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Area business network dedicated to sustainability

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Rob Wood owns Spoutwood Farm Center in Codorus Township. The center operates a community-sponsored agriculture program and offers educational programs tied to the environment and social well-being.
Rob Wood owns Spoutwood Farm Center in Codorus Township. The center operates a community-sponsored agriculture program and offers educational programs tied to the environment and social well-being. - (Photo / )

Rob Wood is concerned about food.

Much of the food grown in York County is not sold to York County residents, said the owner of Spoutwood Farm Center in Codorus Township. Meanwhile, much of the food consumed by York County residents comes from somewhere else.

Among many other things, Spoutwood operates a community-sponsored agriculture program and offers educational programs tied to the environment and social well-being.

“We need to get a lot more sustainable about what we grow,” he said.

However, businesses still have to make a profit.

Along those lines, the Susquehanna Sustainable Business Network was started in March 2007 with the triple bottom line of people, place and profit in mind.

With about 40 members, most of whom do business in Central Pennsylvania, the 501(c)(3) is the only sustainable business network between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, said Stacey Irwin, the network's board president and an associate professor at Millersville University. Kinds of companies include food producers, architects, contractors, financial planners and others.

“We ask that members be locally rooted, have control of their own business and marketing decisions, have sustainable businesses practices implemented in their organization, and continue to strive to be sustainable in many of the aspects of their business,” Irwin said. “Some businesses are old pros at this, but other members join to learn how to strengthen and increase sustainable and ecofriendly choices within their organizations.”

What is sustainability?

The sustainability movement has been going on for decades, but in the past dozen years, it has taken hold in corporate boardrooms, said John Seryak, president of Columbus, Ohio-based Go Sustainable Energy, a firm dedicated to helping businesses across the country save money by instituting sustainable practices.

“What sustainability inherently implies is that your business practices now are not sustainable, either not in the short term or long term,” he said. “One can view a resource as environmentally or economically unsustainable. Traditional businesses and larger corporations use it as a tool to evaluate where they're at risk.”

Dan Azzara, a professor of agriculture economics and food science at Penn State's Sustainability Institute, said the sustainability concept helps business be a “better citizen.”

“There's still a business connection,” he said. “They're still making money. But they're doing it in way that is socially responsible and tries to preserve the environment and sustain it into the future for long time — either to leave things the way they found them or to try to improve them.”

Keeping community

The Susquehanna Sustainable Business Network is made up of business, nonprofit and individual members aimed at leaving things better than how they found them, Irwin said.

The group fosters networking, advocacy and education in hopes of also promoting a key component of sustainability: local purchasing for merchants, businesses, craftspeople, artists, community-sponsored agriculture, farms and farm stands. That includes hosting speakers or planning events, including Earth Day celebrations.

In addition, the group created the Lancaster Local Capital Day, held Sept. 27 — the one day Lancaster was the state capital — to focus on spending locally. For almost nine years, the network has published the “Local Green Pages” in print and as an ebook.

The first Green Pages, and other group efforts, were done with help from Franklin & Marshall College. More recently, the group has been working with Millersville to get resources and publish the Green Pages, Irwin said.

The network promotes sustainability not just so member businesses can earn money or the environment is a little cleaner. It's because Central Pennsylvania is unique and the group wants to keep it that way, Irwin said.

“As communities, if we do not continually work to foster and strengthen our local economies and encourage our local businesses to make sustainable business practices, the environment we know and love will go away,” she said. “We will end up looking like any other town, with all of the same stores and all of the same options.” 

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