Business

Being green brings in the green

Some may be skeptical that environmentally friendly business can make more money, but the Bainbridge Graduate Institute hopes to prove doubters wrong.

“A lot of people still assume that when talking about ‘green business’ that it’s not about running a profitable business, but about being ‘less bad,’” said Rick Bunch, executive director of BGI. “Increasingly we find businesses that look for the opportunity to solve a social or environmental problem. (If you solve it) you’re going to make money.”

Now in its third year offering MBA and certificate programs on the island, BGI this year will open its doors to the public for a slate of guest speakers on sustainable business at IslandWood. Paul Dolan, former winemaker and president of Fetzer Vineyards in California’s Mendocino County, opens the series of free talks on Oct. 7.

In his book “True to Our Roots: Fermenting a Business Revolution,” Dolan discusses how he committed the company to produce organic wine and use solar power to operate the complex while reducing waste and implementing composting. Bunch says what’s novel about Dolan’s approach is taking the view that “it costs more now” to do the right thing, but “it will save money over the long run and produce a better product.”

Ten years ago, Bunch says that kind of thinking wouldn’t fly in face of the rule: “don’t impact your cost structure.” The old approach was to emphasize efficiency – use energy-saving light bulbs or turn off the lights. But as Bunch points out, “Customers don’t care what light bulbs you use. They care about taste and price.”

Dolan’s decision to go organic came when tasting grapes for harvest and realizing how much better the fruit of an experimental organic plot tasted. In the decade after turning the company’s vineyards organic in 1992, Fetzer increased earnings an average of 15 percent a year and won more medals at the California State Fair in 1998 and 2002 than any other winery.

In selecting speakers for their series, Bunch says BGI looked for people who have published books about sustainable business.

“It (being published) means they are some of the leading thinkers,” he said. “We want both academic, social critics and business (speakers).”

In November, Tom Gladwin, a professor at the University of Michigan, will talk about social challenges of global sustainable development – that is, making sure off-shore producers don’t pay slave wages or destroy overseas environments.

Social critic Amory Lovins, president of the Rocky Mountain Institute, speaks in February. He is known as the guru of alternative energy and argues that off-the-shelf technology could more efficiently use the energy that is already produced. Bunch says the Pentagon is one organization excited by Lovins’ views, as dependence on foreign oil makes Americans vulnerable. Even troops fighting overseas would be less vulnerable if they were less dependent on supply lines.

“In business school, it’s important not to just put people in a classroom with a professor, but to let them hear from people actually doing it,” Bunch said. “Especially in a new area like sustainable business, it’s not in the textbook. You really need to hear from people doing it.”

Although the primary audience is BGI students, Bunch says he hopes the series will “give them a sense of the possible, what one can accomplish in (one’s) own organization, but also connect then to other people in the community interested in sustainable business.

“One has the sense on Bainbridge there are so many people with know-how to do sustainable business,” he said. “If the get the right ideas, they could really run with them.”

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The Sustainable Business series sponsored by the Bainbridge Graduate Institute will be held 7:30-9 p.m. at IslandWood. Free. Scheduled speakers are as follows with more to be announced:

Oct. 7: Paul Dolan, former president of Fetzer Vineyards

Nov. 5: Tom Gladwin, U.S. director of the Prince of Wales’ Executive Business Forum and holder of the Max McGraw Chair of Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan, School of Business 

Dec. 10: Carl Frankel, author of “Out of the Labyrinth: Who We Are, How We Go Wrong, and What We Can Do About It” 

Feb. 11: Amory Lovins, co-author of “Natural Capitalism” and CEO of the Rocky Mountain Institute

March 18: Michael Crooke, CEO of Patagonia

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