A Semi-Annual Publication of Manomet

Interview with Julie Beane

Shorebirds

JULIE BEANE, Program Manager for Manomet's Sustainable Economies Program

Julie Beane is a program manager for Manomet's Sustainable Economies Program. She coordinates the Small Business Sustainability Benchmarking Tool, a web-based tool and resource toolkit that allows businesses to measure their financial, social and environmental practices and make improvements over time. As a small business owner herself, she understands the challenges of running a business and the importance of making

 

1) Why did Manomet decide to address small business sustainability?

Almost everything we do as humans involves consumption of something—food, clothing, any number of goods and services. In most cases, those items are purchased from businesses and that consumption has a huge impact on the environment. Rather than try to influence consumer behavior to be more sustainable, we chose a different strategy by working upstream with the businesses that produce and sell these goods. Manomet developed the Small Business Sustainability Program (SBSP) to help small businesses understand sustainability and how they can use that knowledge to become stronger with a smaller environmental footprint.

Small businesses are consistently left out of the sustainability conversation. Individually they're small, but cumulatively they have impact, generating nearly half of our nation's wages but more than half of global pollution. What small businesses lack is time and resources. The SBSP offers small businesses a free, easy-to-use online tool to benchmark their current financial, social, and environmental practices and connect them with experienced business counselors to guide them in improving those practices.

2) How did Manomet develop the tool?

We piloted a longer version of the tool in 2012 with an organization called Maine Businesses for Sustainability.

We were pleased that over 200 Maine businesses signed up, but we also learned key lessons about how to make this new tool better: shorten it significantly, make it available to a larger audience, and partner with an organization that can provide free, one-on-one technical assistance to help businesses become more sustainable. This is why our partnership with the U.S. Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) is so important. SBDCs already provide free counseling to small businesses across the country, so tapping into this existing network will help us reach more businesses, help SBDCs deliver more service, and ensure businesses have the expertise they'll need to turn information into action.

3) What has the reaction been from small businesses? What does Manomet do to understand the perspectives of small businesses?

The small business community was very supportive of the first tool when we piloted it in Maine. Consistently, through focus groups and conversations with users, they said it helped them better understand sustainability and gave them ideas on how to strengthen their business. But they wanted something a bit simpler that would lead them to action faster. We needed to shorten the tool and provide a no-barrier path for adopting new practices. My husband and I own a café in Brunswick, so as a small business owner myself, I know how little time there is to focus on anything other than day-to-day operations. If we want small business owners to adopt new practices, we have to make it easy and worthwhile, and that's what we're doing with the new tool we're developing. We listened to the feedback about the first tool and are designing the new tool to incorporate those improvements.

4) What is in the future for the tool and how will the program grow?

We're in a rapid ramp-up phase of the project, building key partnerships in the region and the country, and developing the web platform for the tool so it is ready for piloting in New England this summer. As I mentioned, critical partners in this project are the SBDC counselors who will help us market the tool and provide technical assistance to businesses, so we were very excited to secure participation from the Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont SBDCs. Six counselors in those states are helping us pilot the new tool with their business clients, moving us closer to our goal of reaching 400 businesses with our program. Based on feedback from the New England pilot, we will improve the tool and launch it nationally. There are 63 SBDCs, at least one in every state, and they counsel approximately 65,000 potential or existing businesses every year, so enrolling these counselors is a key strategy to get us to our ultimate goal of 8,000 businesses over the next four years.

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