It is a feel-good kind of a thing, when your business practices align with your values,” said Analiese Paik, co-founder of Sustainne LLC, a recently launched platform that connects consumers with Fairfield County businesses that follow sustainability principles.
Paik came to sustainability in a career shift: she was vice president of the New Business Group at Lehman Brothers before launching the digital publication Fairfield Green Food Guide in 2009. Her partner in Sustainne, Amy Kalafa, had previously focused on sustainability issues in her work as a documentary filmmaker in “Two Angry Moms,” author of the book “Lunch Wars” and co-founder of the Lachat Town Farm, a community farm in Weston that offers educational programs related to agriculture, the environment, sustainability and nutrition. But in planning Sustainne, the duo came to redefine sustainability beyond ecological science.
“Sustainability is really about engaging all of the stakeholders involved in the community,” said Kalafa. “It involves responsibly reusing and recycling materials. But it is also about economic sustainability — look at paid family leave, or how we can support businesses that are doing the right thing.”
Businesses and nonprofits listed on the Sustainne platform initially fill out a survey that identifies their commitment to three pillars of sustainability as defined by Paik and Kalafa.
The first pillar focuses on environmental tenets related to natural resources and waste management, sourcing, energy and transportation and workspace quality. Considerations here cover the spectrum from recycling waste paper to utilizing hybrid or electric vehicles for business purposes.
The second pillar takes aim at people power, with an emphasis on community engagement, volunteerism and mentoring, employee well-being and stakeholder engagement. Considerations here can stretch from offering employees gym memberships to transparent disclosure of financial information with staff.
The third pillar encompasses prosperity and touches on sustainability management and reporting, certification and labeling, financial practices and organizational structure. Concerns here range from whether Generally Accepted Accounting Practices (GAAP) are in place to whether long-term investments in sustainability are regularly measured.
“Our listings are a way to present the sustainability story at a deeper level,” Kalafa said, noting the human element plays an equal role to material goods in sustainability. “Whatever is important to you as a consumer, you can find it in our searchable index. Whether it is seeking out women- and minority-owned businesses or connecting with firms that hire people with disabilities.”
“Sustainability is a really big tent and we’re trying to focus on businesses that have all different aspects of sustainability,” added Paik.
Paik and Kalafa self-funded Sustainne’s creation on a $10,000 budget and their website went live last October. The fee for an entity to be listed on Sustainne varies based on industry. Farms and food service companies pay $150 per year, while small businesses are charged $300 per year and enterprise-level operations pay $450 per year.
“If you look at advertising costs in Fairfield County, that’s a really, really good deal,” said Paik.
Businesses and nonprofits listed on Sustainne are also included in a private Facebook forum that enables them to network and share information on best practices and operations. For consumers, Sustainne also features original blog postings on corporate, culinary and lifestyle topics. “We’re both storytellers and both fascinated with the different initiatives,” Paik said.
Sustainne currently has 22 Fairfield County entities listed and has also received inquiries from Westchester businesses seeking to be part of the platform. “We’re in the 1.0 stage and we have plans for 2.0 and beyond,” Kalafa said.
For Paik, the ultimate act of sustainability would be to use that concept to reanimate the Connecticut economy. “Sustainability is key to economic growth in our state,” she said. “We are losing more jobs than we are gaining.”