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Thursday, Aug. 5, 2010 02:56 am

Selling sustainability

New business network shares green ideas

These days, going “green” sells, and Springfield companies should be taking advantage of that. That’s what area business representatives heard last week as they attended an unveiling of the Springfield Green Business Network.

The SGBN, which is working to obtain nonprofit status, is seeking members to help support its goal of bringing businesses and the community together in order to encourage widespread sustainability practices.

“When you build a business, the question is: ‘How do I make this business survive?’ And the survival of a business is differentiation,” says Bob Kobylarz, one of the forces behind SGBN and the vice president of sustainability at Springfield-based manufacturer Bunn-O-Matic. “One of the things we think would be a very, very positive thing in our community is to give a chance for some of these companies to be able to differentiate themselves in a very good way. … It’s doing the right stuff but at the same time taking advantage.”

SGBN would pool resources so that businesses could benefit from the effort others have already spent in finding environmentally friendly alternatives. Finding legitimate recyclers of dry cell batteries or a cost-effective source of biodegradable lunchroom supplies can take time. Why require every business to go through the same steps? Kobylarz asks.

Collectively figuring out the logistics, businesses could also invite community members to bring them recyclable items that individuals rarely accumulate enough of to be worth anything. New revenue sources found through increased reusing, reducing and recycling efforts could also allow businesses to help fund community projects, such as park upgrades. While such activities provide a “feel-good” payback, they can also be leveraged to provide payback on the business level, Kobylarz says.

With customers more often asking businesses about their sustainability practices, letting customers know outright that the business and its employees are working toward becoming more environmentally friendly is a great way to earn their loyalty, Kobylarz says. Being part of a network known for such activities can and should be used to help Springfield businesses differentiate from the competition, he says.

John Moulton, director of business development for United Cerebral Palsy, attended the event and says UCP’s business branch already has major customers, such as The Boeing Company, who demand environmentally friendly practices. He says he sees SGBN as a valuable initiative. “We all have been doing our own thing but it’s good to get an organization like this where we can expound our efforts and increase everyone else’s comfort,” Moulton says.

Event attendees suggested the network look at developing a guiding checklist for businesses that want to be more sustainable but don’t know how, pooling recycling revenues to complete a community project and demanding that area venues use sustainable practices.

Eventually, Kobylarz says, he hopes that membership in the SGBN will automatically signal consumers that a business is worth their patronage. A sticker on the window, for instance, could sway consumers to shop there because their consciences can rest easy knowing that the business has the same environmental concerns they do.

“Those businesses … that are willing to actually invest their time to be environmentally responsible, I feel an obligation to them to make sure that the community knows about them,” Kobylarz says. “That then is part of the payback.”

But in order to capitalize on that idea, Kobylarz says, Springfield needs a center point where businesses can share their thoughts “to get traction in the community to really start to make a difference.” 
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