April 25, 2017|By Jena Thompson Meredith| Community Development

With Earth Day fast approaching, there’s an expectation that companies large and small will broaden their sustainability commitments. From reducing or fully offsetting one’s carbon footprint to reducing waste to supporting the Circular Economy, it’s critically important that companies continue to take responsibility for their most significant environmental impacts. 

Macro initiatives, however, often begin (and end) with people and communities. For small businesses, in particular, we’re seeing what’s possible when we create community wealth with sustainability in mind.

The Mom-and-Pop grocery store that only sells locally-grown produce or the farm down the road that has been in the same family for over 100 years are often key sources of ecologically and economically sustainable growth. Continuous support of these entrepreneurs and small businesses can have a highly positive and long-lasting impact on our nation’s economy and environmental priorities. When done right, the results include job creation and a more pronounced intersection between communities, conservation and corporate development.

Consider the example of brothers Ted and Zeb Esselstyn, craftsmen who design and create furniture from unwanted trees and timber. Their Connecticut-based company, City Bench, helps decrease green waste headed for landfills –especially trees. New Haven alone removes more than 600 trees each year and New York City fells 7,000. Most of these grand, historic trees are relegated to the landfill, ground into mulch, or chopped into firewood. The Natural Capital Investment Fund (NCIF), a sustainable business lender and affiliate of The Conservation Fund, gave City Bench a loan for a Wood-Mizer portable sawmill so that the brothers could expand their production of sustainably sourced furniture. The partnership between City Bench and NCIF exemplifies the power that one small investment can make in furthering the green efforts of American entrepreneurs. Sales of their artisan goods go back into the company for future growth and help the local economy expand.

4 25 threeguysPhoto courtesy City Bench. HTTP://WWW.CITY-BENCH.COM

Major corporations are playing a part too. Wells Fargo provided an award of $1.6 million to NCIF to support African-American farmers and business owners of color in the eastern region of North Carolina. The initiative will allow NCIF to support more entrepreneurs like farmer and veteran James Joyner, who used NCIF financing and expertise to upgrade his pastures and learn more about the finances behind his farming. Today, Joyner’s farm is profitable, and he sells his grass-fed, antibiotic-free lamb to a well-known national organic and natural foods grocery chain.

“NCIF didn’t just loan me money,” Joyner said in a press release. “They took extra time, made an extra effort to help me with different aspects of my business, which let me know the success of my business is just as important to them as it is to me.”

Today, 99.7 percent of U.S. companies are small businesses. It is essential that we focus on ways to help these firms continue to grow and move toward sustainable business practices. Companies and nonprofits alike have the power to make this happen.

This Earth Day, I hope that we see more attention placed on the role of communities and people, even when talking about national or global commitments to the planet. Sustainability is and always will be a local endeavor. We all stand to benefit from it.

Check out how the City Bench team creates furniture from the urban forest. Video created by Derek Dudek.