May 25, 2022
Since its founding in 2001, SBN has helped businesses in the Philadelphia region grow their social, economic, and environmental impact. SBN also contributed to members’ ability to navigate legal and financial challenges during the pandemic and ultimately survive. As Tess Hart, co-founder and CEO of PIDC client Triple Bottom Brewing states, “SBN provided a safe and active forum for me to find information and support that kept me moving forward in the early days of the pandemic. That was a time of such fear and uncertainty, and it was so valuable to know that SBN was our advocate, cutting through all the noise and making sure we were tapping into the resources that could keep our businesses afloat.”
PIDC interviewed Devi Ramkissoon, SBN’s executive director, on ways the network is making it easier for local business owners to grow and operate sustainably. Here’s what she had to say.
PIDC: When did you get involved with Sustainable Business Network (SBN) of Greater Philadelphia and what inspired you to do so?
Devi: I first became aware of SBN shortly after moving back to Philadelphia in 2018, when I shifted my sustainability consulting business from DC to Philadelphia. I was seeking other like-minded businesses and organizations with which I could become involved. I found the community I was looking for in SBN. Through SBN’s educational materials and resources, I gained significant insights into running a triple bottom line business in the region. While I ended up closing my business during the pandemic, I stayed connected to the SBN community and often referenced the member directory when looking for local businesses to support. Four years later, I am thrilled and honored to be leading the organization that created such a welcoming environment for me as a social entrepreneur.
PIDC: SBN has accomplished very much since its founding in 2001. Can you share some of the recent accomplishments impacting Philadelphia?
Devi: SBN has had numerous achievements over its 20+ years serving triple bottom line businesses in the region. Most recently, we 1) were a driving force in the passage and subsequent expansion of the Sustainable Business Tax Credit in Philadelphia, which has enabled the city to recognize the environmental, social, and economic impact that local independent businesses offer; 2) are a leading institution facilitating and promoting the City of Philadelphia’s Green City, Clean Waters plan; and 3) played a major role in the development and implementation of Philadelphia’s new values-based procurement practice.
PIDC: What resources does SBN provide to help business owners and how can they take advantage of these resources?
Devi: SBN amplifies the impact of a triple bottom line economy (people, planet, profit) by empowering local businesses to ignite systemic change in the region’s economy. We offer the following core types of resources and support to members and other local values driven businesses throughout the region:
Advocacy: As Greater Philadelphia’s leading advocacy and membership organization that supports thousands of diverse local independent businesses, we regularly convene with elected officials and policymakers to advance policy initiatives for local businesses to start, grow, and thrive.
Networking and Peer Exchange: We support our members to deepen their relationships, share best practices, and confront complex challenges with people who understand their experiences as local independent businesses.
Education: We share best practices and practical trainings so our members can stay “in the know” with responsive, applicable, and relevant skills, news, and information pertinent to their business’ growth and impact.
Resources: We provide access to members-only resources like SBN’s own impact-driven 401(k) plan, employee handbook templates, and more.
PIDC: Are there any notable upcoming SBN events or initiatives coming up that you’d like to share?
Devi: Yes! We will be launching a number of exciting programs in the coming months. Two of our most highly anticipated programs are: 1) Our Local Food Systems and Regenerative Agriculture partnership to support our business members who work in this sector. We’re excited to bring members experiential learning opportunities that will help them advance their own sustainability goals while continuing to advocate for their interests at the state and local level. 2) Our sustainable neighborhood tour summer series, during which we will guide locals and tourists through neighborhoods around the region to shop local member businesses, meet business owners, and learn about sustainability as a business practice – all in a fun and family-friendly way. While these programs are the next to launch, there are many more lined up for the remainder of the year, such as a series focused on the ways in which communities of color intersect with sustainability as well as a sustainable holiday flea market, so please keep an eye out for them by signing up for our newsletter on our website or checking out our events page.
PIDC: PIDC is proud to support businesses in growing their sustainable business practices. Tell us about SBN’s partnership with PIDC.
Devi: PIDC has been a tremendous partner in helping spur investment, support business growth, and foster developments in creating jobs, revitalizing neighborhoods and driving growth in Philadelphia communities. Several SBN members such as Birchtree Catering, LUHV Food, and many others are clients of PIDC. We’ve appreciated having Heather Hanowitz, PIDC’s vice president & senior loan officer for business lending, on our board over the past six years. Heather’s contributions to our organization have had a lasting impact on the way we operate. We look forward to future collaborations and partnership with PIDC in the years to come.
PIDC: What are at least three simple things almost any business owner can do right now to help make their business more sustainable?
Devi: 1) Join SBN as a member, partner, or donor. We are here to support local independent businesses throughout the region on their sustainability journeys in whatever way they feel comfortable. Becoming part of the SBN community opens up a wealth of options for local businesses to advance their sustainability goals.
2) Broaden their understanding of sustainability, which can encompass social and governance aspects in addition to the traditional environmental considerations that most businesses are familiar with. SBN can offer an impact assessment review, which can provide a valuable starting point for businesses to think through the various components of sustainability. We can work with businesses to identify 1-2 tangible and clear sustainability goals they would like to tackle in the next year, whether that be reducing waste, making hiring practices more equitable, or supporting a neighborhood initiative in their local communities. Contact us to learn more.
3) Stay in the know on sustainability issues affecting the region. SBN’s blog offers resources for businesses interested in learning more about a variety of topics, such as our Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI): A Tool for Economic Recovery and Growth in Pennsylvania report highlighting why GSI is a crucial tool for economic recovery and growth to our vision for a just, green, and thriving economy.
PIDC: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Devi: I’d love to share two of the key guiding principles for SBN’s work moving forward. One is that our work reflects the needs of diverse communities in and around the region. We recognize that business owners from underrepresented communities have higher barriers to entry into entrepreneurship, especially around access to capital. When they are able to start businesses, the odds are often pitted against them, from challenges obtaining contracts, to regulations that are difficult to navigate. Our programming offers support to diverse communities to navigate these challenges. Second, we embrace an expansive definition of sustainability. We recognize that, while some business owners are interested in environmental practices such as reduction in water usage or recycling fabrics, that is not the only way to be sustainable. Sustainability can also include interests such as tackling underemployment and mass incarceration or ensuring that employees earn a living wage. Whatever their access points, SBN is here to support businesses interested in navigating their paths in the world of sustainability.
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