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Priming the New Green Economy

by Christa Wagner

September 9,2010

Anne Claire Broughton, Cofounder & Senior Director of SJF Advisory Services, served as a contributor to this article.

Like Buffalo Springfield once surmised, there’s something happening here. And although it’s not exactly clear – the signs certainly look positive.

What we’re talking about is the growing energy in the Triangle, and Durham, where we live, around social entrepreneurship, or the formation of businesses with more than a profit motive. There’s a lot of buzz around what’s being called social innovation – and how our region is becoming a hub for it. (As Triangle residents, we have to claim a Durham viewpoint – but we bet there’s evidence of this trend in Charlotte, too.) On the radio, in the paper, and around town, there’s talk of B-Corps, local money campaigns, impact investors and moral entrepreneurs. All are thematically connected to the idea of triple bottom line – or measuring the success of a business in terms of its “people, planet, and profit” impact.

At a time when economists and policymakers are using the phrase “the new normal” to describe lagging economic growth and the reputations of major corporations seem to lurch from bad to worse, this growing trend toward social responsibility in business is a notable bright spot.

Among the many new and established ventures in our area are the recently launched business incubators Bull City Forward and American Underground, who want to attract and incubate triple bottom line businesses to seed the revitalization of the area’s downtowns. One such example is School House Ethical Fashion, a collegiate apparel company that produces garments in a Sri Lankan living wage factory and is headquartered in downtown Durham.

Out of Chapel Hill, an office of B-Lab is working to develop the standards for B-Corporations, or companies certified to meet social and environmental performance criteria – and demonstrating to investors that the firm’s commitment to social goals will remain in place as it grows. The B-Lab is striving for IRS recognition for its member businesses. There’s also the Institute for Sustainable Enterprise and its Green Plus program in Carrboro, which is helping small and medium-sized businesses green their operations and save money at the same time.

I recently completed an internship at SJF Advisory Services (where Anne Claire is Co-Founder and Senior Director). One of the early actors – and social innovators! – in the region, SJF Advisory Services, together with its affiliated organization SJF Ventures, has been assisting and investing in sustainable companies around the U.S. and building the fields that support them for the past ten years. Through technical assistance, like business plan and financing strategy feedback, best practice publications and mentorship, SJF Advisory Services has assisted thousands of sustainable entrepreneurs in growing their businesses and getting ready for equity financing. Unlike traditional entrepreneurial assistance organizations, SJF Advisory Services and the venture fund place special emphasis on businesses that can meet important criteria in the people and planet categories: living wages, career ladders, shared responsibility and even ownership in the company for employees, along with fast growth and profitability.

Over the past ten years, SJF Ventures has invested in 31 companies with aggregate revenues of $500 million, 128 facilities, and over 6,000 employees. SJF Advisory Services has helped 1,500 entrepreneurial companies through workshops and direct advisory services. Their portfolio includes companies that have provided good jobs in rural and inner city communities. And they have enhanced the Triangle community’s reputation as a hub for social innovation through their national connections and resources.

In just a few weeks, those resources will be available to a big audience via the SJF Summit on the New Green Economy. The annual event brings together entrepreneurs, investors, policymakers, economic developers and other professionals to talk about how to accelerate the growth and impact of green economy businesses to create widespread prosperity.

But don’t just take it from us. Help broaden the region’s emerging reputation as a hub for social entrepreneurship by taking a seat at the table on September 14 and 15. For more information and registration information, log on to www.sjfsummit.org.

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