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Archive for the ‘views’ Category

VIEWS: Going Green at Women Owned Businesses

Posted by Jennifer Woofter on April 17, 2009

Dispatch from SSC President Jennifer Woofter

On Wednesday night I had the great pleasure to speak at the Greater DC Chapter of the National Association of Business Owners as part of their Entrepreneurial Excellence Series. The night’s topic was Going Green is Good For Business, and I was joined by two other fabulous women:

Antonella LoRe is the founder of Capital Green Cleaning a new commercial cleaning company serving the Washington, DC area. Capital Green Cleaning uses only environmentally-friendly cleaning products and is certified by the Green Clean Institute. She told the group about her decision to start a green business in the midst of the recession and the reality that green doesn’t to be more expensive.

Diane MacEachern is an entrepreneur, speaker, and author of multiple books including Big Green Purse: Use Your Spending Power to Create a Cleaner, Greener World. Diane is passionate about empowering consumers — especially women — to use their marketplace clout to protect the environment, and she spoke eloquently about the power of women business owners to positively impact the environment.

Although it was pouring down rain and I was definitely coming down with a cold, I had a warm fuzzy feeling sitting with other women business owners talking about issues so near to my heart AND so critical to our collective success in the marketplace.

I find that small business owners often have “green” values, but don’t know how to act upon them. Day to day pressures of payroll, purchasing, and business development sweep everything else aside—including the desire to be environmentally friendly. What I hope the women at the NAWBO event took away from our talk is that it doesn’t have to be one or the other: we can do good AND do well at the same time.

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VIEWS: SSC at the World Water Forum (Part III)

Posted by Jennifer Woofter on March 24, 2009

Dispatch from SSC President Jennifer Woofter

I’m on the flight back home after my trip to Istanbul and the World Water Forum. I’m sure that in the coming week we will hear all about the sessions, working groups, panels, and “key messages” through such excellent sites as Grist and Worldchanging (two of my favorite sustainability news outlets). I’m also sure that others’ analysis will be more insightful and pithy than mine.

But as I Istanbul, what is sticking with me is the disconnect between what *I* know about water and it’s connection with sustainability (even basic societal survival!) and how everyday people think about water. I was asked more than a dozen times by the “average” Istanbul citizen what I was doing in the city, and it often led to a discussion of water. Here’s what I heard:

Taxi Driver – don’t you think this is something that politicians are using to get people riled up? Water is not a problem. Well, maybe in 100 years. But this is not something we should be concerned with today.

Carpet Shop Employee – it’s true that clean water is difficult, but bottled water is so cheap it is not really a problem for me. Maybe it’s more of a problem in the country.

Hotel Employee – this is a problem in Africa, right? Where there is no rain? Here we get lots of rain, so drought is not something we worry about.

I think if you asked people in any major city you would probably hear the same thing: it’s a political “much ado about nothing”, it’s about my own personal access to clean drinking water, or it’s a problem in areas with drought. Very few people seemed to see the larger picture – for instance about water privatization issues, or climate change implications, or even how the price of goods and services will rise as access to clean water becomes more expensive – or impossible to obtain.

As a sustainability consultant, it’s my job to help people understand how a simple-yet-complex issue like water can have real meaning to their lives and their livelihoods. I have to wear many hats – scientist, communicator, accountant, fortuneteller… I have to balance the realities of today with the uncertainties of tomorrow. I have to find the link between the “right thing to do” (e.g. access to clean drinking water for all) and what makes “good business sense” (e.g. let’s make sure our company’s supply chain is water-efficient). It’s complicated and fascinating work – and as I leave Istanbul I’m excited to get back to the SSC office and spend some time reviewing our consulting services to ensure that water concerns are integrated into every part of our analysis and planning engagements.

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VIEWS: SSC at the World Water Forum

Posted by Jennifer Woofter on March 17, 2009

Dispatch from SSC President Jennifer Woofter

I arrived in Istanbul yesterday afternoon for the 5th World Water Forum (and what I also hope will be a little vacation). Grabbing a taxi from the airport to the hotel where I’m staying, the evidence of the conference is everywhere – from the oh-so-very-efficient customs and passport control to the conference signs and banners attached to virtually every streetlight and traffic light in the city. (There are also millions of flags, posters, and banners concerning the upcoming March 29 local elections – but that’s another story altogether).

The conference attendees are everywhere you turn, speaking in a dozen languages and all gesturing emphatically. Water, it seems, is an issue that everyone from GIS Analysts to the Crown Prince of Japan (who gave this morning’s keynote) can get excited about. The city is literally buzzing with enthusiasm, and the rest of the week looks to be more of the same.

Ironically, even as I type this brief update from my hotel room, I’m sipping on bottled water. It’s unfortunate that the city’s municipal water is questionable (either overly chlorinated, or not chlorinated enough, and while probably fine no one wants to take that chance), and so everyone chugs down artificially cheap and yet oh-so-environmentally-toxic bottled water. Providing safe and clean drinking water to Istanbul’s 12.6 million residents is going to continue to be a challenge, especially considering the city’s aging infrastructure and rapid growth. It will be interesting to see how the conference addresses the realities of its host city’s situation.

If you are in Istanbul for the conference, send me an email (jennifer@sustainabilityconsulting.com). We’ll grab a coffee and share notes!

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VIEWS: Why I Support The Employee Free Choice Act

Posted by Jennifer Woofter on March 6, 2009

by Jennifer Woofter, President of SSC

There has been a lot of talk about the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), a piece of legislation that would make it easier for workers to form a union in their workplace. In a nutshell, passage of EFCA would allow employees to start a union through a “majority sign-up”, speed up contract negotiations by introducing a mediation and arbitration process, and increase penalties against employers who violate labor laws. EFCA recently passed in the House of Representatives, but remains up for debate in the Senate. In the meantime, it seems like everyone has an opinion.

As a small business owner focusing on sustainability and social responsibility issues, I have one too. At a time when foreclosure rates are staggeringly high, even as CEOs receive millions in salary, bonuses, stock options, and other perks, it’s hard to believe that giving more power to the worker is a bad idea. On the other hand, as a CEO myself (albeit one that didn’t get a swanky package to our local country club or use of a company jet) I’m not exactly a patsy for the labor movement either. It’s exactly my middle-of-the-road stance that made me consider the Employee Free Choice Act so carefully.

The decline in unions over the last three decades can be linked to lower wages, fewer health benefits, and perhaps even the current economic crisis. For pro-union groups, EFCA is a panacea to cure all that is wrong with the corporate system. As freechoiceact.org puts it, EFCA “can restore the balance, giving more workers a chance to form unions and get better health care, job security and benefits—and an opportunity to pursue their dreams.” Push through EFCA, these groups promise, and we’ll see a stronger middle class, more income equality between the “average worker” and her CEO, and greater fairness in the workplace.

Anti-union groups have a starkly different message, and oppose the legislation for three key reasons. The first claim is that EFCA actually takes away workers’ rights by replacing secret ballot voting with publicly signed “check card” campaigns. (What they fail to mention, incidentally, is that workers actually get to choose whether to forego an election in favor of the more expedient majority authorization process. For this reason, I tend to cast aside this protest as a canard by anti-union groups trying to cast themselves as protecting worker rights.)

The second complaint centers on the idea of mandatory arbitration. EFCA provides that either employers or employees may request mediation, and eventually seek binding arbitration if no agreement on a first contract has been reached after 90 days of bargaining. Opponents of EFCA claim that mandatory binding arbitration provides motivation for either a union or employer to engage in bad faith bargaining until the end of the negotiating period. This is a reasonable point to make, and worth considering. At the same time, it’s worth asking if binding mandatory arbitration is a better alternative that then current system, where employers can delay negotiating almost indefinitely, hiring consultants (often the lawyers who write anti-EFCA editorials) that teach them how to stall and prolong the bargaining process. Even when found guilty of bad faith bargaining, the penalty for these companies is usually to “resume bargaining”. For a company that is successfully stalling the union efforts, this penalty does not even equate to a slap on the wrist. Suddenly, a faster contract process—even at the risk of binding arbitration—doesn’t seem so bad.

The final point that anti-union groups make is that EFCA mandates tougher penalties for employers who are found to violate labor laws, but leaves the penalties for violations by union organizers untouched. In my book, this is the strongest criticism of the Employee Free Choice Act. Unions clearly aren’t perfect, and there have been instances of intimidation and coercion tactics from organizers that rival the worst of the “one-on-one informational meetings” held so often by employers facing a union drive. But in an era when 82% of employers faced with organizing campaigns hire exorbitantly paid union-busting consultants and when only 38% of new unions are able to finalize a contract with management within a year of their certification—well, my sympathies have to remain with the worker.

The blatant anti-union rhetoric is at an all-time high, and not just by the usual “bad guys” of steel mills and coal mines. Don’t believe me? You can listen yourself to a recorded telephone conference call from October 17, hosted by Bank of America and led by Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus. In the hour-long phone call, obtained by the Huffington Post, Mr. Marcus raged against EFCA, saying that its passage would turn America “into France”. He called for companies to send millions of dollars to anti-EFCA congressional candidates and stated that CEOs at companies not getting involved in opposing EFCA “should be shot”. Not to put too fine a point on it, he claimed these CEOS should be “thrown out of their goddamn jobs.”

Now, I’m not upset with Mr. Marcus, whose claim that he could have been on a “350 foot boat out in the Mediterranean” instead of on that expletive-laced phone call says a lot about his ability to separate his personal life from the economy, which he frames as “a disaster, a total absolute disaster”. What irritates me is that the call was hosted by Bank of America, who just three days earlier had received $25 billion in federal bailout funds. At least one other bailout recipient, AIG, also had a representative present on the call.

The fact that companies like Bank of America and AIG are participating in calls like this one—which can hardly be described as a thoughtful look at the issue—tells me that anti-labor sentiment is present throughout big business. To be fair, neither company has formally come out against EFCA, and Bank of America at least discussed the pros and cons of EFCA in a research document released two weeks after that call. But for me, it’s about the attitude.

It’s not just the traditional blue collar industries that feel it’s necessary to demonize unions and limit worker rights—it’s managers at your bank down the street. Given the fact that companies receiving billions in bailout money are simultaneously soliciting ideas on how to best funnel money to organizations and candidates opposing EFCA—well, that tells me the system of oversight and accountability is broken.

Unions aren’t perfect, but they offer a voice to employees who have too often been left out of the conversation. At the end of the day, I support EFCA because I believe every employee—from the CEO to the janitor—has a stake in the success of our companies. When we all get a place at the table, we have the best chance of creating a marketplace that succeeds. If you disagree, and think that our current system is working, I’d be happy to hear your thoughts. You can reach me on my yacht off the coast of France.

Jennifer Woofter is the president of Strategic Sustainability Consulting, a firm that helps organizations address their social and environmental impacts. She does not own a yacht.

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VIEWS: SSC Thoughts on Virtual Interns

Posted by Jennifer Woofter on January 16, 2009

This week, SSC President Jennifer Woofter was interviewed by The Examiner on what makes a successful virtual intern. If you are thinking about applying for one of these positions (especially with us!), we hope you’ll take the time to review the article, which focuses on the do’s and don’ts of virtual internships:

“When we interview for virtual internship positions, we are really looking for two things. First, interns need to be self-starters. Because they won’t be in our office each day, I need to know that they will be diligent with deadlines, make good use of their time and come back to me if they have the ability to take on additional projects,” said Woofter. “Second, we’re looking for good communicators—we rely on Web conferences, e-mails and phone calls to manage the internship process, and it’s important that interns be able to clearly tell me what’s working and where they need more help and guidance.”

Read the entire article here.

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Views: ASSURE VIEW – The CSR Assurance Statement Report (2008) By CorporateRegister.com

Posted by dbuhrau on September 3, 2008

Do SMEs need to have their sustainability reports independently assured?

According to the CSR Assurance Statement Report the answer at this point in time is no. Generally assurance is more often needed for large companies and those in the public eye; a CSR report with assurance helps build a business’ trust and integrity. As stated by the director of The Reassurance Network, a specialist consultancy:

This is about trust.  CSR reports aim to build trust, whether to attract ethical investment, to motivate and engage employees or to reassure customers.  Trust comes from combination of performance and communication.  So a responsible company needs to accurately communicate its strategy, policies, and impacts in order to be accountable (and gain trust).  Assurance is the main factor that distinguishes a CSR report from all other types of CSR communication – it guarantees accurate and credible information.
~ Malcolm Guy

The CSR Assurance Statement Report by CorporateRegister.com examines assurance statements over the past 15 years and conducts an in-depth study of more current assurance statements of 90 top global reporters.  CSR reporting and stakeholder engagement are becoming increasingly important for the modern business. The results of this report rank North America second behind Europe in CSR reporting but lowest in uptake of assurance (only 7.5% of CSR reporting).  The lower rate of CSR assurance in North America to date makes external assurance unnecessary for many sectors.  Within North America, food & beverage, health & pharmaceuticals, and oil & gas are the sectors with greatest uptake of assurance.  However, when determining whether or not CSR reporting and assurance are right for your business it is important to first consider who is getting value out of assurance, what material issues are of concern for reporting, and what are the risks and opportunities for reporting (low risk cost saving, hitting the benchmark, and pioneering).  For SMEs, there is currently little external assurance activity going on.  According to this report, unless there is pressure for CSR reports and assurance from competing businesses in your sector, external assurance is not needed.

The CSR assurance statement report provides a comprehensive overview of the history and current status of CSR reporting and assurance.  Combining guest commentary from AccountAbility, IAASB, and ACCA, assurance practitioner’s question panel, and colorful graphs and charts of study findings, this report brings together a variety of templates for exploring the value, use and future needs of CSR reporting and assurance. To learn more about the current status of CSR reporting and assurance check out the full report and more information online by CorporateRegister.com.

This book review comes from April Hansgate, one of SSC’s 2008 summer interns.

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BOOK REVIEW: “Natural Capitalism” by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins

Posted by dbuhrau on August 7, 2008

Natural Capitalism throws out the business rulebook and introduces a new way of looking at the global economic system. Authors Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and Hunter Lovins propose that we are facing a new industrial revolution where commercial, environmental, and social interests intertwine and can be mutually beneficial. Their new model integrates the sustainable utilization of “natural capital,” such as renewable resources and ecosystem services, to create an improved economic system and a more harmonious planet. Where we have previously ignored the limitations that exist to resource extraction, Natural Capitalism provides guidelines for efficient and innovative use of our resources and technologies, and promotes a new mindset that holds the potential to bring multilateral prosperity.

Natural Capitalism is based on the four principles of resource productivity, redesigning industry based on biological models, the provision of services instead of goods, and reinvesting in natural capital. By using our resources more productively we can decrease resource depletion, reduce pollution, and create more jobs. We can base our industrial designs after models in nature such as closed-loop cycles, reusing materials to the point of virtually eliminating waste. A change from producing material goods to providing services could create a shift in how affluence is currently measured in possession of goods. Finally, emphasis should be placed on investing in the protection of natural capital to maintain the balance of our fragile eco-system. The book offers numerous case studies across different industries demonstrating how businesses that have already utilized these principles have achieved environmental and financial success.

Natural Capitalism provides a contemporary model for reexamining our current economic system and the opportunities that exist to make business and environmental sustainability work together. True, some of the book’s information is out-dated as the days of cheap oil no longer exist and many projects that had just gotten off the ground in 1999 have now become the norm. Nonetheless, the concepts and examples provided by Natural Capitalism are powerful for those in the business world who are considering going green but still need proof that those who embrace sustainability, gain a competitive advantage.

This book review comes from Ida Arabshahi, one of SSC’s 2008 summer interns.

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BOOK REVIEW: “The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets that Change the World” by John Elkington and Pamela Hartigan

Posted by dbuhrau on August 1, 2008

As the title suggests, this book is a guide to thinking outside of the business box. This paradox of offering a structure to unconventional thinking is actually accomplished quite successfully by authors Elkington and Hartigan, sustainability and entrepreneurial experts. This book outlines and analyzes how “unreasonable” social entrepreneurs get started, build their success, and even touches briefly on potential downfalls, citing examples all along the way. This comprehensive book discusses individuals and groups throughout the world with work ranging from medical services to dairy farms, from clean energy to low-priced computers.

The authors open with a discussion of specific characteristics common to a successful, unreasonable social entrepreneur. The introduction attempts a full explanation of why “unreasonable” is the correct descriptor, with characteristics including being propelled by emotion and a good sense of risk and opportunity. This is a thorough analysis of an unreasonable person.

Next, the authors move to the business side and outline three company models where social entrepreneurs would work. They start with the discussion of the leveraged non-profit model, which deals with public goods being delivered to those in need. They move on to describe the hybrid nonprofit model, a more experimental entity that tends to access an underserved market with a long-term opportunity for profit. Finally they discuss the social businesses that are for-profit companies with social missions. These groups have an easier time getting mainstream partners, but it is often hard to replicate their results in another company because of the inherent altruism that drives these businesses. Elkington and Hartigan offer Wholefoods as a prominent example of this business model, as they operate to make a profit selling organic and local food.

The book then transforms into a guide for launching businesses based on the aforementioned models. The authors detail sources of funding from family money to selling-out, and they describe how to watch for market opportunities. They offer suggestions on how to set these entrepreneurial ideas into action, and further describe “bonsai” or alternative consumers who, through no fault of their own, have not been given the opportunity to grow to their full potential. The next chapter discusses scaling these businesses, and really shows how to think about an enterprise as part of the whole world, beyond the limited scope of what one can see from the inside.

This book does an excellent job of citing examples of incredibly driven people who have followed their hearts to success, be it financial, social, environmental, or all three. For someone on the path towards making a difference in the world, this book is a great resource. It motivates the reader towards action and reads like a handbook with regards to following through.

In the same regard, however, if you are not in a position to start a company that will change the world, this book can be frustrating. Reading example after example of extraordinary individuals who have succeeded against all odds can highlight the readers’ lack of accomplishment. Therefore, SSC recommends this book to businesses or individuals of all sizes and disciplines, which are on their way towards solving some of this planet’s problems, need motivation to continue with their business ideas, or who seek details of how to overcome hurtles that they have faced. As a casual read for someone not in one of these positions, this book provides great examples of different businesses, but the guiding elements are lost on this reader.

This book review comes from Claire Miziolek, one of SSC’s 2008 summer interns.

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BOOK REVIEW: “The Sustainability Advantage” by Bob Willard

Posted by dbuhrau on July 23, 2008

There was a time when the business world was thought to be at odds with the sustainability movement and environmental views. Once-common rhetoric portrayed “going green” as a topic unworthy of business consideration because it “cost green.” In his book, The Sustainability Advantage, Bob Willard nullifies this old view of sustainability as an expense, and he examines the profit-driving, business case for sustainability with a degree of accountant-like precision. A background in management and leadership development has helped Willard realize the opportunity for business leaders to play a role in the ecological and social well-being of the planet while increasing their profits.

Willard investigates seven bottom-line benefits that comprise The Sustainability Advantage: easier hiring of the best talent, higher retention of top talent, increasing employee productivity, reduced expenses in manufacturing, reduced expenses at commercial sites, increased revenue/market share, and reduced risk/easier financing. For each of the seven benefits, real-life examples of businesses in a variety of industries are described to have successfully used sustainable tactics to enhance their bottom line. The Sustainability Advantage also provides an in-depth case study of a hypothetical computer company which undertakes a series of sustainable initiatives. Conservative numbers, based on a variety of real-life case studies, are used to estimate the positive impact for the hypothetical company.

Throughout the book, readers are encouraged to reference the worksheets in the appendix, plug in the financial numbers from their own company, and witness how their organization would be impacted by the sustainable actions. Even with highly conservative numbers, the hypothetical company increases in its bottom line by a great deal. Willard successfully builds the case for sustainability and provides a thorough analysis of its great financial potential for the business world. The only two ways to increase profit are to reduce expenses or increase revenue; after reading this book, you will be convinced that sustainability and profit are nearly synonymous.

This book review comes from Joseph Martin Vandette Jr, one of SSC’s 2008 summer interns.

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NEWS: Corporate Sustainability: Employees Want the Change!

Posted by Brittany Durbin on July 17, 2008

Do you want the organization that you work for to be more environmentally and socially responsible, but are not sure how to make it happen? Do you feel that it may be too risky to bring up the subject to your superiors? Do you feel uneducated, unprepared, and under-resourced on the topic of corporate sustainability?

According to the findings of Fresh Marketing’s 2008 Corporate Sustainability Employee Study, you are not alone! Data collected from 129 respondents employed by organizations ranging from small to large in size revealed that 75% of employees do not believe that their firms are investing in corporate responsibility training. Yet, 9 out of 10 employees consider addressing environmental and social impacts to be related to businesses’ highest rated concern: brand reputation.

Such startling findings illustrate the first message of this study: Employees want the change! They clearly recognize the importance of CSR to their businesses, but do not have the knowledge or training to move the company forward. This brings us to the second important point: to paraphrase Ghandi, employees must be the change they wish to see in their company. Fresh Marketing challenges employees to use their creativity to develop methods for increasing positive impacts and reducing negative impacts. Of course, one cannot do this alone. Employees must influence their coworkers to get their creative juices flowing as well.

We certainly do not underestimate the challenge of this tall order. Fortunately, respondents not only shared views on their companies’ current social and environmental initiatives, but also provided tools and tactics for incorporating such initiatives into the company agenda.

Mike Dupee, an employee of Green Mountain Coffee, believes that the keys to success in CSR are rooted in the development of a core strategy or core values around which all initiatives and programs are centered. For example, Green Mountain Coffee identified four specific key areas for their social and environmental initiatives: poverty, solid waste, hunger, and energy. Dupee illustrates the importance of clearly identifying such areas by stating, “If the social and environmental work you are doing is not related to your business in a way that is easy to understand and validate, then you run the risk of creating something that is not going to last if times get rough.”

Respondents also offered their experience with how to best capture the attention of their coworkers. One example utilized by Catherine Sanders, a project manager at Morningstar, Inc., is an internal blog through which employees can offer suggestions on what they would like to see in the construction of a new office building as well as receive updates on the building’s progress and features. Sanders explains, “In this way, we both incorporate the input from our co-workers as well as have an interactive, engaging vehicle that helps us communicate our plans and priorities.” Considering the risks associated with exposing a company’s position on the sensitive subject of CSR, it is important for organizations to make such resources available to employees for open discussion, debate, risk measurement, and cost calculating.

Employees are calling for social and environmental responsibility, and they want to bring these values to work. The wise business executive will embrace this enthusiasm for change and willingness to learn as a strategic opportunity for CSR initiatives. Fresh Marketing affirms, “As we take bolder steps to ensure that businesses have a positive impact on our society, we will need to enlist more of our co-workers. This will mean that we all need to rethink, evaluate and speak up while we continue to do our jobs in a way that meets our job descriptions, our company’s profit goals and our personal values.”

Do YOU want the change? If you’d like to find out how to make your company more eco-friendly, check out Sustainability 101: A Toolkit For Business, written by our very own Jennifer Woofter in collaboration with Anca Novacovici. At just under 200 pages in length, this succinct introductory manual is designed to help organizations, whether committed to going green or still trying to get on board, become more socially and environmentally responsible. Sustainability 101: A Toolkit For Business is available for download or in paperback at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble online (www.bn.com), or directly through our publisher, Lulu.com (http://www.lulu.com/content/2454607). Be sure to also visit SSC’s new Sustainability Marketplace online – go to www.sustainabilityconsulting.com and click on “Visit Our Store” to find publications like “Making Cents out of Sustainability,” “Green IT,” or “Ten Simple Ways to Cut Energy Costs.”

If you are a small business that is interested in hiring a sustainability consultant, contact us for a free consultation. We can help you think through the best way to approach “going green” with special attention to your small business realities. Call (202-470-3248) or email us (info@sustainabilityconsulting.com) today!

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