Every major initiative needs a champion. And when it comes to leading the change process toward a sustainable future for your community, finding and nurturing business champions is critically important. Businesses that adopt sustainability practices must make sure the sum of these actions contribute to, rather than detract from, their financial bottom line. Consequently, they can be an example to help others realize that integrating sustainability is a sound business strategy that results in a net financial gain, enhanced innovation and a strong competitive advantage.

In Whistler, after more than 15 years into our sustainability initiatives, we are fortunate to now have many sustainability champions in the business community – see the list of iShift Businesses below. There are two champions in particular that are excelling at deep integration of sustainability into their business, and providing the models that are so helpful in moving the community-wide evolution forward. Alta Bistro and Ziptrek Ecotours are two of Whistler’s main champions and models of success, and we are very lucky to have them. In addition to their iShift Business profiles linked to above, you can also take a quick video tour of Alta Bistro’s sustainability practices  with co-owner Edward Dangerfield.

So how can you find or create, and then support champions in your community?

First you have to find your local champions. One way municipalities can connect with the local business community is by hosting learning events with the local chamber of commerce that link business and sustainability strategies together. This can be done with expert guest speakers who may be local or brought in from abroad. To reduce costs, host an event using online presentations by experts (try TED.com), and combine this with some facilitated discussions to share insights and ask questions.

If you don’t have any clear champions yet, create them! It won’t happen overnight, but it will be worth the investment. Again, use learning events and focus them initially on explaining the business case for sustainability so they begin to realize that sustainability is as a sound strategy for success. Bob Willard has a number of excellent offerings and resources that you can use for this purpose and there are more and more success stories spread across cyberspace, with GreenBiz.com being a good starting point.

Now that you’ve found one (or maybe a few), how can you support them? Our experience has shown that there are three important and fairly easy ways to do this: profile and promote them; use their products and/or services; and share learning and innovations.

Profiling and promoting them can be done in a number of different ways, but all should take advantage of some very effective ‘community based social marketing’ techniques, commitment, peer influence, persuasion and vivid information. We have profiled local champions by sharing their success stories and their commitments in local newspapers, online and at learning events. Our Whistler-based iShift Business program coupled the business profile with interesting information and tips about a topic related to the profile.

Buying the products and/or services offered by your champions is probably the most important part of the partnership you can develop with them. It puts your money where your mouth is, demonstrating that not only do you talk about the value of their business model, but that you actually value what they offer and you purchase from them. In exchange, there will likely be ways they can support your efforts, for example, local restaurants can host your learning events and maybe help make the event more affordable, knowing they may be exposed to new patrons – a win-win for both partners.

Finally, share information and innovative ideas that help to keep you both motivated and inspired to continue the sustainability journey. This can be done through such channels as email of course, but also through fun lunch and learn sessions hosted by a different business each time. We once had a group of people from Whistler businesses and non-profits that met monthly called SLUG – the Sustainability Learning and Understanding Group, and we ate lunch and discussed a new topic each time we net. And don’t forget to make it fun – share a light hearted video clip like this one to help make the journey more enjoyable.

We have extensive experience supporting champions and hosting learning events in Whistler. If you would like to speak with us to learn more, please contact Shannon Gordon at 604-906-0310 or sgordon[at]whistlercentre.ca

Community Based Social Marketing online resource thanks to Doug McKenzie-Mohr, Ph.D. – Environmental Psychologist

iShift Whistler Businesses who are developing sustainability strategies:

1. Alta Bistro (Watch this short, sweet video about their sustainability practices!)
2. Araxi’s
3. Avant Contractors
4. Black’s Pub & Restaurant
5. Callaghan Country Wilderness Adventures
6. Canadian Snowmobile Adventures
7. Coast Blackcomb Suites at Whistler
8. Creekbread
9. Edgewater Lodge
10. Evolution
11. Four Seasons/Sidecut Restaurant
12. Gone Eatery/Moguls Coffee House
13. Green Table Network
14. inspirEarth
15. Maggi Thornhill Real Estate
16. Prior Snowboards
17. RDC Fine Homes
18. Squamish Lillooet Regional District
19. The Grocery Store
20. The Whistler Question
21. Tourism Whistler
22. Upper Village Market
23. Whistler Blackcomb food services
24. Whistler Chamber of Commerce
25. Whistler Community Services Society
26. Whistler Cooks
27. Whistler Dental
28. Whistler Golf Club
29. Whistler Real Estate Company
30. Whistler Sport Legacies Society
31. Ziptrek Ecotours

By Shannon Gordon