By Heidi Sistare
“Sustainability is much more than environment,” says Timothy Downing, President of Duratherm Window Corporation. “It pertains to your business culture, philosophies, the workplace environment, how you treat your employees, and how your business is involved in community. Once one has a more comprehensive understanding of what true sustainability is, it forever changes the way one evaluates a business and its success.”
Downing is one of the business owners who participates in the Sustainability Benchmarking Tool. The tool was developed by the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences (Manomet) with Maine Businesses for Sustainability (MBS) and is available to business owners in the state of Maine. The free, online tool includes questions about four areas of sustainability: finances and governance, employee relations, community engagement, and environmental practices.
The Manomet Center has a long history of developing assessment tools but the process of developing this tool, in collaboration with MBS, and specifically for small business owners, yielded new challenges and new lessons. The tool needs to be free and quick to promote participation, since the tool is not linked to a technical assistance program, businesses that find success have a motivated leader who turns knowledge into action, and to provide one tool for all users requires questions that are relevant to a wide range of businesses.
Manomet developed the questions using input from topical experts, business owners, and research on existing certification standards. Using a beta version of the tool, Manomet and MBS tested it with five businesses and used their feedback to improve the tool. In addition to providing users with the results of their assessment, the tool generates a customized list of local, state, and federal resources that can provide support for improving sustainability in business practices.
The Sustainability Benchmarking tool was launched online in Spring of 2012. Benjamin Ayer, Communications and Community Affairs Manager at MBS, says that he hopes the tool will bring Maine recognition as a leader in sustainable business. Leaders at Manomet also see the potential for this tool to benefit the state. “Communities have the opportunity to re-brand themselves to attract new and green businesses and a well-educated workforce, and improve the sustainability of their business community,” says Julie Beane, Program Development Manager at Manomet. In the meantime, business owners like Downing can use the tool to grade their sustainability practices, make business decisions, and help them plan for the future.
Heidi Sistare is a freelance writer who just completed the documentary writing and multimedia storytelling program at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine. She holds a BA in Social Work from Warren Wilson College and has experience in non-profit management, community development, and planning for small businesses.