SJF Summit on the New Green Economy: Sustainability Entrepreneurs Gather to Share Insights

Ethical Markets SRI/ESG News, Sustainability News, Advisors' Forum

By Maria Olga Pinochet, MBA, Advisory Board Member, Ethical Markets; Founder and President, Kore Access, Inc.

DURHAM, N.C. – Sept. 14, 2010. Hundreds of attendees gathered at the Durham Marriott Convention Center, the site that featured more than fifty sustainability business leader speakers over the course of two days. As a long-time promoter of growing cleantech energy and the sustainability sector, Ethical Markets Media, LLC, supported the SJF Summit on the New Green Economy by participating as a media partner.

Bonnie Moellenbrock, Executive Director of SJF Advisory Services, set the positive tone for the conference by announcing that through its various service offerings SJF has assisted, over the past nine years, more than 1,500 entrepreneurs. Seeking to leverage their expertise, via larger partnerships, in order to help shape the direction of green global entrepreneurship, SJF unveiled a new logo, vision and website for this new direction. SJF Advisory Services going forth will be known as SJF Institute.

True to its new mission to “connect, inspire and accelerate sustainable entrepreneurs,” SJF Institute’s Bonnie Moellenbrock revealed a dynamic agenda to foster friendly exchanges throughout the conference. All conference speakers were focused on delivering insights and solutions to accelerate green growth and generate high-impact investment practices. Keynote speakers at the Summit were Bruce Kahn, Director and Senior Investment Analyst, Deutsche Bank Climate Change Advisors; Dr. Robert Wallace, President/CEO/Founder, President of BITHENERGY; Bruce Usher, Executive-in-Residence, Columbia Business School, and David Orr, Professor and Chair of the Environmental Studies Program at Oberlin College. Each speaker added to the conversation by connecting yet more pieces of the sustainable development system needed for entrepreneurial business success. Learn more about each speaker and breakout sessions at www.greeneconomynow.org.

As a long time entrepreneur, I was not surprised to hear of the challenges that face all entrepreneurs when it comes to managing cash flow and evaluating and choosing the correct balance between equity and debt financing. What was new to me was that in the green economy mastery over policy issues, understanding of the economies of subsidies, know-how of federal, state and local grant incentives and tax credits are also critical factors to cleantech success.

Another challenge in the green economy is the lack of standards that would easily allow investors to compare investments and feel confident in making choices. The obstacle created by lack of measures and standards is fuelling creative solutions such as the B corporation status and other global impact investing rating systems.

As in any other entrepreneurial groups, discussions were lively around issues of capital efficiency measures; tools to better analyze debt equity and methods to capture the risk of equity investments more accurately. Two additional conversations particular to sustainability entrepreneurs were the challenges of raising capital under current valuation models that exclude true costs such as life-cycle assessment and solutions to package investment vehicles so that they become mainstream.

The SJF Institute is dedicated to finding viable solutions and is focused on providing specific programs to build the infrastructure of the emerging “impact investing” industry, also known as socially responsible investing (SRI). Hazel Henderson and Ethical Markets Media’s mission is to reform financial markets and grow the green economy globally, mainstreaming triple bottom line accounting, correcting GDP, as with the Calvert-Henderson Quality of Life Indicators, co-created with the Calvert Group and updated regularly at www.calvert-henderson.com. At this time, Hazel Henderson’s efforts are dedicated to working with asset managers and asset owners to promote their understanding of how to invest in clean energy and other green initiatives. As well, she is a leader in promoting new financial and economic standards. See her latest effort – the TRANSFORMING FINANCE initiative.

Of special interest was the plenary session, moderated by noted social entrepreneurship professor and SJF Institute Board Member, Cathy Clark. The discussion focused on the people portion of the triple bottom line – people, planet and profit. Executives from three of the companies profiled in the upcoming SJF Employees Matter Report (Maria Kingery of Southern Energy Management, Stephen Irvin of Namaste Solar, and David Murphy of Better World Books) shared their insights of how making profits mattered to employees and how to best motivate employees via engagement and compensation strategies. For more details on the link between employee and customer satisfaction, read recommended industry practitioners’ best practices in the Kore Access white paper, Drive Business Success Through Improved Employee Engagement.

There was a great wealth of knowledge and experience shared with open debates regarding best practices that included the pros and cons of operating as an “open book management structure” (including the sharing of salary), when and how to include profit sharing/ownership options (even for non-traditional partners such as not-for profits) and how to best screen, evaluate and train employees for mission driven green companies determined to make employee engagement a key component to success. For example, employee engagement was found to be a good survival strategy during the recession as it delivered low employee turnover, increased customer satisfaction and produced higher retention rates. Learn more at the SJF website -engageemployees.org

If you did not get the chance to participate this year, I encourage you to mark your calendars for next year’s conference. You too will find yourself walking away having learned the unexpected about your field of endeavor and interest. This year my surprise take-away was the idea of sustainability projects as eco-travel and national security. In the closing keynote, Dr. David Orr, Professor and Chair of the Environmental Studies Program at Oberlin College, spoke of the “Oberlin Project” (part of the Clinton Climate Initiative) as a model city for a “post fossil fuel economy” that was positioning itself as a family friendly eco-travel destination, a model for national security as a carbon neutral self-sustaining city with optimized systems built for resiliency and full spectrum sustainability.