Sustainable business network put 'on hold'

Citing money problems, the Southern Oregon Sustainable Business Network has decided to shut down — at least temporarily.

In its almost two years, the network has given sustainability trainings, conducted assessments of businesses, created Green Drinks events and enrolled 20 businesses in its mission, the "Triple Bottom Line: economic prosperity, healthy environment and well-being of all."

Co-director Lynn Blanche said the network found itself unable to raise enough grant and donor income to keep going or to pay sufficient salaries to staff.

Co-director John Lamy resigned for full-time work. Blanche said the network is "too much for one person to try to hold up," given multiple tasks in marketing, training, education, board development, projects and other areas.

"It's sad, but there wasn't enough financial support from the community to make the thing go," said Lamy. "We couldn't fund it. We met a lot of enthusiastic people and talked to a lot of foundations and companies, but there wasn't broad enough support."

The network earlier received a $3,000 grant from the Carpenter Foundation. It recently acquired another Carpenter grant of $2,000 but returned it, Lamy said. New members of the last three months were refunded membership fees.

"Our accomplishments included a lot of education, stimulating of interest in sustainability, and people getting more serious about it, seeing the benefits in customer and employee interest and feeling they're not alone in it," he said.

The network will keep its nonprofit status and website to leave open the possibility of reviving it later.

"It's not dead. We are putting it on hold, though," Blanche said. "And we're not sure about the nonprofit model. It may be something else."

The Green Drinks — social gatherings with speakers at various pubs — will continue, she said.

The network focused on energy efficiency, water care and waste prevention, attempting to serve as a one-stop shop for companies so they wouldn't have to seek out multiple government agencies, Blanche said.

The network also provided assessments on site to suggest affordable and efficient initiatives businesses could mount to gain bragging rights with clients and get employees fired up about joining sustainable efforts and suggesting new ideas, she said.

"We still want to figure out how to bring this to the valley," she said. "Many steps are not that hard. Our message was to start where you are, save money and reduce your carbon footprint, then you'll gain the attention of customers, employees, suppliers and the community."

The group tried to persuade businesses that such initiatives could build economic resiliency, conserve resources and create an image that would increase economic development.

The focus was on small- to medium-sized businesses that make up more than 90 percent of the local economy, she said.

Network members included Segway of Jacksonville, White Cloud Press, Reinholdt & O'Harra Insurance, ProntoPrint, Hammonds Construction, Avista, Baxter Fitness and Jackson County Physical Therapy.

"The world is moving to deeper and deeper understanding of the total environment, the ecosystem and each other, and we contributed to the general movement, but we were clearly ahead of our time," Lamy said.

"Will we start up again? In my heart, I hope it's yes."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.


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