The Full Story
A lot can happen over a cup of coffee. Business deals are made, ideas are born, and connections are made while sitting down and enjoying a morning beverage. Such was the case with Building Sustainable Connections. On July 12, 2021, one cup of coffee started a conversation surrounding resource conservation and energy reduction in the Sioux Falls community. Who were the leaders in energy efficient building design and waste reduction? What local actors were working to consciously reduce their carbon footprint? Which of these individual entities were going above and beyond to establish their organization (and by extension, our city) as innovators of sustainability in the Midwest?
Several cups of coffee later, Building Sustainable Connections was born out of a desire to recognize and reward those organizations who were reducing their negative environmental impacts through a variety of changes to their business operations. This program also had a greater goal: to create a competitive environment that would position Sioux Falls as a leader in climate-forward business actions.
While studying in Costa Rica, our founder, Amber Lively, heard an inspirational story from the operator of her Hostel. The Hostel resided upstream from a hotel, and the two lodging accommodations were in constant competition to attract new travelers to their location. They both offered access to the nearby Cloudbridge Nature Reserve, and both properties backed to the beautiful flowing Chirripo Pacifico River. However, the staff at the Hostel noticed that their neighbors were using a cleaning solvent that left a pink film on the river. After repeated requests to the hotel to use a more environmentally friendly cleaning product, the team at the Hostel decided upon a different approach to encourage their neighbors. The Hostel applied for Costa Rica's Blue Flag Ecology Program (Programma Bandera Azul Ecologica Costa Rica) and was successfully awarded the honor! After proudly displaying the Program flag in front of their property and noting their award on the Hostel's booking site, the neighboring hotel took notice and evaluated their own ability to receive this award. After a few adjustments, including replacing the solvent leaving a pink residue on the river, the hotel was also able to successfully receive a Program flag for their property.
Building Sustainable Connections hopes to foster this same competitive environment within our community by rewarding those who are taking actions to better our city.
Keeping it Local
While several national and international green business programs are available to companies, these often come with prohibitive barriers such as extensive time commitments, testing fees, lengthy forms, or costly certification fees. Recognition programs such as the Blue Flag Ecology Program are designed around quantifiable impacts, such as water quality metrics, that are used to determine eligibility. Additionally, these are often not accessible to small businesses, entities renting their facility, or to non-commercial entities such as nonprofits.
Building Sustainable Connections was created in Sioux Falls with the intent that certification was not only attainable for our community's businesses, but also aspirational for our growing commerce. For Sioux Falls businesses, Green Business qualification standards need to be designed around our local environment and how businesses can best impact eastern South Dakota. Our organization worked closely with the City of Sioux Falls Office of Sustainability to ensure we supported the goals and objectives of the Sioux Falls Sustainability and Climate Action Plan. We consulted local small business leaders to ensure we included attainable actions. And we worked with experts in building standards to curate a Green Business Certification Checklist that can also serve as a roadmap for businesses as they begin their commitment to sustainability. In short: the Green Business Certification Checklist was created to best serve the business community, the local environment, and the people of Sioux Falls.
After creating the vision for this organization, Amber set about researching successful Green Business Programs in the United States. After several months of comparing programs (including the City of Sioux Falls' former Green Business Program) and discussing with experts, it became clear that a Green Business Program composed of attainable actions, geared towards the business community of Sioux Falls, and awarded by an unbiased and independent entity, would be a successful way to bring an environmentally beneficial form of competition to the area. The best route to pursue this was through a 501(c)(3) nonprofit entity. The first Board of Directors member signed on to the organization in December of 2021, and Building Sustainable Connections filed for incorporation as a legal entity in March of 2022. They are currently awaiting official recognition as a nonprofit organization and are eager to begin recognizing South Dakota businesses in the very near future!