Sustainable Business Movement Born in Philadelphia

White Dog Cafe in University CityAs some people in sustainability circles know, Philadelphia is not just the birthplace of America, but also a vanguard city of what is often referred the Living Economy movement, or the local ECOnomy.

Under the direction of Philly’s White Dog Cafe, its proprietor Judy Wicks, and other local pioneers, a sustainable business network has served as a prototype for a local Living Economy that advances the triple bottom line (“People, Places, Profit”).  This group has proven that business owners and entrepreneurs can be green and socially conscious and still be prosperous.

Wicks founded the White Dog Cafe in 1983. It subsequently grew from a coffee-and-muffin shop to a full-service restaurant serving organic and locally produced food. Committed to supporting humane farming practices, Wicks continued to search out the right food vendors until she could say for sure that the White Dog featured a cruelty-free menu. Her restaurant continued to reap profits, but she wasn’t content with simply staking out a market niche. She also wanted to share the knowledge she had acquired with other businesses, even if that meant helping out the competition.

A Network Is Founded

Wicks’ eagerness to network with like-minded entrepreneurs led to the creation of a pivotal organization in the Living Economy movement, the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia. Founded in 2001 by the White Dog Foundation, SBN is made up of local business people, professionals, social entrepreneurs, investors, not-for-profit leaders, and government representatives who collectively work to ensure the region’s economic vitality, sustainability, and ecological health.

In 2003, the time was ripe to form a national network of local sustainable business networks. Working in tandem with other pioneers, SBN co-founded the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE). A total of 60 local business networks made up of more than 20,000 entrepreneurs share green business ideas and collaborate to refine the triple-bottom-line strategy. Several components that BALLE identifies as the building blocks of a Local Living economy—sustainable agriculture, green building, renewable energy, zero-waste manufacturing—are the same practices that environmentalists have long advocated for. These building blocks also constitute what author Storm Cunningham calls the Restoration Economy.

Thanks to the efforts of the White Dog, SBN, and the Living Economy movement it helped spawn, America’s birthplace still can look toward a strong economic future as it looks back on its colonial past.

Image credit: goPhila.com at Flickr under a Creative Commons license

  1. Storm Cunningham

    Hello, Brian:

    Thanks very much for the mention of my 2002 book, The Restoration Economy. I should clarify something,though. The practices you describe as being building blocks of a restoration economy–such as green building, sustainable agriculture, zero-waste manufacturing, etc.–are all wonderful things, but are not necessarily restorative. A restoration economy is primarily based on renewing the places we’ve already developed (buildings, infrastructure, brownfields, etc.) and on repairing damage done to natural resources along the way. In other words, it’s about enhancing our world by undoing existing damage, not “just” by reducing the amount of new damage done. Many green buildings are destructive sprawl, built on top of endangered wildlife habitat or family farms. Farming that adds to the depth and quality of previously-depleted topsoil with each passing year goes beyond sustainable to restorative. Sustainability is a bigger concept, but restoration is the sweet spot of sustainability. It’s where we need to be focusing if we want a better world; not merely one that’s getting worse at a slower rate.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *