This course helps emerging business leaders or career-switching professionals take those first steps toward launching a new business in the energy, finance, real estate, design, engineering, or environmental sectors, while also creating positive environmental and human health impacts.
It integrates tools, trends, and tips from the field of entrepreneurship as a career path for making a difference and generating wealth in the renewable energy and green building sectors.
This is not a course about theory.
After completing this course, students should be able to...
Define key business opportunities, challenges, and potential solutions in the renewable energy and green building sectors.
Analyze a successful business in renewable energy or green building.
Identify 2 to 3 problems you might solve with either renewable energy or green building products or services.
Plan for engaging with investors who might finance a new business.
Take real world first steps towards launching a new business or corporate initiative, by applying the 1-page business idea summary template and the Business Model Canvas to generating and refining your own new business ideas.
And in case you're wondering whether CDP has enough clout to get big companies, and now cities and states, to respond to their surveys, then consider their list of supporters, and respondents, in their visual below.
I recently attended the Sustainable Business and Social Impact at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business.
As an Executive in Residence there, I was proud to see such an event, including a Dean's Distinguished Speaker talk with B Corp Co-found Bart Houlahan, hosted at a top business school.
It's another sign that "purpose beyond profits" -- as speaker Freya Williams noted (CEO, Futerra North America) -- is gaining momentum.
So if you weren't one of the 750+ people registered for the event, then maybe you'll enjoy scanning these 3 highlights below...
When deciding on your longer term business strategy, or making a more time-sensitive decision, consider this framing:
First, be a human. Second, be a business leader.
- Source: Jason Rahlan, Chobani's Director of Social Impact and Philanthropy, where he oversees philanthropic investments and grants for the company.
A related method for encouraging more responsible decision making is to imagine the business advice that your kids would give you.
[But maybe ignore their advice on how many Girl Scout cookies you should be allowed to eat in one meal, or how many hours of tablet they should have per day. The answer is close to zero for both of those scenarios.]
In one example, his study noted that text messages sent "from" kids helped improve the personal finance behavior of the parents (i.e., saving for rainy day), as compared to several other strategies he tested to improve savings rates.
Can we, or should we, be OK with the fact that sometimes sustainable business strategies require tradeoffs...even if most of the time you can "have your cake and eat it, too"?
- Source: Dan Heath, co-author of four New York Times bestselling books: Made to Stick, Switch, Decisive, and The Power of Moments, which have sold over 3 million copies worldwide and been translated into 33 languages
As one CEO told me, business shouldn't be about "maximizing" financial performance at the expense of all other stakeholders and goals. Instead, the objective should be about attractive financial returns relative to the risks of doing so.
We've seen more interest and action in ESG (Environment, Social, Governance) investing in the last six months than in the last six years...[and] The world is never going to be less complex than it is now, so [let's mainstream ESG] today.
- Source: Ali Hartman, Head of Global Citizenship and Director, ESG Strategy, KKR
During the same ESG panel, Moody's noted that they have acquired multiple companies in recent years to help them better incorporate ESG criteria into their credit ratings.
In a similar trajectory, Cambridge Associates commented that ESG is "table steaks" in investing, becoming a part of most conversations with their investor clients, which are eager to learn or brag about how it’s a competitive advantage for them.
Finally, a panelist on the ESG theme observed that reaching a larger audience with sustainable products and services has to take an optimistic approach -- not doom and gloom. In her example with Impossible Burger, the desired customer response should be, "This shit is delicious!", instead of "Well, I guess I better avoid meat because I'm contributing to climate change."
Until next time, onward and upward.
I think my plant-based meat burger is waiting for me at the table. Yum, that is damn good.
In my role as professor at Duke University and UNC Chapel Hill, one course that I teach MBA and environmental graduate students focuses on corporate sustainability strategy, specifically reporting and certification programs.
What are examples?
LEED green building certification
GRI (Global Reporting Initiative)
SASB (Sustainability Accounting Standards Board)
TCFD (Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures)
CDP (formerly, Carbon Disclosure Project)
Another important way that an increasing number of companies are reporting on their environmental and social KPIs (key performance indicators) is the United Nations SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals).
Is this just about doing the right thing?
According to a report by The Business and Sustainable Development Commission, reaching the SDGs could unlock $12 trillion in business opportunities in these sectors: (1) food and agriculture, (2) cities, (3) energy and materials, and (4) health and well-being.
To learn more about how the SDGs might inspire changes in your business, check out these resources:
169 SDG Targets, with 232 unique Indicators (link)
How 17 companies are implementing the UN SDGs (link)
See how dozens of US companies are using the UN SDGs for their corporate goal setting and reporting (link)
In case that photo above is hard to read on your phone, here's the list of the UN SDGs, with more information behind each link.
Don't create a new product or service in the dark, investing too much time and money in order to deliver a "market ready" product, unless you get frequent feedback along the way, often far earlier than you'd be otherwise comfortably doing.
This should be a cycle of product creation, feedback, learning, and product enhancement.
If you instead follow a linear process, then the result is often a refined product or service that your target customer does not want to buy.
Sometimes it's said that if you aren't a little embarrassed by the first version of your product or service -- the Minimum Viable Product -- then you waited too long to get feedback.
Which ones feel like “blah, blah, blah,” running together with lots of other lofty corporate speak?
On the other hand, which might really motivate employees to get out of bed excited to come to work on purpose?
Which ones allow you to know if you’re making progress towards your goal?
Here are a few that caught my eye:
Back to the Roots – We’re on a mission to make food personal again and inspire families to ask “Where does my food come from?”
Conscious Brands – To help support the transition of 1,000 brands from the old economy to the new economy by 2020
CSRHub – To foster access to sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) information. We aim to be an engine of transparency that encourages more consistent and actionable disclosure from all types of organizations.
Futurepreneur – To play an integral role in the entrepreneurship experience of Canadians 18-39 by providing financing, mentoring and tools that will help them build sustainable businesses and create value.
Green City Growers – Green City Growers transforms unused space into thriving urban farms, providing our clients with immediate access to nutritious food, while revitalizing city landscapes and inspiring self-sufficiency.
IceStone – To transform waste glass into something beautiful while taking care of our employees and the planet at the same time.
Plum Organics – Plum’s mission is to get the very best food to little ones from the very first bite. And we mean all little ones.
As Entrepreneurs for Impact, what does this mean?
Know exactly what you’re after. Find and communicate the “why” of your business. Don’t get lumped into the rest of the pack. There’s only one you. Own “your crazy” (good intentions).
Lest I begin to feel like your mother, I’ll stop there.
At one point in time, I thought biomimicry was going to be the focus of my life’s work.
It tied together my love of the outdoors, my training in environmental science, my work in real estate, and my passion to solve big problems.
As a graduate student, I was able to bring the two global leaders in biomimicry — Janine Benyus and Dayna Baumeister — to Raleigh, North Carolina, for a week-long, intensive Biomimicry at the Design Table workshop.
While my path turned more towards entrepreneurship and finance, I remain a huge fan and promoter of biomimicry solutions and their related business opportunities.
First, what is biomimicry?
The Biomimicry Institute defines it as follows:
“An approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies.”
OK, let’s make this real and tangible. Here are some examples:
Wind turbine blades made to match the fins of humpback whales in order to produce more wind power at lower wind speeds
Commercial office buildings designed with no air conditioning systems by mimicking the design of termite mounds’ use of thermal massing and natural ventilation
Japanese shinkansen bullet trains reconfigured to reduce noise pollution (“thunder claps”) by following the designs of kingfisher birds' aerodynamic beaks
Tsunami warning systems created based on the efficiency of dolphin communication systems (aka, “unique frequency-modulating acoustics”)
Super strong, yet flexible, steel substitutes made like spider webs
Who’s putting biomimicry to work in the “real world”?
And dozens of others
What does this mean for Entrepreneurs for Impact?
Perhaps your next business idea could come from the natural world. And the scientists and engineers who are most expert in the opportunity might just need the help of startup, marketing, operations, and finance professionals who know how to build and run businesses.
This is a “free, online platform that evaluates how your company interacts with your workers, customers, community, and environment.”
You need to score at least 80 out of 200 points to be certified.
2. Meet the legal requirements.
As the B Corp website says…
“Certified B Corporations are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on all their stakeholders. B Corps make this legal change by updating their articles of incorporation, reincorporating as benefit companies, or making other structural changes. The B Corp legal framework helps companies protect mission through capital raises and leadership changes and gives entrepreneurs and directors more flexibility when evaluating potential sale and liquidity options.”
Enter your state at this website and learn what your legal requirements would be.
3. Get verified by the B Lab staff
B Lab, which administers the certification, will review your B Impact Assessment, and shine a giant flashlight on your face, as you sit sweating in an abandoned warehouse, surrounded by total darkness, a full moon, and the growling of hungry werewolves.
Actually, it’s more like a phone call with people who share your vision of the world, sometimes followed by an audit on site to verify some information.
4. Pay the fees
Below are the fees you would pay, based on your company’s annual revenue.
$0 - <$150,000 = $1,000 $150,000 - $499,999 = $1,100 $700,000 - $999,999 = $1,300 $1 MM - <$1.4 MM = $1,400 $1.5 MM - <$1.9 MM = $1,600 $2 MM - <$2.9 MM = $1,800 $3 MM - $4.9 MM = $2,000 $5 MM - $7.4 MM = $2,500 $7.5 MM - $9.9 MM = $3,750 $10 MM - $14.9 MM = $6,000 $15 MM - $19.9 MM = $8,500 $20MM - <$29.9 MM = $12,000 $30 MM - <$49.9 MM = $16,000 $50 MM - $74.9 MM = $20,000 $75 MM - $99.9 MM = $25,500 $100 MM - <$174.9 MM = $30,000 $175 MM - 249.9 MM = $35,000 $250 MM - $499.9 MM = $40,000 $500 MM - $749.9 MM = $45,000 $750MM - $999.9 MM = $50,000 $1B+ Based on size and complexity of your business
Is that a lot?
Is it the only cost?
No. You also need to consider the following costs:
Opportunity cost — What else would your employees be doing (to increase revenue or impacts) if they weren’t collecting and analyzing data for B Corp certification?
Consultant’s costs — Will any outside expertise be required?
Legal costs — How much time will be required to amend corporate documents and filing with the secretary of state?
Alright, Entrepreneurs for Impact, is B Corp certification for you?
Probably no, if you are…
A super lean, very small team (e.g., 3-6 peeps)
A public company
Otherwise, if you have a team driven by impact and profit, it’s likely worth your time to at least take the B Impact Assessment (BIA) and see how you’d score and what you might learn to improve your company’s positive impacts.
If you want some validation, I can tell you that over 50,000 companies have already taken the BIA. So, you know, peer pressure and such...
In just 30 minutes, you can use the B Impact Assessment (free and confidential) to get a snapshot of how you might score on a B corp certification.
Heck, you could do it while enjoying that morning mug of keto-coffee, loaded with butter, heavy cream, coconut milk, stevia, vanilla, and supercharged blender action to get just the right amount of froth and clear headspace for you.
Impact on their workers, community, environment, and customers
Governance structure and accountability
It does so by focusing on two big buckets:
Operations, which covers a company's day-to-day activities
Impact Business Models, which awards additional points for business models designed to create additional positive impact
The five major sections include the following (from B Corp:
For Entrepreneurs for Impact, this all sounds like fair game. But what does it really mean?
Here are some sample questions:
What portion of your management is evaluated in writing on their performance with regard to corporate social and environmental targets?
Do you have a formal process to share financial information (except salary info) with its full-time employees?
Have you ensured that the social or environmental mission of your company will be maintained over time, regardless of company ownership?
What is the minimum number of vacation days / sick days / personal days / holidays offered annually to full-time tenured workers (tenured defined as with the company for greater of 2 years or life of the company)?
What % of the company is owned by full-time workers (excluding founders/executives)?
What % of management is from underrepresented populations? (This includes women, minority/previously excluded populations, people with disabilities, and/or individuals living in low-income communities.)
Are full-time employees explicitly allowed any of the following paid or non-paid time-off hours options for community service?
What % of energy used is from renewable on-site energy production for corporate facilities?
Which is the broadest community with whom your environmental reviews/audits are formally shared?
If this sounds hard, I hear you.
But consider the implications of being on the “wrong side” of the answers to questions like these in the years to come.
As a recent study put it, over 50% of the value of the world’s largest companies comes from intangibles, such as brand.
“Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. B Corps are accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.”
Society’s most challenging problems cannot be solved by government and nonprofits alone. The B Corp community works toward reduced inequality, lower levels of poverty, a healthier environment, stronger communities, and the creation of more high quality jobs with dignity and purpose. By harnessing the power of business, B Corps use profits and growth as a means to a greater end: positive impact for their employees, communities, and the environment.”
Founded in 2006, the movement is growing. Here’s a snapshot of the B Corp community:
3,038 certified companies
Some of the recognizable B Corps include these Entrepreneurs for Impact:
Ben & Jerry’s
Danone (North America)
New Belgium Brewing
New Resource Bank
Per the B Corp team, below are reasons that 3,000+ companies have chosen to obtain B Corp certification, with my comments attached:
Lead a movement — Because someone has to.
Build relationships — Because we prefer to do business with people we like and trust.
Attract talent — Because increasingly top talent wants to work at a place where the business does more than just make money.
Improve impact — Because it’s all about constant improvement, baby!
Amplify voice — Because there is power in numbers.
Protect mission — Because sometimes new investors or an acquirer can otherwise change a company’s culture and vision.
The next blog will cover the following:
How do you actually get B Corp certified?
How can you get all the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream you can eat?
How can you get all the sweet Patagonia outdoor gear that you want?
If you're looking to improve your current business, or to find your next business idea, check out these two video series.
Both are created by John Lee Dumas, the man behind Entrepreneurs on Fire, a free podcast for entrepreneurs, with 2,000+ episodes, 70 million downloads. and 1 million monthly listens.
I count myself in this tribe. I’m a frequent listener, especially while driving or doing chores.
First, "Your Big Idea" -- This is a free, 3-part series on finding the nexus of curiosities + skills, of passion + expertise. It’s short and simple but helpful, especially if you have a blank slate, or just the opposite, too many ideas that you’re considering.
Second, "Real Revenue" -- This is a 13-module, $45 course that goes into far more detail, with a focus on building a community around a specific niche or industry, and then creating a high-margin business selling practical, action-oriented, well organized information.
Yep, this line (title) makes for a nice ice breaker when I’m on stage speaking. And I have to admit that I appreciate the alliteration with the “p’s.”
But it also summarizes how I try and contribute to the world -- Environmentally motivated, backed by research and data, with finance and entrepreneurship as powerful tools, a hint of levity, and refusal to accept normal definitions of what’s normal.
“Wait, wait...he has a ponytail and works in finance? Is he financing marijuana farms?”
Let me step back for a second…
If you are looking for a change, a business pivot, a personal rebranding, then maybe my path can be one example showing that it can be done. (Or, as you’ll see in future blogs, how to avoid the giant cow patties I have stepped in along the way.)
About 25 years ago, I was purely focused on environmental science, studying in the rainforests of Costa Rica and Panama. Avoiding malaria, dengue fever, and spider monkey urine were exciting, but...
After a detour teaching in Japan and traveling 80,000 miles in Asia for a few years, I dug deep into green real estate for my master’s and PhD degrees, happened upon private equity, and joined a firm managing billions of dollars, with a focus on environmental strategies.
Later, I went on to start some small companies, built a career in finance, and became a professor at Duke University and UNC Chapel Hill, teaching MBA, Masters of Environmental Management, and executive education students about changing the world for the better using business and finance. Here’s a summary of my work today.
That transition -- from "jungle boy" to "finance guy" -- is something I wouldn’t have believed if you’d told me about it 25 years ago.
Want a change? Take steps in the next 24 hours to make it happen. (Go on, the clock is ticking...)
Entrepreneurs for Impact are about action, not just analysis, right? (OK, OK, I know. I should close those 10 Excel files on my laptop and get back to action.)