Sustainable Business_sm

On March 17th, Philly Girls Class of 2016 Tarsha Scovens, Leigh Goldenberg, and Anna Shipp all came together with Danielle DiLeo Kim and Sylvia Palms at the lovely Industrious PHL location for a conversation about Sustainable Business in Philadelphia. I, Sophia Lee, posed some discussion questions to get the conversation rolling, and some great thoughts and ideas got passed around. Read on for more!

First, let’s introduce ourselves and our sustainable business as a refresher to those present.

Tarsha Scovens, the founder of “Let’s Go Outdoors”, set up her business with a goal to engage more minorities in outdoor experiences, such as camping, fishing and hiking, which are activities that lack participation by people of color. By connecting the familiar (eg, trees in the immediate neighborhood) to the less familiar but related (eg John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge), Let’s Go Outdoors makes Nature accessible and approachable through experience and education. There is also a desire to bring families closer together by encouraging caregivers to attend classes and workshops with the children who are signed up, and they learn together. Let’s Go Outdoors is also part of an exciting initiative called “Nature Rx," spearheaded by Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, to promote youth-focused outdoor health activities as a means to combat health issues related to sedentary lifestyles such as diabetes and obesity.

Leigh Goldenberg is the Director of Marketing for Wash Cycle Laundry which not only aims to reduce carbon footprint and pollution through bike delivery and eco-friendly detergents, but also promotes social change by making a point to employ individuals with a history of incarceration, addiction, homelessness, or welfare dependence. These are people who deserve a second chance at a stable life, but suffer such stigma from society that it’s very hard for them to find employment and a way out. She is really excited that the new Kenney administration is prioritizing helping formerly incarcerated people find employment and to be a part of this social movement.

Anna Shipp is the Project Manager of the “Green Stormwater Infrastructure Partners” at the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia (SBN). SBN strives to support and celebrate local sustainable businesses by helping them organize together and advocating on their behalf for actual policy change. SBN is also associated with a broader network, Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) which is comprised of over 80 community networks across America.

Jennifer Rezeli was not able to make it in person on Thursday, but she is the co-founder of Re:Vision Architecture, an architecture firm that makes sustainability a focus of their practice and also provides sustainability consulting. Re:Vision is a certified “B-Corporation” - a “for-benefit” corporation. She believes in the power of community engagement as a means to educate the public about sustainability.

Sustainable Businesses are not the norm (yet!), so do you find particular challenges related to being one?

Promoting healthy lifestyles, connecting with nature, reducing carbon footprint, promoting social change are all incredibly valuable goals, but Tarsha and Leigh both find that convincing clients and customers of their relevancy can be the biggest challenge. Another piece is that even when there are programs and credentials, such as the “B-Corp” certification, intended to help sustainable businesses, the certification process or requirements can be so cumbersome that they can be more of a burden and a hindrance rather than an advantage.

This is why it’s so crucial to have organizations like SBN to support and advocate for businesses like Let’s Go Outdoors! and Wash Cycle Laundry because they need time to grow and gain acceptance as viable businesses that can not only accomplish the bottom line, but also achieve other social and sustainable goals. For example, SBN could provide support for B-Corp certification for Wash Cycle or Let’s Go Outdoors.

Anna is really excited that BALLE continues to grow across America and that SBN is expanding its capacity to  advocate for policy that better supports small local and sustainable businesses start, grow, and thrive. Businesses can have a stronger voice when advocating for policy changes that could improve the local economic climate for small businesses.

Is there something special about Philadelphia that helps sustainable businesses? What can Philadelphia do more to help you grow?

Leigh explained that Philly is a big city but operates like a small town because there is a sense of pride and loyalty to its local people. We all went on to discuss how currently, Philly is a very hot market, and the challenge will be to keep the jobs local and continuing to foster more sustainable practices in a market increasingly contested not only by other US National companies, but also international ones such as Foster + Partners from London, England designing Comcast’s second tower in Center City, or Bjark Ingels Group from Copenhagen, Denmark constructing an office building in Philadelphia Naval Yard. We need to make sure that clients are aware of the depth and skill of knowledge locally available, that the city needs to convince businesses to headquarter here, and that these strategies will eventually help drive more investment into the local economy rather than losing it to other cities or abroad.

Especially with the speed of development occurring, we would all love to find a way to bring not just the City of Philadelphia, but also the private developers to the table to show them how relevant Philly’s sustainable businesses are to this city, and to gain their buy-in for positive social change and commitment to the environment. The greater the size of the project, the greater the impact upon the city, and depending on how that impact is designed, it can swing bad or good. Let’s work together to make the impact great!

Thank you to Tarsha, Leigh, Anna, Danielle, and Sylvia for a wonderful conversation!

—Sophia Lee