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How to save the world, one Neighbourhood at a time: Bob Willard speaks to The Strathcona ‘Green Zone’ BIA

September 29th, 2010 · 4 Comments


Can a business improvement association label a whole region green? Vancouver’s Strathcona Business Improvement Association thinks so. They have branded themselves as the ‘Strathcona Green Zone’ and are in their third year of focusing, sharing and collaborating with local business members on sustainability.
This was the message at Sustainability 3.0, an annual presentation and mini trade fair headlined by sustainability author Bob Willard.
BIA Director Toby Barazzuol led off the evening.
“A business community is like a complex ecosystem. In Strathcona, we have all the diversity here, we just need to make the connections.”
And connections were not in short supply, with over 25 participants such as One Planet Catering, Ethical Deal, Tradeworks, Terasen Gas, the City of Vancouver, the Saul Good Gift Co, Eclipse Awards and CBR Products.

Sustainability more than a feel good initiative
Bob Willard brought a big corporate boardroom table approach with his presentation, ‘Communicating the Business Case for Sustainability’.
Quoting from a new Harvard Business Review study, Willard now describes corporate sustainability as a ‘business imperative’. Using the oft referenced symbol of the 3-legged stool, he urged green champions to abandon the ‘save the world’ rhetoric.
“Laying a guilt trip on someone is no way to connect with them” Willard suggested.
“It’s important to be flexible in language that you use. When talking with business types, use business language.”
So instead of ‘People, Planet, Profits’, consider sustainability as ‘Asset Management’ with categories like

  • Financial Capital/Built Capital
  • Natural Capital
  • Human/Social Capital

Through his experience and research, SME companies that embrace these virtues stand to increase profits by at least 66% over 5 years.
And this is not a temporary thing. Willard describes the most recent economic upheaval as unique in that it’s the first recession where the corporate focus on green issues actually increased.
“The Sustainability Imperative is a Megatrend, magnified by escalating public and environmental concern,” Willard continued. Quoting from a May Harvard Business Review article, he explained that “Environmental issues have steadily encroached on businesses’ capacity to create value for stakeholders. That’s why companies must convert this threat to an opportunity.”

The most exciting developments are happening at the local / municipal and provincial / state levels
Willard encouraged everyone in the room to continue down the green path, no matter what the scale of their enterprise.
“Get on with it. Do not wait. People are taking ownership locally. It’s happening. The timing is perfect.”

For a room full of small businesses branding themselves as a ‘Green Zone’, these were welcome words, indeed.

The Green Briefs 2 Bits: Taking ownership and offering connections at the regional level may have greater effect than it first appears. I suspect we may well see more local neighbourhoods, communities and business groups take a similar sustainability approach, as the business case for green outpaces big business and big government’s ability to adapt.

— Post From My iPhone

Tags: Events · Green Points of View · Research · Sustainable Businesses

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Toby Barazzuol // Oct 4, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    Good summary Lorne – glad you were able to attend Sustainability 3.0. Bob Willard provided some great, practical insights into sustainability and the language that we use to communicate it. The more work we do in the world of green business, the more we pay attention to the language that we’re using. Just as the word “green” can help a lot of people identify themselves, it can also force a lot of people to “unidentify” themselves from a group…even when we’re all talking about the same things.

    Even more important was Bob’s perspective on the movement that is underway in Strathcona. We have an opportunity here to develop an interesting and sustainable community…a complex, healthy ecosystem…and the lessons learned can be applied to other communities throughout Canada and the US. It is an exciting time with lots of opportunities for the Strathcona Green Zone.

    Let’s get on with it!

  • 2 admin // Oct 4, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    Thanks, Toby. That’s the way to get it done!

  • 3 Alan Wyle // Oct 6, 2010 at 5:44 am

    My wife and I spent a year in Vancover until April – babysitting. I attended all the food and sustainability seminars I could.
    Here in the UK I use a similar strap line “Saving the world one village at a time”
    The future for most villages in the UK is to set up a community owned shop. We have over 250 and a growing number set up each year. Next you add the Community Cafe & Meeting Place. Then you add “Crop For The Shop” – growing as much produce as you can in the village but to a plan.
    I argue that the community owned shop is the foundation stone on which to build the “Sustainable Community.”

  • 4 admin // Oct 6, 2010 at 8:37 am

    Thanks for the comment, Alan. That’s a great way to bring community resources together… though the cynic in me suspects there would be numerous corporate interests that would not be too happy with competition from local ‘communist’ share-the-wealth types! Please let Green Briefs know if you have any more news or updates on the “Crop for the shop” plan.

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