Good things come in sustainable packages

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With the holiday season approaching, businesses are turning their attention to deciding what gifts to give to their employees, customers and suppliers. Open any newspaper or magazine, or peruse online blogs and websites, and there are lots of suggestions for gifts that are unique, meaningful and sustainable.

At a recent fundraiser for the Adoptive Families Association of British Columbia, I ran into a local Vancouver entrepreneur, Saul Brown, whose company—It’s Saul Good—is meeting those contemporary gift-giving expectations while generating positive economic activity and fostering social change.

As Saul and I chatted about what he’s up to, I was delighted to hear that the story of his company is just the tip of a much bigger iceberg: Saul is connecting his company’s mission with other like-minded organizations to generate positive change on a grander scale.

For example, Saul is an advisor to Tradeworks Custom Products (TCP), a social enterprise that provides training and entry-level employment to women determined to make changes in their lives in Vancouver’s troubled Downtown Eastside, Strathcona and adjacent neighborhoods. When he first connected with TCP, Saul learned that employees were hand crafting a small range of finished wood products that had limited appeal. Surprisingly, in a province known for its forest resources, they were also making those products using Baltic birch plywood sourced from Northern Europe. Saul thought they could do better by developing products that were more marketable and manufactured with locally sourced wood.

This prompted him to bring Tradeworks together with another neighbourhood company—Eclipse Awards—that specializes in creating personalized recognition awards. (Incidentally, Eclipse is run another “greentrepreneur”, Toby Barazzuol, who is spearheading an initiative to position the "in transition" Strathcona neighbourhood as a sustainability-driven business improvement area). The outcome of the partnership between the two organizations is that Eclipse Awards manufactures the glass portion of its awards while Tradeworks provides the wooden base for them. The wood comes from trees damaged by the pine beetle or from wood salvaged from Stanley Park after a large portion of it was decimated by a severe windstorm two years ago.

As part of this successful venture, TCP is now FSC-certified and expanding into creating other marketable products such as wooden picture frames. BC Hydro is using them to present PowerSmart award certificates that recognize companies leading in energy conservation and efficiency.

A third product Saul and TCP have created is a cedar tool caddy manufactured with FSC-certified wood from Iisaak, a First Nation's owned and operated forestry company on Vancouver Island. The caddies are then filled with a range of green cleaning products. Some leading local real estate developers are providing these housewarming gifts to the owners of new "Built Green" or LEED-certified homes and condos. Nice touch.

When I asked Saul what other plans are in the offing, he told me that his network of greentrepreneurs is continuing to collaborate on developing a range of new products and combining their buying power so that they can procure materials that would otherwise be impossible or cost-prohibitive on their own.

Saul’s story reminds us that there is always a market for creative and innovative solutions that build both economic activity and community. It’s certainly the kind of thinking that can help propel us through these times of economic uncertainty.

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