Advancing Sustainable Business Practices

Guest post by Sam Martinez, Special Projects Associate

For a lot of my life, the word “sustainability” has evoked certain images. Bringing a reusable cup to the coffee shop, turning off the lights when leaving the house, or buying local. While I understood that sustainable practices could be broader in scope than those personal actions, the concept remained elusive. I sensed that there was a middle ground between systemic change and individual application but it was an abstract concept, something I didn’t know how to put into practice. Personally, I couldn’t escape the fact that I live in a society that’s centered around car travel, consumer goods, and fossil fuel consumption.

Recently, my perspective on what sustainability means both on a personal and professional level has shifted. This past January, I attended Sustainable Connections’ Smart Business Summit. This summit was a chance for local businesses to gather and share ideas for implementing sustainable practices and reporting into organizational structure. A key concept of the summit was defining how an integrated sustainability plan strengthens mission and expands the brand identity of an organization. Sustainable practices and reporting methods are increasingly important to business advancement as well. Consumers and employees perceive corporate social responsibility as a determining factor when choosing companies to work for or to patronize. Implementing sustainability practices is also beneficial in reducing costs and environmental impact. It builds brand value, attracts employees and rallies a company’s team around a business ethic that promotes equity and resource responsibility. These types of values are especially relevant for smaller companies; while large manufacturers might be able to save significant costs by reducing waste, smaller companies gain significant exposure due to brand perception.

One business shared their story about deciding to package their drinks in cans instead of glass. This decision to incorporate sustainability practices into their business model was made for several reasons: aluminum cans were easier to ship and recycle, cans were made in America, reducing its carbon footprint and supporting domestic business. This choice underscores their commitment to streamline efficiencies. What stood out to me about this example was that the product this company made was a health drink. Their product was designed to promote health, so their packaging processes also reflected their commitment to health (in this case – health of the environment).

Hearing about the experiences of the businesses in the room showed me that sustainability isn’t just about the way that you recycle or consume power, it’s the value one puts on social responsibility. It is the incorporation of these values and how they are merged into a personal ethic as well as an organizational culture.

Reflecting on lessons learned, I wondered what sustainability meant for a nonprofit organization, specifically for the Whatcom Community Foundation. What would it look like for the Community Foundation to implement more sustainable practices, and how would that fit in with our mission and values? Personally, I know that the work we do and the values we hold reflect a commitment to sustainability. However, could we do more? In what ways could we model sustainable business practices?

These questions led me to review our programs and one initiative that I am excited to see expand is Impact Investing. Impact Investing advances sustainable business practices by utilizing and recycling local capital for projects that have a social benefit. By making investments in local enterprise, we incorporate elements of sustainability into community investment and align our organizational culture toward stewardship principles. The Community Foundation’s vision is to ensure that everyone who lives here thrives. What could be more sustainable than that?