Matt McGibbon: Shift in B.C. business gives hope for aspiring social entrepreneur in Vancouver

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      By Matt McGibbon

      As a university student on the cusp of graduation, navigating job boards can be daunting. With high tech in high demand and luxury goods dominating the market, searching for a career that is not only personally rewarding but also yields positive community impact is challenging. 

      Having spent my young professional life in the bar and restaurant industry, I’ve become a lover of food and a self-proclaimed craft beer connoisseur. My dream job is one where I’m able make a decent living by combining these passions to create a sustainable and socially innovative business of my own.  

      Fortunately, a shift is occurring in B.C. business that will accommodate this desire to serve my community, make a decent living, and take pride in the work that I do. Recent years have seen a surge of local businesses and social ventures centered on quality, craftsmanship, and the localization of goods and services. These function to support a burgeoning local economy, and are connecting communities around issues of sustainability. 

      Business in British Columbia is being reinvented as a positive social and environmentally responsible force with high standards of transparency, accountability, and performance. There’s even an official certification for firms serious about addressing social and environmental issues: “B-Corps”, or Certified Benefit Corporations.

      According to B-Lab, the Pennsylvania-based nonprofit responsible for the designation, B-Corp is to business what fair-trade certification is to coffee. The B-Corp certification helps consumers identify change-makers, and allows investors to make profits while making a difference.

      A growing number of B.C. companies meet the performance and legal requirements around social and environmental impact and corporate structure. For example, social entrepreneur Mark Brand’s Save-On-Meats revitalization project in the Downtown Eastside is well known in the North American business community for its forward-thinking employment models and focus on local food security for the many marginalized residents in the area.

      Another B-certified project is Persephone Brewing Company, located in Gibsons, B.C. Persephone boasts an 11-acre farm-based brewery where they grow their own hops, utilize only B.C. grain in their beers, and produce other food crops in support of local sustainable agriculture.

      The brewery is committed to cultivating connections through various community partnerships with organizations such as the Sunshine Coast Association for Community Living (SCACL) and the Gibson’s Public Market Association. Environmentally, Persephone composts all spent grain, hops, and yeast and is currently developing a system to reclaim water runoff from the brewery for crop irrigation.

      The craft beer revolution that has taken place across the Pacific Northwest provides ample opportunity for startups to consider their potential to create positive social change. These companies also have the opportunity to create new business standards and set the benchmark for environmental integrity.

      Vancouver’s thriving restaurant scene also provides an excellent platform for reimagining craftsmanship and accountability in business. Integrating sustainable solutions that stimulate the local economy and connect businesses to the communities in which they operate is becoming the new norm.

      Restaurants such as Fable on West 4th and Chill Winston in Gastown are examples of Vancouver businesses that have found great success in building strong relationships with local farmers and producers. In doing so, they are also helping to diversify and sustain the B.C. economy.

      Executive chef Derek Bothwell of Chill Winston has been partnered with Earthwise Society since 2009. Earthwise is a non-profit community-based agricultural movement, comprised of a small-scale organic farm and education center in South Delta.

      This partnership showcases a pivotal farm-to-table relationship; every week, Bothwell heads to South Delta to see what’s being harvested, and creates dishes for Chill Winston’s ever-changing menu. Bothwell also spends time talking to the many students who come to Earthwise through various school programs.

      In my search for a rewarding career path, this shift toward local food security and environmental sustainability inspires hope. Businesses are rising to the challenge of creating positive change in the communities in which they operate.

      It is exciting to know that there is a growing place in the world for businesses that are committed to their communities and serve a purpose outside the benefit of their shareholders. Social ventures such as Save-On-Meats and Persephone Brewing Co., and farm-to-table relationships like that of Chill Winston and Earthwise Farms’ are setting the stage for my future as a social innovator and entrepreneur.

      Matt McGibbon is a student in SFU’s Semester in Dialogue CityStudio program and an aspiring social entrepreneur.