Younger generation of entrepreneurs speaks out on green

Younger generation of entrepreneurs speaks out on green

Sustainability may be everyone's job, but the young and hip recognize they have a big role to play as emerging leaders. "We can no longer separate sustainability and profit," Jimmy Jia, the founder of Distributed Energy Management said during a panel at last week's GoGreen Seattle 2012. Jia served as moderator for a panel focused on the culture shifts taking place as post-graduates find their place in the green economy.

Jia is not alone; his fellow panelist, Jacqueline Gjurgevich, agreed: "The people I know starting businesses are doing so in a sustainable way and not thinking twice about it," she said. Last year, Gjurgevich co-founded Stockbox Grocers, which converts shipping containers into miniature grocery stores to more easily provide fresh food in low-income communities.

Beyond connecting sustainability with profits, Jia noted that new business opportunities are also about bringing people together. Panelist Brian Howe exemplified this best with his venture, Hub Seattle, described as a collaborative workspace that gives social entrepreneurs "a community for making connections while making progress toward the next big idea." Linked with other similar co-working hubs across the globe, Hub Seattle is a harbinger of how the new generation is teaming up to address sustainability challenges.

Building Partnerships

You could easily say that building partnerships was the underlying theme of GoGreen 2012 Seattle, a full-day conference that brought together business, government and nonprofit leaders to share ideas and tools for incorporating sustainability into their organizations.

The 300 or so attendees of the conference represented a who's who of the clean and green set in Seattle. The panel sessions, organized into two tracks (visionary and nuts and bolts) covered a wide range of topics, underscoring that there are many paths to sustainability -- and that it takes a collective effort.

"Each one of us -- in work, play or home -- needs to come up with ways to be more sustainable," said Robin Freedman, senior communications director at Waste Management, a collection and disposal company that has redefined its image with operating goals around recycling, renewable energy production and fleet efficiency.

To provide examples from the corporate side, CEOs from three Washington companies discussed in the keynote panel how their companies have successfully integrated sustainability into operations.

  • Jim Weber, CEO of Brooks Sports, says his company has been on a three-part journey toward sustainability for some time, starting about eight years ago with corporate social responsibility at the factory level. "We committed to the sustainability path not just because we had employees who were passionate about it but because our [target market of] runners care about it," he said. Weber also described the company's Run Because corporate giving program, as well ongoing efforts to reduce water, energy and material use in shoe design, sourcing, packaging and distribution.
  • Pamela Hinkley, CEO of Tom Douglas Restaurants, talked about how the company's mission statement drives the 10 restaurants' conduct in the community, including programs with local food banks and public schools. Internal education is another important initiative. "We insist that our chefs be involved in food sourcing. Five years ago we bought 11 acres to build a farm so we could have team members involved in raising food," she said.
  • Sarah Patterson, COO of Virginia Mason Medical Center, described how the healthcare company adopted a formal management method to achieve sustainability goals. "We've used a systematic way to identify and eliminate waste," Patterson said. In the past 10 years, she added that the company has made many incremental improvements and continues working every day to build sustainability into its processes.

Other Sustainable Sessions

Additional examples of partnership included:

  • A focus on the Seattle 2030 District, described as an interdisciplinary public-private collaborative between district property owners, managers and tenants, all working to create a building district in downtown Seattle that reduces the environmental impacts of construction and operations.
  • A vision for a more sustainable economy from author and lecturer Dr. David Korten, who shared his action plan for how green business leaders could work together to lead a system redesign that better serves the needs of people, nature and community.

During breaks, attendees perused the booths of organizations that support sustainability. Examples included Seattle City Light, the country's first carbon-neutral utility, which was promoting its community solar initiative, as well as energy efficiency programs for businesses and residential. Another was Chinook Book, which offers mobile or paper-based coupons to help conscience consumers buy local.

Capping the day (and apparently to help Seattle overcome its reputation for wearing fleece -- made from recycled plastic bottles, of course) was a fashion runway show by nonprofit Haute Trash. Judging from the crowd's response, it is now infinitely cooler to wear plastic in a more recognizable form -- that of discarded bags and deflated swimming pools. Young and hip, indeed.

Green businessman photo via Shutterstock. Haute Trash photo courtesy of HauteTrash.org.