What does it take to be a “sustainable” business? Normally, we equate “sustainable” with “green” or “environmentally friendly.” To some extent, that is a valid association, especially where business is concerned.
But working sustainably means more than simply making environmental claims or achieving environmental goals. It is really about creating and implementing smart business practices to ensure an organization’s long-term viability in ways that consider more than just a financial bottom line.
The Women’s Economic Ventures and Small Business Loan Fund is a nonprofit business-assistance organization that has been helping both women and men to launch and grow sustainable local businesses since 1991. This organization helps businesses succeed with the “triple bottom line” of sustainability — people, planet and profit.
In early 2007, just after I started a consulting company, Social Good Consulting, I signed up for WEV’s 14-week Self-Employment Training course, mainly because I knew I needed to gain some financial intelligence about running a business. Each week, they surprised me with much more. The network of small-business owners, and the resources they offered, were ultimately what helped me create a viable and sustainable business model.
Since 2008, as part of my consulting practice, I’ve been teaching this same course to others through WEV, helping local entrepreneurs to launch, grow and sustain successful business ventures. WEV’s core curriculum, the 14-week Self Employment Training Program, teaches entrepreneurs to write solid, fundable business plans as well as understand, plan for, and incorporate environmental and social responsibility into their organizations.
Consider these WEV graduates:
Anna Mkhitarian: A 2003 graduate, Mkhitarian had launched her business, Annatarian Designs, when she came to WEV. But her products — eco-friendly wedding dresses and jewelry that inspires positive change — hadn’t yet made it into Nordstrom’s. She had planned for the people and planet as part of her business, but not the profit. She said, “I had a BFA in fashion design, but no education in running my own business. I had no clue.” With WEV’s assistance and training, Mkhitarian learned how to research and write a solid business plan that ensured her success financially. Now her products are distributed nationally.
Estela Flores: A 2005 graduate, Flores came to WEV after her business, Stel Cleaning, had been in operation for several years. Flores learned about the importance of creating a niche. After doing some additional research, she decided to add a green residential cleaning option to her list of services. That option continues to bring her new clients. She said, “WEV was my inspiration to make that change. After researching my ideas, I knew that environmentally friendly cleaning was a good choice for my customers and for my company.” Stel Cleaning, in Ventura, serves the entire county.
Robin Sullivan: A 2008 graduate, Sullivan came to WEV when she was making a transition out of a franchise into her own private interior design company, My Decorating Plan. Under WEV’s guidance, she wrote a business plan that helped her launch something totally different from the traditional interior design model. She calls it a “Shop-It-Myself Decorating Plan.” To better serve her customers, she added an eco-green option that uses environmentally friendly products. She said, “WEV inspired me to add the eco-green option to our services. The education came from hearing the instructor and other students talk about the importance of offering a ‘green’ option to clients.” My Decorating Plan is in Santa Paula and serves the entire county.
I recently came on board as WEV’s new business development specialist in charge of training and education.
Our new business plan intensive training course — an accelerated six-week version of the 14-week training — has an up-to-date, peer-reviewed curriculum that includes these topics in depth. In 2010, we have plans for programs and services that will help ensure businesses are sustainable and growing for many years.
For more information on the business plan courses, visit WEV online and sign up to attend a free orientation. Classes will begin again in February 2010.
— Tea Silvestre is a business development specialist for WEV. Representatives of government or nonprofit agencies who want to submit articles on environmental topics for this column should contact David Goldstein at 658-4312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.