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Hooper: Sustainable Business Coalition awards firms for being 'adults'

Published Jun. 19, 2014

Local entrepreneur Vinny Tafuro soon plans to launch a T-shirt business with the help of Kickstarter, and he expects one of his most popular shirts to bear the phrase If corporations are people, shouldn't they act like adults?

If Tafuro already had some shirts printed, he might have sold quite a few at the 2014 Sustainable Business Awards luncheon last week. The event at the University of Tampa's Vaughn Center honored companies that undoubtedly are behaving like adults, and embracing one of the tenets of his 2013 book Corporate Empathy.

In the book, Tafuro argues that corporations should no longer "act with a seemingly sociopathic indifference toward the very consumers that they serve." He notes that Wal-Mart, under founder Sam Walton, enjoyed a relatively good public image and seemed to hold many of Walton's empathetic values along the way.

The synergy between his outlook and the sustainable awards is evident.

"Promoting and celebrating sustainable business models that operate with empathy acknowledges their competitive advantage," Tafuro said. "Companies that do not recognize this shift in our economy will not survive."

The Sustainable Business Coalition of Tampa Bay, formerly Earth Charter U.S., echoed similar themes at the luncheon with its "triple bottom line" philosophy: people (employee and community well-being), planet (environmental health) and profit (economic performance).

That's an alphabetical listing, not an order of priorities. The coalition illustrates the philosophy with a Venn diagram of overlapping circles. So many cynics suggest that embracing sound environmental practices or adding benefits to employees translates to reducing profits.

The coalition argues the inverse. Working with the University of Tampa's Center for Ethics, the coalition has given awards to more than 80 Tampa Bay businesses since 2008 for sustainable practices. Each tells a story of how embracing the philosophy actually reduced costs, increased production and added profitability.

"We embrace and are committed to sustainability in all of its facets because it is the right thing to do," said Lorna Taylor, the Premier Eye Care CEO who was honored with the coalition's inaugural Jan Roberts Sustainable Business Patron Award, named for the UT adjunct professor and founder of the Earth Charter Tampa chapter.

"A company built on the DNA of sustainability — the triple bottom line — is a company based on best business practices."

Other 2014 winners: Landmarc Contracting Corp., Suncoast Food Alliance, the Refinery, Triad Cleaning Solutions, Bayshore Solutions, Elutions, and Advanced Healthcare Partners, recently purchased by Regenerative Medicine Solutions.

In terms of people, these companies embrace practices that make you want to sign up. Advanced Healthcare Partners offers monthly team-building events, Landmarc has beanbag chairs in the break room and quarterly reviews, and Triad provides substantial training to motivate employees to move into management and sales.

In terms of the planet, both the Refinery and Suncoast Food Alliance return excess food to farmers for compost.

Bayshore Solutions constantly seeks to reduce its footprint with Energy Star-rated equipment and new cloud-based technology.

Of course, all of the companies report profitability, including Elutions, an energy and waste management consulting company that has seen substantial employment growth.

In short, these companies behave like adults: embracing responsibility, creating a caring work environment, reaping the benefits and sleeping well at night knowing that their work has made the planet just a little bit better.

They call it a triple bottom line, but it's really a home run.

That's all I'm saying.

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