Prediction: Local Will Be the New Black for 2014
10 Ways Your Business Can Benefit From, and Support, Localization for Shared Value
I’ve been trying to sift out the craziness from a busy business development year to find the essence of what’s lead our little boutique-style consulting firm, Share Value Solutions Ltd., along a positive and exciting path into 2014. The more I reflect, the more I keep hitting on the word “local”. This is odd because much of our consulting work might be considered pretty boring and not very local.
Our work typically revolves around regulatory approvals for major infrastructure projects in Canada’s resource extraction driven economy – big renewable energy projects, big mining initiatives, big transmission line projects, big water infrastructure projects, big waste management projects, big highway and road projects, and other big projects usually far away from our home base office. We’re hardly a group you would think would be keen on localization. We’re mostly a group of science, governance and environmental policy geeks who spend a lot of time in remote places far beyond our local communities.
But we’re geeks with passion and we absolutely love the community (Guelph) , the region (Waterloo-Wellington) and the watershed (the Grand River watershed) that we’ve chosen for organizing our business activities. As geeks with passion, rather than take a boring technocratic approach to our projects, we dive into byzantine regulatory procedures and environmental assessments, but by always looking for local angles and local opportunities.
While sifting through project work from 2013, I came across a blog post titled “5 Reasons to Be Optimistic about Sustainability” in 2014, in which Raz Godelnik, the co-founder of Eco-Libris, identifies “Local is the New Black” as the first of five trends that should keep us optimistic about sustainability in 2014. Godelnik cites IBM’s annual “5 in 5″ predictions report, which predicts that in the next five years, buying local will beat online. This took me to another blog post “Hyper Local is the New Black”, from earlier in 2013, in which the folks at TMP Magnet in the UK, highlight the need for hyper local and personal business connections when 1 in 3 Google searches now include a local location and when technology is “persistently shrinking the world to a global village, making location less vital for business.”
These articles remind me of how many benefits we’ve realized in our boutique-style consulting firm by focusing time and energy on our passion for localization – at home and in the far flung communities in which we work. I realize that without a great deal of strategic planning, we’ve learned that the more we support localization, the more value we bring to both local communities and our consulting business.
Our passion for localization leads us to discover all sorts of innovative ways to help our clients and help our communities to:
- protect and enhance the environment and biodiversity in and around local watersheds,
- improve local environmental science, monitoring and mapping capabilities,
- celebrate and protect cultural heritage resources and traditional ecological knowledge and land use
- harness major infrastructure projects to support local infrastructure development, local procurement and the development of local service and supply sectors,
- contribute to the design and engineering of projects that work for communities as well as for project proponents,
- tell their own stories about their social, economic and environmental choices, actions and goals,
- generate local economic clusters around major infrastructure projects,
- reduce water footprints and contribute to local water management action plans, and
- reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the realities of climate change.
Local is definitely the operative word in our work. Throughout 2013 we made a series of business development choices and we acted in the direction of localization.
So based on our experiences in 2013 and our path into 2014, here are 10 Ways Your Business Can Benefit From, and Support, Localization for Shared Value:
1) Buy Local – this one is the most obvious, is easy to do, provides numerous local economic benefits and environmental benefits, reduces your carbon footprint, and can save you money. This year we bought and renovated a new local office in a neighbourhood needing some revitalization, and used – and re-used - local materials and furnishings, and sought local services throughout the renovation. We even worked with a local window signage company to design a long etched glass style mural of a wetland to green up a previously dismal pedestrian viewscape.
2) Put “Local” in a Purchasing Policy - sustainable and ethical purchasing helps influence the market, encourage businesses to offer more innovative and responsible options at lower prices, and supports local/regional economic development and community well-being. In 2013 we got into policy mode and publicly committed to a purchasing policy that asks a series of questions before purchasing a product, including, “can we purchase from a local/regional supplier within 200 kilometers of our offices or communities in which we work?” Our purchasing decisions – everything from our creative wetland window treatment to our choices of paint and security system suppliers were influenced by this simple question.
3) Put “Local” in a Corporate Bylaw – corporate bylaws are fundamental to guiding key company and organizational decisions and bylaws that incorporate local considerations can push key decisions toward local benefit. This year, as part of our road to B Corporation certification, we included within our corporate bylaws a bylaw that says that in our business decision-making processes we must consider benefit to community and the environment, instead of simply making a profit. Legally, our company is not focused on maximizing shareholder value – we are focused on maximizing value for our communities, for society and for our shareholders, holding true to key commitments in our mission statement: Have Fun, Make Money, Do Good and Do Good Work.
4) Determine to Create Shared Value in Your Local Community - Shared value companies recognize that there are tremendous opportunities for innovation and growth in tackling social problem, especially social problems in local contexts, as core business objectives. In 2013 we became the first certified Shared Value Initiative Affiliate in Ontario and one of only two in Canada to become part of a global community of practice among leading companies finding opportunities for innovation and growth by tackling social problems as a core business objective. We’re now on course to better document, measure and share our shared value initiatives and outcomes with other Canadian firms interested in this exciting and meaningful way of doing business.
5) Reconceive Local Products and Markets – one way to create shared value is to redefine markets in terms of unmet needs or develop new products that fuel positive change when they are used. While most consulting firms in our line of work help large companies “manage” relations and environmental assessment work with Aboriginal communities, we flipped this around and sought Aboriginal communities as clients so that we could work on their behalf to help those communities manage the large companies and projects that can impact – negatively and positively – community well-being. At the end of 2013, the majority of our client work comes from a variety of Aboriginal communities, including several communities very close to home, and the referrals for new work with Aboriginal communities, and with leading Canadian firms that understand this shared value equation, keep coming.
6) Reconfigure Value Chains for Local Content – a second way to create shared value is to better use local natural resources, local talent and local supplier capabilities. At the end of 2013 we entered into a key partnership to start developing a “buy local” carbon offset business with one of our clients, a client that has created some locally beneficial, and stunningly innovative, greenhouse gas reduction processes. In 2014 we will be looking to expand this partnership to create a new value chain among the many other businesses and organizations that “get” the benefits of supporting local carbon offset initiatives and “get” the benefit of learning from one another as they reduce their carbon footprints.
7) Enable Local Cluster Development – a third way to create shared value is to support the growth of locally and regionally interconnected and supportive industries, academic institutions, government agencies and non-governmental organizations. 2013 saw us launch several local cluster development initiatives that will continue into 2014 and beyond:
- putting time and energy into a major regional business innovation initiative known as the Toronto-Guelph-Waterloo Region Innovation SuperCluster, and seeking to support a regional conference on this topic in late 2014;
- bringing the opportunity for Open Space Technology Facilitator Training to our home community and our clients with a January 29th & 30th 2014 Workshop with trainers from Next Stop You based in Sweden and Germany, and a focus on creating a local community food hub as the action planning element of the workshop, and
- launching GroundSwell, a conference on “groundwater innovation” to help build the existing “water innovation cluster” in the Grand River watershed and encourage learning, collaboration, and identification of new opportunities for groundwater innovation across sectors.
8) Build New Local Partnerships and Alliances – by building partnerships and alliances with local businesses and other key local players, you create networking hubs to stimulate sustainable business opportunities, new opportunities to create shared value, and opportunities for innovation. This year we put time and effort into the following partnerships and alliances, all with many local connections, that will continue to yield value for many years to come:
- the Canadian Natural Capital Leaders Platform to further dialogue among responsible company and community leaders, researchers & consultants in Canada who are taking action to review, value, redesign strategies, set targets and report on natural capital use to reflect the external costs incurred in product lifecycles onto balance sheets and to communicate these to society;
- Canadians Putting Shared Value Into Practice - a networking hub that includes opportunities for workshops and conferences for Canadians connecting with the global Shared Value Initiative and shaping opportunities to create new business value by addressing social issues;
- building a Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Traditional Land Use Practitioners community of practice hub for Canadians interested in advancing the practices associated with Aboriginal traditional ecological knowledge and traditional land use data collection; and
- a special Shared Value in Extractive Industries conference event with key mining and oil and gas partners and associates to highlight recent research on ways to create shared value in these primary industries.
9) Accelerate the Development of other Local Businesses – if you’ve got a business that’s surviving and thriving, you probably have some skills and knowledge to use to assist in creating other businesses and accelerating their entry to the market. We got very serious about accelerating the development of environmental stewardship businesses (e.g. local carbon) and Aboriginal businesses this year. With a variety of Aboriginal partners we are working with major project proponents across Canada, as early as possible within major infrastructure and resource extraction projects, to create new businesses in areas such as environmental management, water management and infrastructure construction and operation – renewable energy, transmission, transportation, mining, telecommunications, oil and gas. Our goal is to help create businesses that will benefit local communities and the environments that sustain them. Frankly, we’re tired of seeing big projects primarily benefit the proponent’s shareholders with little or no attention to supporting community well-being by enhancing local markets, local value chains and local cluster development. We’re on a mission to put an end to this approach to resource extraction in Canada.
10) Support Local Independent Business Networks – the interests of small and independent local businesses can sometimes go unnoticed, but there is strength in numbers. This year we joined two key independent business networks – the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and Guelph’s Downtown Business Association. In 2014 we are looking at joining other local and regional business networks to continue to build some on the efforts noted above, including Communitech, our region’s hub for the commercialization of innovative technologies within an innovation cluster that includes nearly 1,000 companies generating more than $30 billion in revenue. We’ve realized huge benefits from these business networks and we expect to see these benefits grow in the years to come.
Why do we predict that Local will Be the New Black in 2014? We think that more and more businesses are realizing the benefits of localization and seeing that, as Godelnik says, local “is the level where we see most progressive action taking place to address important challenges,” and these are challenges that yield some very interesting and rewarding opportunities for businesses and for local communities.
Have a Happy, Safe and Prosperous New Year!(c) Shared Value Solutions Ltd., 2014