The concept of sustainability is nothing new on Bainbridge Island, perhaps, but the practicable side of the movement may be a little more elusive. Especially since economics are often the driving force behind it.
Some people and businesses will say they can’t afford it. Others may simply think it’s an unnecessary excuse to gouge the consumer even more.
But there’s no doubt it has been embraced by many islanders, including a growing number of businesses that believe the “Natural Step” approach is good for the environment, the community as a whole and, ultimately, their purses.
Several local organizations – including Bainbridge Graduate Institute, Island-Wood and Sustainable Bainbridge – have used the approach as a baseline since being formed. So it wasn’t surprising when the island’s Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Association had discussions with them that led to an all-day sustainability forum last month.
“It became clear to me during our meetings that people already get sustainability on the island but businesses need to catch up to where the public is,” said chamber Vice-President Jeff Waite. “That led to the conference and the chamber’s resolution (supporting sustainability).
“The idea is that everybody running a business is at a different level and that can be a problem – the definition of it being a moving target,” he said. “So our goal was to define it as much as possible to help people realize that you can start at different places and still reach the goal, which is to keep your basic central services and still be sustainable.”
Waite, co-owner of the Harbour Public House, said getting businesses together and eventually forming strong alliances may also help city government rally around sustainability.
“Businesses are having mixed success, as people discovered when we had some businesses in our panel discussion talk about their efforts being impeded,” Waite said.
Government rules and regulators can get in the way sometimes when they don’t have to, he believes. It’s best for all when business and government find a middle ground, because permit and site fees, and equipment costs can be very high.
One of the best examples of a small corporation committing to the sustainable cause is local grocer Town & Country Markets Inc., which hired a full-time “environmental sustainability coordinator” a year ago for its six Puget Sound-area stores, including markets in Bainbridge and Poulsbo.
Tony D’Onofrio is a BGI graduate with a background in environmental stewardship, teaching and the food industry, including working as a certified executive chef for Wolfgang Puck in California. He joined T&C when he became convinced its board of directors was serious about developing core values from the inside.
“Their commitment to sustainability and operating in an environmentally friendly atmosphere is noticeable in the recyclable materials used and energy decisions made in the Central Market renovation.
“My job started with trying to use less energy and making less waste,” he said. “That first year there was a big effort to recycle and compost more in all stores, basically moving toward zero waste. This year, we’re trying to get to a higher sustainability level at all of our stores. That’s a constant.”
The goal going forward, he said, is the installation of a company-wide sustainability training program.
“The idea is that employees will eventually possess the level of sustainable understanding and knowledge to help guide customers toward making good decisions about products. Helping customers is always our bottom line.”
The effort is finance based, of course, but it’s also the company’s desire to embrace sustainability in everything it does.
“The key driver for T&C is that that’s the type of company we want to be,” D’Onofrio said. “But the sustainability definition is to care for the environment while treating people – our employes and customers – with dignity. By making economically sound decisions, we can afford to be dedicated to those values. ”
Chamber Executive Director Kevin Dwyer said his organization’s involvement is an effort to provide a clearing house for the movement, including offering examples of best practices in the region and the country on its Web site.
“Now, we’re just trying to build an awareness for our business community,” he said. “But ultimately the goal is to change the way we do business here. A lot of island companies are already involved, but there’s much more to do.”
There are more than two dozen Bainbridge businesses now involved with the Sustainable Business Network of Bainbridge. For more information go online at firstname.lastname@example.org.