Many visitors to New England come to see October’s autumnal foliage, tour historic lighthouses and quaint harbor towns, or explore the rich Revolutionary War history on Boston’s streets. And most sample the region’s famed seafood caught fresh off the coast. In cities, along highways and on tips of rural peninsulas, seafood shacks dot New England’s coastline, each offering their own local catch and undoubtedly a version of creamy clam chowder.
Yet New England boasts much more local food than what the sea produces – think of Vermont cheese and maple syrup, thick apple orchards churning out homemade cider in September or Maine’s late summer blueberry harvest. The Sustainable Business Network of Massachusetts (SBN), based in Cambridge, strives to celebrate and build up the rich, local food scene surrounding Greater Boston and promote socially responsible business practices that value not only sourcing food – but all services and products – locally.
In 1988, Laury Hammel, owner or the Longfellow (health) Clubs, founded SBN with the goal to create a business trade association committed to “making business a vehicle for social, environmental, and economic change.” Since then, the organization has broadened its scope from an initial focus on Greater Boston to encompass the entire state of Massachusetts, growing to represent over 1,000 business members, affiliates and six “Local First” networks in individual communities. (Hammel serves on the board of the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA) as of writing.)
SBN blends smart business practice with community accountability and environmental sustainability – specifically focusing on the importance local food plays in community vitality and personal health. Launched in 2010, SBN’s Boston Local Food Festival, a free outdoor event in downtown Boston, celebrates local food by featuring fresh seafood and produce from local farmers and fishermen, local restaurants, food trucks, specialty food producers and organizations focused on healthy food and fitness from around New England. The festival also showcases lively chef demos, a seafood “throwdown” competition and local music. Perhaps its most unique aspect? The event is zero-waste. In 2013 SBN diverted 91% of the event’s waste away from landfills and offset 100% of the event’s energy use.
While the Local Food Festival is an annual event attracting large crowds to celebrate local food, SBN emphasizes the importance of advocating local food consumption every day. Their Boston Local Food program is specifically committed to improving the access and spread of local food throughout Boston via individual consumers, restaurants sourcing more food from local suppliers, local food incubator kitchens and urban food production. Boston Local Food hosts ALLocal Dinners, fundraisers featuring guest chefs serving food that is 100% local – all the way down to the wheat and the salt.
Out of its commitment to promote socially and environmentally responsible business practices, SBN founded the Sustainable Business Leader Program (SBLP) in 2008 in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the Boston Redevelopment Authority. The SBLP provides technical assistance to help business owners and staff “green” their businesses by adopting more environmentally-friendly practices that not only save valuable natural resources but money as well through improved energy efficiency, water conservation, waste and pollution management, and local purchasing. To date, the SBLP has certified over 125 businesses from a wide range of sectors.
SBN’s vision is to grow local economies and transform local food systems not just in Massachusetts – but across the globe. The organization “envisions a resilient world economy composed of thousands of inter-connected local economies that benefit the lives of all people and all living things. SBN endeavors to build a successful model in Massachusetts and New England that inspires others to join with SBN in growing the sustainable economy movement.” In a step towards a more global conversation, SBN is hosting its first international Local Sustainable Economies Conference in Boston from June 7-9, 2017. The conference is open to all, including Independent Business Alliance/Local First network leaders, business owners, entrepreneurs and pro-local advocates (AMIBA is a conference sponsor).
Whether through SBN’s grassroots advocacy in communities across Massachusetts or desire to bring global actors into a conversation about localism – SBN is making strides towards building and empowering local economies.