Green Plus is a 2-year, triple bottom line education, networking and recognition program. Education combines online tools, graduate student coaching, and connecting peers region to region. Green Plus is now recognized as a university backed, third-party certification through a broad, mainly chamber-based network. In some areas (notably Cleveland, Ohio and in the past, North Carolina) the Institute offers scholarships for energy audits or micro loans in conjunction with our partners (the Council of Small Enterprises in Ohio and the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center in North Carolina).
Here's a breakdown of what we do.
Fostering a New Generation of Sustainability Leaders: Specifically, the Institute runs a multi-university Fellowship program – bringing together mainly graduate students from different disciplines (business, environment, law, social work and other disciplines), giving them a shared experience and helping them coach businesses in their own communities. Fellows work with the Institute full time over the summer and part time over the following academic year. In addition to business coaching, Fellows also often author individual and group research projects based on their field work.
Economic Development and Public Policy Initiatives: The Institute is translating empirical and qualitative lessons from working with businesses and nonprofits into economic development and public policy models. In Cleveland, the Institute is working to connect purchasing incentives to sustainable practices. In North Carolina, the Institute is connecting sustainable efforts to capital (micro-loans).
Research Products and Studies: With its academic and chamber partners, the Institute has undertaken a number of products, case studies, research projects and how-to guides, including:
The Institute seeks to reach middle and late adopters of sustainable practices and help them and their communities learn across U.S. regions.
Why did a group of thinkers decide to make sustainability for smaller employers a priority? And how did that initiative develop into Green Plus, a nonprofit with a network spanning across 12 states and with over 250 enterprises doing green better?
The seed was planted in 2004.
Back then, magazines from Fortune to Newsweek plastered "new leaders in business" on their covers. These executives saw sustainability as a way to make money, and the best way to make money was to make big organizational changes. Buildings got energy audits and upgrades, experts began looking more closely at the "life cycles" of products, and the public started asking critical questions about where and how the things they buy are made.
Production shifted. Big businesses started making things more efficiently, sourcing from people who took care of their employees responsibly, and even let employees drive innovation.
Results were too compelling to ignore: saving dollars, revolutionizing business models, breeding goodwill, lowering risk. Business prospered as a direct result of doing green better.
At about that time, an observant leader, Tony Waldrop, at the University of North Carolina looked around the small town in which he lived and wondered how this opportunity would make its way to the small businesses and nonprofits he frequented.
As he spoke with more business owners, he discovered a disconnect. The networks, trainings, and conferences driving change in big business were simply not geared toward smaller enterprises. They were impractical. Simply out of reach.
Although UNC excelled in teaching sustainability, there was not a ready conduit for connecting that expertise with local communities. Tony saw a gap.
And made it a personal goal to seal it.
To better understand smaller employers in his community, Tony asked his local chamber of commerce, the group working closest with these businesses, what they thought of this goal. He quickly found them to be a ready and enthusiastic partner.
Joining forces and finishing its due diligence, the team approached UNC's business school.
They asked UNC to write a business plan to help smaller employers earn more money, and do better work for their people and the planet by taking smart steps to be more sustainable.
UNC finished this plan in 2007. The seed now beginning to sprout, all that was needed was some investment capital and someone to make it happen.
The group soon found more partners: departments at Duke University, other local chambers of commerce, and philanthropists. In 2008, a social entrepreneur, Chris Carmody, with a history of getting community initiatives off the ground, was hired to pilot and launch the program. After partnering with small businesses in the area and several iterations of the business plan later, the program, now known as Green Plus, launched in early 2009.
Since its inception, Green Plus has expanded beyond North Carolina to more than 12 states, attracting over 250 smaller employers to participate. The program maintains its early ties with a regular group of graduate students from UNC and Duke supporting it through internships, and enjoys board support from a mix of academic (NC State and Elon University included), business, and sustainability movers and shakers.
People who work with Green Plus today are the heroes of green for small enterprise.
Green Plus continues to bridge the divide between being small and doing green.
We know it's important to take a critical look at impact, and we're taking steps to do so. In the Spring of 2011, the Institute was fortunate to have a Masters student from the school of the environment at Duke University survey Green Plus businesses about the impacts the program had on their businesses.
31 businesses participated in the survey and in-depth interviews. Key findings included:
Other findings told us more about the characteristics of organizations involved in the program, such as:
And more generally, the results found that in pursuing Green Plus Certification, a variety of new practices were launched, particularly in the areas of management practices, energy and water conservation, waste reduction and alternative transportation.
We are grateful to Catherine Noyes, the Class of 2011 Nicholas School student, for her efforts in compiling these findings and invite you to review her presentation here. In the future, we plan to continue measuring the impact of Green Plus and hope to increase the sample size of those included in the survey.