“The only way for sustainability to truly work is if we share best practices—it can’t live as a trade secret.”
That’s according to Alex Lassiter, founder and CEO of Green Places, a company offering sustainability services and software to businesses both large and small.
What Lassiter means by that is gatekeeping—corporations and wealthy, powerful people at the top keeping sustainable technologies and strategies to themselves.
Without sharing the wealth of knowledge, Lassiter warns we’ll “spend the next 10 years reinventing the same stuff and never actually getting anywhere.”
Trade secrets can refer to many distinct types of sustainability tools, from technology and apps to studies and outside expertise. Unsurprisingly, the more money and power a company holds, the easier its access to such trade secrets and capabilities of harnessing sustainable practices.
Companies like Green Places, led by Lassiter’s efforts, are focused on countering this and making sustainability work for everyone and therefore influence widespread, tangible change.
“We Need to Democratize Sustainability": Banishing Gatekeeping
As Lassiter points out, small businesses will never have access to resources that companies like Patagonia do, whether it’s because of profit (or lack thereof), influence, or power. But the problem is—we all have the same goals, and how can those goals be carried out if we’re not working together?
“We need to democratize access to sustainability tools,” Lassiter says.
One effort Green Places puts forth is a Slack channel where people and companies in the sustainability space can talk, trade tips and advice, and combine resources to further sustainable practices, which directly fights gatekeeping and the oppression of knowledge and aid.
The only requirement—beyond following the rules, like no selling—is you must be working in sustainability.
“There’s folks in there from everywhere,” Lassiter says. “Big tech to software to retail. It allows people the freedom to be able to share more openly.”
From Carbon Accounting to Storytelling
The services Green Places provides are two-fold and get to the core of its mission.
First: learning, truly, how green of a company you really run—which will help to simplify the process when seeking additional accreditations like Green America’s Green Business Certification.
One thing they do is annual carbon accounting.
“We calculate their emissions and give them something to track towards,” Lassiter explains. “We do it in alignment to the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, we're making sure that these businesses are up to the right standards.”
More broadly, Green Places also helps companies set up sustainability plans.
Whether it’s carbon reduction or removal, renewable energy, Lassiter explains the goal is to give companies access and tools to achieve these plans.
The second piece of Green Places’ goal is helping companies communicate their sustainability successes and journeys.
“Sometimes it’s helping them build out reports and disclosing information appropriately,” Lassiter says. “Some of it is more fun, like creating shareable content.”
One type of shareable content Green Places supplies is a website. As Lassiter explains it, if a company uses Green Places software for their sustainability plan, they automatically get an embeddable tab for their website as well as a badge certifying a company's climate commitment to share this information publicly.
“Transparency is at the center,” Lassiter concludes.
Capitalism Undercuts Sharing Knowledge
Why do certain technologies and ideas become trade secrets? The roots lie deep within the system of capitalism, which breeds greed and megalomania.
Lassiter posits that because companies are set up in a capitalist environment, they adopt a way of thinking that goes like this: “I do things to be better than you, therefore, I should get more customers and more money.”
But what happens when the future of our planet is on the line and capitalist ideology does not allow for best practice sharing?
“There hasn’t been an environment for this to work,” Lassiter continues. “When you open up that possibility, though, where there was previously a void, it can be successful.”
Not just for the company itself, but for people and the planet. And if there is a desire for doing good and profit to not be mutually exclusive, you’re in luck. It’s becoming clearer that more diverse companies, more transparent companies, more sustainable companies are performing well.
“People need proof,” Lassiter says. Greenwashing, a marketing gimmick that companies use to make their products, labor, and practices sound more environmentally friendly than they really are, is becoming increasingly investigated and detrimental to a company’s bottom line. Instead, honesty and genuine efforts at sustainability are what’s winning over consumers now. Businesses can show these efforts with sustainability certifications, through programs like the Green Business Network or B Corp.
Small, but Mighty
To Lassiter, sustainability is the way of the future. Full stop. That doesn’t mean, however, there aren’t roadblocks towards this future, both in and out of our control.
One of the first roadblocks to address is crucial for small businesses, and it has to do with how small businesses think of themselves and their success.
In Lassiter’s line of work, he hears a lot of people say: “If I can’t be Patagonia, why try at all?”
That fear of perfection, and a fear of not doing enough, leads to inaction.
But the only way success becomes reality is through systemic change.
“Shell is not going to solve this, right? BP is not going to solve this; Delta is not going to solve this. The three of them together with Bill Gates isn't going to solve this,” he states. “What's going to solve this is a systemic shift in the way that our society values things. And that is something small businesses have a lot of control over because it's about building awareness. It's about educating yourself. It's about understanding that you have different options.”