Next week’s SMCo tangent handrail class is full, with people coming from around the country, and from right here on the Vineyard as well. Now, as we slide into one of our busiest fall/winter seasons ever, we are still trying to find time to concentrate on other aspects of this theme of training and education.
We are very excited about Building Energy Bottom Lines (BEBL), a new initiative that has emerged from a few age-old questions:
• How can we make a difference?
• How can we insist on the future we want rather than accepting the future we get?
• How we are going to assure a better world – or even a tolerable one – for our grandchildren?
• Are we being good ancestors?
For more and more of us, these days, and all of us at SMCo, the answers to these questions are embodied in our business careers. We are business people with passion for our craft.
But we live in complex times. Our country is experiencing more mood swings than a teenager. The future is unpredictable. And yet, despite all that, we carry on.
But is that enough?
We try to use our business to create the world we wish for. We try to use our business to create better lives for our families and our employees. We try to use our business to enhance and stabilize our communities.
BE Bottom Lines is designed to help us get better at doing those things.
It will consist of a group of regional (New England) peer group networks of architecture, engineering, building, design/build, energy efficiency, and renewable energy companies dedicated to high performance building.
Each network will consist of 8-12 geographically diverse businesses. The scale of the individual businesses may be similar; they may vary. The networks will meet several times a year and communicate online year-round.
The central idea is that each network will use a variety of techniques to help the individual businesses within to learn from each other and sharpen business skills and capabilities.
The focus of the endeavor will be Triple Bottom Line (TBL) business practices – a way of thinking and practicing that assigns equal weight to “People, Planet, and Profits”:
• People: social change & justice, employee well-being, governance, ownership, community involvement, philanthropy, legacy, and service to our clients;
• Planet: building performance standards, resilience, company carbon footprints, and environmental restoration;
• Profits: financial success and stability, capitalization, sales and marketing, investment.
TBL practice is a fundamentally different kind of commerce that is growing exponentially in the business world. We can learn from each other about doing business this way – and about finding strategic alignment and improving capacity in all three domains. Groups will agree on useful metrics in each area and share performance data, experiences, and stories with each other.
Where Did This Idea Originate?
Peer group networks are a proven way to improve business performance. Jamie, Paul, and I have all been involved, in the past, in peer group networks in which companies drilled into each others’ businesses year after year to help each other improve their financial performance.
Since 2007 I have taught a two day class at Yestermorrow – called The Art of Small Business – which is a crash course in triple bottom line practice. This is a photo of last years’ class.
The three of us have worked together for decades as organizers, board members, and presenters with NESEA and as collaborators and travellers along similar business paths.
In 2012 Jamie and Paul both attended my class; Jamie returned in 2013. At some point we decided we could expand what was happening in the class – the dynamic of companies coming together to share information about how to build businesses that are better for the world – to a larger audience with more on-going continuity. We agreed that the regional peer group network model is the right one. We presented the idea to the 2013 class and asked for their feedback. It was positive and enthusiastic.
Building Energy Bottom Lines was born.
The Heart of the Matter
Within the various NESEA and Yestermorrow programs we gain technical knowledge from our fellow practitioners. The willingness to share successes along with lessons learned from past mistakes has always been a NESEA core value. This has fostered a community that is truly a learning organization for developing broad-based mastery of technical skills.
But the three of us perceive a need and a strong desire among members of the NESEA/Yestermorrow communities to foster broad-based mastery of business skills to complement and support our technical skills. We share a sense that that technical mastery is not being adequately deployed due to the lack the business skills to increase capacity to do good work and broaden the marketplace. Teaming up in these peer groups will lead to more effective advocacy and practice.
Emerging from within the NESEA community, this initiative is already endowed with:
• The high levels of trust and collegiality that have been nurtured over the 40 years of NESEA’s existence (this cohort will have no problem sharing all kinds of information in small peer groups, because that’s what we already do!);
• A culture which takes for granted that we develop skills and share knowledge not just for our own benefit, but for the benefit of all — inside and outside our community;
• Humility borne of shared experience that makes us open to learning from a wide range of sources and people.
That’s a lot to start with. Plenty to build on.
Who Do We Expect To Participate and How Will It Launch?
BE Bottom Lines is targeted for small businesses in the design, building, and energy sectors. They may range in size from businesses with no employees to those with 75-100 employees.
We have already identified a number of interested companies. In March, 2014, at NESEA’s Building Energy 14 conference in Boston, we will offer two half-day introductory workshops to begin to collect more participants. In April 2014 we will convene a two day launch gathering.
At the April meeting we will discuss logistics, organize the networks, and BE Bottom Lines will be underway.
What Will the Process Be – How Will It Work?
Individual network self-governance is the goal. A steering committee will oversee operations. Each network will have a representative who will join other key stakeholders on that committee. Some key responsibilities of the steering committee will be to:
• Operate an online forum to connect the networks to share information;
• Provide facilitation and governance training for the individual networks;
• Maintain organizational supervision and financial viability.
The individual networks will decide when, where, and how to meet, how to organize their other communications, how to prioritize topics and metrics, and all other business of the network.
Each company will pay an annual fee to participate. Most of the fees will be used to fund the network operations. A part of the fee will go to BE Bottom Lines administration to finance the umbrella organization. We anticipate that BE Bottom Lines will be financially self-sustaining and will generate a modest income for its sponsoring organizations (NESEA and Yestermorrow).
And Finally . . .
As Paul says, “There are two kinds of small businesses in the NESEA community: those that I have learned a tremendous amount from from and those that I will learn a tremendous amount from when I get the chance.”
This will be that chance.