The ninth annual Sustainable Enterprise Conference was held Wednesday April 30, 2014 in Rohnert Park at the green conscious and solar powered Sonoma Mountain Village Event Center. It brought together thought leaders from industry, academics, and environmental policy to present best practices and ideas to build a sustainable and equitable economy.
Amongst the topics focused upon was Sustainability in Business. Sheryl O’Loughlin, the former CEO of Clif Bar, shared her learning’s from leading and creating companies that have a core commitment to sustainability. Even small changes like using energy efficient lighting and performing energy audits, display why “It’s so important to just get started,” she said. “Those kind of small steps convince people that it can work and can be successful.”
“B Corporations-Building a Business to Do Good” detailed the burgeoning of B Corps of which there are now over 150 in the San Francisco Bay Area alone. Don Simon, who helped craft the California Benefit Corporation Legislation, led a discussion addressing the legal aspects while others discussed the certification process.
Other topics included resilient investing, sustainability in the wine industry, electric vehicles, and the impact local government can have for climate action.
Well known speaker Jay Shafer, founder of Four Lights Tiny House Company, talked about the trends in tiny houses, “I believe people should be allowed to live as simply as they choose. Since the recent housing bust, bank bailouts, and subsequent economic downturn, there has been increasing demand for well-designed, affordable homes, and more sensible laws.”
Given the Sonoma County location, the topics soon came around to the bounty of food, wine, and recreational opportunities, which have made Sonoma County famous the world over. Sonoma County Tourism’s president Ken Fischang pointed out that the county attracts over 8 million visitors per year and that those tourists generate over $1.5 billion in tourism revenue. “We are so rich with experiential and ecotourism opportunities,” Fischang said. “We want to promote the number one reason why people come here, which is Sonoma County’s natural beauty.”
Indeed, ecotourism, agritourism, and sustainable wine production were the topics of one of the day’s most vibrant sessions. Dr. Robert Girling of Sonoma State University stated “We all know the effects tourism has had on the environment — the fuel used, the development that displaces local communities,” he said. “In recent years, there has been a shift toward ecotourism, which improves the well-being of local people.”
Sustainable tourism means that more revenue stays in the local economy and goes to small businesses and mom and pop operators, said Malia Everette, who founded Altruvistas, an international tour company and foundation that promotes social responsibility and philanthropy in the travel industry. “You can really see the transformational power of travel,” she said.
“More and more people want to travel to experience something.” Pamela Lanier author and founder of Friends of Sustainable Tourism International said as she discussed the growing interest in Agritourism “They don’t just want to see something, they want to do and learn something, which they can put into practice once they get home. A car trunk full of veggies, eggs, honey, flowers, cheeses, and jams makes a memorable and delicious memento of the trip!”