Are we using a big business bank for business checking services, or are we putting our money into local banks that are more likely to benefit the local community? Are we constantly driving to meetings, or are we using public transit and virtual meetings to reduce driving? Are we evaluating our own supply chain? For example, purchasing office supplies from a large chain store versus a local, independently owned business makes a difference. These are just some of the things that even service professionals can consider when trying to go green themselves.

GCC: Have you faced any obstacles in the process of trying to be a sustainable business?  If so, how did you or how do you continue to overcome them?

CM: I wouldn’t call them obstacles, but I have had to do more research and in some cases pay more money in order to work with companies that share my sustainability values. It took me a while to find the right green-certified insurance agent and locally owned bank to work with. I also 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. This is one area that I’m hoping to change at some point in the future.

GCC: Can you describe specifically your sustainable business practices?

CM: I’ve tried to make Cultivating Capital a sustainable business in several ways. First, I started my company with the intention of having it become a Certified B Corporation, so I worked with an attorney who was familiar with B Corps. We specified in the LLC operating agreement that due consideration would be given to the company’s effects on stakeholders and the environment, among other things. This ensured that the triple bottom line of “people, planet, and profit” is in the DNA of Cultivating Capital. Second, I chose a LEED-certified workspace (the Hub at the Brower Center; the Brower Center is itself also a Certified Green Business). Finally, I’ve also made it a point to green my own supply chain as much as possible by working with other companies that are either Certified Green Businesses or B Corps (or both), such as the Katovitch Law Group, Avail Insurance Services, and Greenerprinter.

I’m also going through the auditing process to become a Certified Green Business in Alameda County and have started my own B Corp certification process; both of these are reputable certifications that have established clear and transparent standards for green and sustainable businesses (and in an era of greenwashing, the need for standards is becoming increasingly important). There’s a post on my blog that explains more about my own sustainable business practices: Sustainability for One Small Business.

GCC: What does sustainability mean to you?

CM: Sustainability is a framework through which we can create a world that is socially just and operates within natural environmental limits. Although in modern western society, we tend to act as if we can separate ourselves from nature, the reality is that we can’t – every single item that we use in our daily lives is provided by nature, if we trace it back to the original raw materials from which it was created, so working within natural limits is necessary. We also need to ensure that all people have at least their basic human needs met and that they can live with dignity. I don’t believe that this is an idealistic notion; rather, I see it as an imperative based upon basic human compassion and a necessity for stability in an inter-connected world. When a business takes responsibility for its social and environmental impact, it moves us closer towards this better world. Sustainability helps to make this possible.

GCC: Why did you decide to join with the Green Chamber and how has it impacted your business?

CM: A lot of work needs to be done to move us closer to a just and sustainable world, and we each have a role to play. I respect the Green Chamber’s national advocacy efforts and want to support its work and also to be part of the green business community.

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.

How to Join the Women Leading the Green Economy

Last week, I had the good fortune to co-present on the topic “How to Join the Women Leading the Green Economy,” with Grace Tiscareño-Sato. Grace is the author of “Latinnovating: Green American Jobs and the Latinos Creating Them.” The book is the first to examine the role of Latino entrepreneurs in the emerging green economy.

Our presentation was at the 3rd Annual Women’s Business Expo held by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (video highlights are available below). We focused on three main topics:

  1. Women and sustainable businesses are a powerful combination. The rise of women-owned businesses and sustainable businesses is presenting us with a unique opportunity to reshape business as we know it.
  2. Many women business owners are already active in the emerging green economy. Examples include women like Carmen Rad of CR&A Custom, a large-format printing company that uses biodegradable materials, and Sandra Artalejo, a fashion designer who repurposes discarded materials into new products.
  3. How you can go green in your business. This involves looking at the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit. While most businesses are quite adept at looking at the profit component (a necessity to survival in business!), the focus on people and planet tends to be much less prominent.

In terms of reducing your impact on the planet, areas to look at include:

  • Energy and water conservation: How can your business reduce its energy and water consumption?
  • Solid waste reduction and pollution prevention: How can your business divert waste from the landfill and minimize use of harmful chemicals?
  • Production and distribution: How can your business modify its production and distribution practices to make it more environmentally responsible?

To ensure that your business is having a positive impact on people, areas to look at include:

  • Employee wellness: How does your business provide for the well-being of your employees?
  • Community impact: How does your business support its community?
  • Supply chain impact: How are people impacted throughout your supply chain?

These are all important areas to look at in your business as you consider what you can do to go green and develop a sustainable business. The actual practice of greening your businesses in these areas may seem to be overwhelming, but it’s important to realize that the business case for sustainability has already been made: businesses that minimize their environmental impacts can in turn reduce their expenses, while also generating goodwill among employees and customers, which can lead to higher revenues. The businesses that do this will also realize a competitive advantage in being able to tap new markets. Finally, this is just an overview (we only had 45 minutes!), but fortunately, there are several resources available:

  • Certifications: Bay Area Green Business Program and B Corps
  • Networking and advocacy groups: Sustainable Business Alliance and the Green Chamber of Commerce
  • News and information: Greenbiz, Triple Pundit, and Sustainable Industries

This short video captures some of the highlights from the Expo:

Are you a woman with a green business? Share your story below!

Why We Have So Few Women Leaders

In a TED talk that has rightfully received considerable attention, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg recently addressed the important question of “Why we have so few women leaders.”

The statistics that she points out are rather grim for women:

  • Out of 109 world leaders, only 9 are women
  • Of all the people in parliaments around the world, only 13% are women
  • In business, women hold no more than 15-16% of C-level and Board positions

Sandberg is focused on keeping women in the workforce, particularly in corporate positions. She prescribes the following recommendations for women:

  1. Sit at the table. According to Sandberg, “No one gets to the corner office by sitting at the side, not at the table, and no one gets the promotion if they don’t think they deserve their success or if they don’t even understand their success.” The problem lies in women systematically underestimating their abilities and attributing their success to external factors rather than their own abilities. This results in women not reaching out for opportunities as much as men.
  2. Make your partner a real partner. Right now, the work that is done outside the home is generally viewed as more important than the work done inside the home. This makes it harder for men who may choose to stay at home while their wives work outside the home. By placing both on more equal footing, it will make it easier for women to remain in the workforce.
  3. Don’t leave before you leave. Her theory here is that many women step back at work in advance of having children…once they are thinking about having kids, they might not take on more challenging projects or go after a promotion, which results in them “leaving” their work before they’ve physically left.

Although her talk centers on helping more women get to the top in corporate America, it has important implications for women entrepreneurs as well, since taking advantage of opportunities, balancing work and family life, how successful women are perceived, and believing in your own ability to be successful are all pertinent issues for those of us who start our own businesses.

She concludes by saying that a world in which half of the countries and companies in the world are run by women will be a better world. We may have a long ways to go before women hold 50% of the leadership positions in global politics and in corporate America, but in U.S. business as a whole, women have made greater strides. The most recent U.S. Census Bureau data from 2007 indicates that “businesses where women were owners or half-owners numbered 12.4 million firms, representing 45.7 percent of all firms.” This trend in women’s entrepreneurship, particularly when combined with the trend in sustainable business, is indeed a powerful combination that can move us closer to a better world.

You can view the video below and then share your thoughts about it in the comments.

Will Your Holiday Gifts Support Green, Women-owned Businesses?

Green holiday gifts

The busiest election season of the year is coming up… how will you vote?

Yes, I know that the political mid-term elections are already behind us. However, that’s just one type of election: a political one. Every day, you vote many more times with your dollars. You may choose to support large corporations that focus on maximizing shareholder profits; small, independent businesses that are active in their local communities; or any number of other businesses in between. But with each purchase, you are casting a vote in support of that company’s practices.

This holiday season, you might consider supporting green, women-owned businesses. To get you started, here are a few suggestions (and in case you’re wondering, I’m not receiving any compensation for listing these companies). All of these businesses are either certified B Corporations or members of the Green America Business Network (GBN).

  1. Bamboo gifts: Bambooya offers clothing for men, women, and children, housewares, handicrafts, gift sets, and more – all made from bamboo, which is a renewable natural resource. Bambooya is a member of the GBN.
  2. Fair Trade fashion and footwear: Autonomie Project is a B Corp that makes clothes using organic cotton, natural FSC rubber, and other environmentally friendly and locally sourced materials produced by independent co-ops and Fair Trade-certified facilities. Items include clothing for men, women, and children.
  3. Green toys: Toys made in the U.S. from recycled milk bottles are just one of the items available through Kate’s Caring Gifts; other items include soaps and lotions, dinnerware, and more. Kate’s is certified through the Bay Area Green Business Program and is a member of the GBN.
  4. Handmade jewelry: Turtle Love Co. and Melissa Joy Manning are both B Corps that make handmade jewelry and seek to use conflict-free gemstones and local artisans, among other sustainable practices.
  5. Natural cosmetics: Alima Pure is a B Corporation that makes all natural cosmetics. Their products do not contain any additives, fillers, or fragrances that might irritate the skin.
  6. Organic gift baskets: Choose from a wide selection of gifts including items that are free of preservatives and artificial ingredients. It’s Only Natural Gifts is a member of GBN.
  7. Porcelain dinnerware: Mary Anne Davis of Davistudio produces sustainably and individually made porcelain dinnerware. Davistudio is a certified B Corp that has reduced energy use, uses a lead-free glaze, and recycles all waste material.
  8. Recycled housewares: Organic Bug is a GBN member on a mission to offer quality, contemporary, eco-friendly, fair trade and natural wellness products. On their website, you can shop housewares, toys, clothing, and more by collections such as fair trade and made in the USA.
  9. Thai silk home and personal accessories: Siw Thai Silk is a B Corp that works with village artisans in Thailand to produce pillows, throws, scarves, and shawls all using Fair Trade practices.
  10. Recycled paper gift wrap: This year, forget the plastic bags filled with gift wrap and bows. Earth Presents, a GBN member, provides a more earth friendly alternative – recycled paper gift wrap for your holiday needs.

In addition to purchasing green gifts, you might also want to consider other holiday options such as making your own gifts, supporting charitable organizations through volunteering and/or donations, or choosing gifts that give back to women, which give back to the women who produced them.

Do you have a green product that would make a great holiday gift this season? If so, please share it in the comments!

Why Women Business Owners & Sustainable Businesses Are a Powerful Combination

The statistics from the last few years confirm that women entrepreneurs are a force to be reckoned with. Women are starting businesses at twice the national rate, and the revenue from women-owned businesses is estimated at $2.8 trillion, according to an October 2009 report on the economic impact of women-owned businesses. If U.S.-based women-owned businesses were their own country, they would have the 5th largest GDP in the world.

At the same time, we’re seeing that many of our most common business practices are fundamentally unsustainable. For example, many businesses today are built on the use of cheap labor from third world countries to develop products full of toxins that are then shipped worldwide using fossil fuels. How long, realistically, can such a model be sustained? The rise of sustainable business is in large part due to the realization that business models dependent upon the indiscriminate use of both social and natural resources are not sustainable in the long term.

Both women-owned businesses and sustainable businesses are fairly new trends in business. Neither had an impact until perhaps the past 20 years, and weren’t even a consideration during the Industrial Revolution when many of our business practices were established. Now, however, they are both positioned to significantly change the way we do business in the 21st century.

The opportunity that we have with women-owned businesses is this: to harness that entrepreneurial activity and steer it in a sustainable direction. By doing so, we can demonstrate that businesses can be successful without depending upon the exploitation of workers in third-world countries. We can show that businesses can be successful without destroying our natural environment or exposing us to toxins in the products we bring into our homes. We can show that business has a role to play in mitigating the effects of climate change. We can develop businesses that benefit the communities in which they operate.

All of this is possible through sustainable business, which shows that businesses can be financially profitable while also being ecologically sustainable and socially beneficial. And women can lead the way, because we are the ones who are currently driving much of the entrepreneurial activity. If small businesses are the engine of the economy, then women are in the driver’s seat. We can choose the path that we want to take.

What do you think? Would you like to develop your business to be sustainable? Why or why not?