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Interview with Green Chamber Sponsor: Sustainable Industries

I spoke with Sustainable Industries Brian Back, Founding Editor, and Christina Weber, Senior Account Executive, about how to grow a small green business organically and what's coming around the corner in sustainable business trends

LL: So tell me about the vision for Sustainable Industries and how you decided to start the company?

CW: Sustainable Industries originally started as a trade journal in Portland and grew naturally through the demand for more information on sustainability. Our audience base grew wider by meeting this demand with a full service website, a webinar series and our annual Economic Forums.

BB: For me it all started with my background as a journalist. I was working in mainstream media as a reporter for big daily newspapers. In doing so, I ended up in Portland as a business reporter for a major business publishing company. I became interested in businesses pioneering sustainable industries, as this was an inherent component of the Pacific Northwest business ethic. This was around the 1999 time frame, when there was a lot of environmental sustainability interest and research coming out. It all clicked for me. I approached editors at my paper about starting a sustainable business beat, which was kind of a crazy idea at the time. Through this new beat, I learned a lot about what sustainable business pioneers we're doing up and down the West Coast. Then a new publisher came in who very publicly said he had no idea how sustainability would bring economic development to the region. I quit the paper and decided that there we're lots of people to serve in this space. In 2002, I met with a small publisher in Portland named Nik Blosser, a true thought leader in the space, and within a few months, we had Sustainable Industries up and running.

LL: Growing from a small trade journal in Portland to a large subscriber magazine that serves major industry leaders nationally did you ever imagine that it would get this big?

BB: I had hoped so. We also, for better or for worse, jumped in without a map. Initially we didn't think beyond the Northwest, but now we are thinking nationally. I still feel everyday like we are just getting started in growing and getting better. We are our own worst critics. Weve come really far, but we still have so much further to go.

LL: What challenges did you face as a small green business in the beginning?

BB: Certainly we faced challenges, and we still do. Early on, the most challenging thing was figuring out who we wanted to be, because the idea of green/sustainable was still very new and taking shape. We we're trying to be everything to everyone. There was a groundswell of interest, and we got swept up in some of the consumer aspects before realizing our sweet spot was in B2B. That process helped refine who we are. We had good support from the people we did business with in Portland and Seattle places where we had our roots planted. Growing into the Bay Area with limited resources proved challenging, and this came without support from the Mayor, the City and it's economic development department. Of course the Bay Area is saturated with fly-by-night sustainability entrepreneurs and events, so you have to work hard to elbow your way in. Our team has done just that. There is still nothing like us out there. Starting a media company out of nothing and growing it organically with no investment is unheard of. We couldve started a few years ago and gotten investment and made it on the deep pockets of mainstream media players, but we didnt. I am very passionate about independent media and proud of where we've come amidst those challenges, because it is extremely difficult, and bordering on impossible, to do it on your own. It is a true testament to the will and talent of our team and the many stakeholders who have supported us along the way.

LL: How did you find out about the Green Chamber?

CW: We attended Green Chamber events and knew board members who started the organization. So it was a natural decision from the start to be a member, support their mission, and gain support from them. We have written about many Green Chamber companies and CEOs. Their membership is our audience.

LL: What's green about your business?

CW: We are a media company that has always and only reported on sustainability news the latest cross sector analysis of west coast news and trends. We have led the industry in paper and printing practices, for seven straight years using 100% post-consumer recycled paper processed chlorine-free and offsetting our printing and paper production process with 100% clean energy. This earned us the Aveda Award for Environmental Leadership in 2005, as well as a BEST Award for Sustainable Product Development from the City of Portland. Our paper comes from what many regard as the most sustainable paper mill in the world, and 100% of production residuals are used in building materials, fertilizer and energy production. Our many live events also meet aggressive and industry-leading environmental criteria. In 2008 we earned B Corporation certification for meeting social and environmental performance standards. We have always operated a green office and green space. It has also been all about our voice, and the service we provide inspiring and supporting sustainable industries at large.

LL: Tell us about the Economics Forums and how Green Chamber members can get involved?

CW: The Economic Forums are a gathering of sustainable industry leaders. The goal is to get all cross sector leaders in one room together so the green building pioneers can talk to the solar folks, and the water people can chat with waste management experts. Attendees tend to be highly influential executives. The format is a three hour breakfast first a keynote speaker, next a panel of executives from different industries (who speak about the role of the practitioner, current trends, and the realities and responsibilities of being a leader in a sustainable industry) and finally an hour of networking. The forums take place in cities all across the west coast. Soon we will be hosting one in Denver for the first time.

LL: What is your advice to other green businesses and businesses trying to become sustainable?

BB: If you are interested in the green universe, without a doubt, never use the words Were going green. I would advise businesses to be really bold, to leap frog others. In order to help reach the new frontier, businesses need to be serious about the quality and authenticity of their work. Its not just about taking advantage of the green opportunity. Its about taking sustainability a step further than your peers. This is the only way new companies coming into this space can succeed. You have to know the competitive landscape intimately, and then be smart about how you differentiate.

CW: As a member of the Green Chamber, we are in a position to learn from everything that other green businesses are doing, be it certification programs, workshops, etc. So I recommend getting involved as a business because the Green Chamber brings people together to learn, practice and share. Also, our audience depends on Sustainable Industries to be a knowledge toolkit on the practicalities of doing business in a sustainable manner. They expect us to provide a noise free analysis and clear picture of what is happening in this field of work who are the companies doing it, how did those businesses come to the decisions they did, who is surviving, what is the thought process of leading CEOs, etc. So I would say for those businesses which are in the process of being sustainable, Sustainable Industries can provide them with useful information on how to be change agents. We are cognizant that people are using us as a how to guide of sorts because we serve top leadership in this field. Reach out to us as a resource in order to help make that happen.

LL: In terms of leaders in sustainability, who do you recommend that Green Chamber members follow?

BB: We are extremely blessed to serve that audience and I would tell people to follow the leaders involved in our community. I am so impressed by the thought leadership of those who show up at our events. They've been leading the charge for years, can speak at a more sophisticated level, and the intellectual capital at the Economic Forums is incredible. Our client base has brought in this amazing quality of local, regional and national businesses that are on the leading edge of sustainable business. They are at the top of the pyramid and that's why they are coming to this community. Also, if you take a look at Sustainable Industries advertisers and sponsors, you'll notice that we serve real deal companies and not greenwashers. We are actively approaching these leaders. People should also follow the podcast series we are launching this year which will showcase one-on-one interviews with sustainable industry leaders.

LL: What do you see as upcoming trends in sustainable business that people should be paying attention to?

BB: I tend to think less about the state of the union and more about what's coming around the pike. Each year we come out with TrendWatch, which embodies what our whole editorial team looks at all year. A hot button issue for me we aren't nearly there yet, but we are on the verge of major breakthroughs is the extension of the smart grid. We are boldly looking at the full on democratization of energy. This will be 10-20 years out if things go well. It will be similar to the way the internet democratized information for people. We will see a revolution in terms of big energy utilities quickly becoming, like newspapers, institutions of yesterday, trying to hold onto the top-down power of an amazingly inefficient and systemically flawed energy grid. We are destined to democratize the energy grid with innovative technologies, and people will be able to control the energy they use very intimately. There are countless environmental and social benefits. It empowers consumers as well.

LL: Is there anything else about Sustainability Industries that you want Green Chamber members to know about?

BB: I want to continue to improve the way we serve Green Chamber members, whether through inviting them to events or offering discount subscriptions to access the best news, tools and analysis out there. They are leading the charge in what is possible for the New Economy, and we are well matched to the type of communities that they serve.

CW: Sustainable Industries invites Green Chamber members to become a part of our community. They can do so by being involved as a reader, joining our web conferences and following our podcast interviews. This new podcast project really gets behind the mind of industry leaders. For those who already are involved, thanks for all the support. Sustainable Industries is open to hearing ideas, especially about the latest new trends that leaders are seeing within their own companies.

Posted in Telecommunications Post Date 03/01/2017


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