On the first night of
10-week business formalization class, instructor Javier Urenda explains the philosophy of a triple-bottom-line approach to business. Urenda has been starting his course this way for three years now. How this business model plays out in the Latino communities of Washington County was recently explained to me in a conversation with Urenda at his
office, a shared workspace behind Beaverton City Hall.
According to Urenda, many of those taking the Adelante courses, part of what is called the Empresas program, are new to the triple-bottom-line concept of balancing profit with environmental and social issues in the business world.
"The three R's are a new thing," for a lot of those in the program, he told me.
He teaches material reduction through examples like Adelante's Sustainable Agriculture program, and its related
Forest Grove Farmers Market
. Small-scale farming is promoted as a way of reducing food waste, soil erosion and toxic pest control. Teaching crop rotation and the nutritional values of fresh food, as well as encouraging residents to participate in the Adelante CSA, are other ways Urenda discusses the values of a local agriculture system. Adelante market vendors are encouraged to use durable, reusable dishware, keeping with the ecological spirit evoked on the first night of classes.
Empresas offers participants paths to various sustainability certifications, as well as conducts an "impact investigation" assessment created by the Adelante team, a way for businesses to gauge material safety, energy, water and other utility use levels.
For those starting landscaping, cleaning services, and house painting companies - some of the common businesses launched in the area - Urenda offered me some of the alternatives to environmentally-harmful practices currently being used. Cleaners have shared ways to make cleaning products with natural ingredients. Painters have turned from lead-based paints. Landscapers have upgraded their equipment, increasing fuel efficiency.
To offset costs of new or retrofitted equipment, Empresas offers
Individual Development Accounts
crowdfunded access to capital. IDA loans are matched by
Casa of Oregon
, a housing assistance non-profit that largely works with farmworkers and low-income residents. KivaZip loans allow peer-to-peer lending via the Internet, and have been successful both locally and internationally for leveraging technology to help alleviate poverty.
"How to work together, how a business can pull up a community," is Urenda's focus.
Respect for the environment feeds into a general humanitarian awareness, recognizing that when we are united with our soil and one another, a deeper sense of place and community is achieved. This achievement does not negate financial success, but suggests that a well-managed checking account goes hand in hand with leveled attention to social and natural capital. Education is thus crucial to the Adelante mission. Whether teaching newcomers how to network, or explaining the concepts of alternate capital, Adelante Mujeres, a nonprofit perhaps best known for helping empower women in the Hispanic community, embodies a unique form of public learning.
After the Empresas night courses conclude, after topics that range from marketing to obtaining LLC status to getting Quickbooks savvy have been covered, one-on-one coaching services are provided. The practical entrepreneurial tips keep in the Adelante spirit of self-empowerment as a means of lifting larger groups. Sessions range from help naming a business and figuring out its slogan; business registration; referrals; untangling dense legal language and concepts; and, how to register permits.
Keeping businesses above-the-table, Urenda explains, is itself a way of supporting a triple-bottom-line framework. Assuring workers get paid fair wages, that corners aren't cut with toxic products, or that fresh local food is delivered at affordable prices, returns Adelante's own investment in the communities it has pulled up for 10 years running.
Paul Lask is an adjunct English instructor and writing consultant at Portland State University, with
a background in traditional and digital media -- writing, editing, publishing and music. A graduate certificate student at PSU's Institute for Sustainable Solutions,
Paul is also a recent graduate of the Master Recycler program (class 60).