MeasureUP Finger Lakes fosters business vitality, positive social impact

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Four months since its launch, MeasureUp Finger Lakes is seeing more and more Rochester-area companies step up to assess their impact on their communities, customers, workers and the environment. 

MeasureUp is an initiative sponsored by the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute, or NYSPI , a consortium led by Rochester Institute of Technology. The initiative’s purpose is to help local companies assess and improve their social, environmental and economic impacts.

MeasureUp collaborators include B Lab and several local B Corps (see related article), as well as business and community organizations including NextCorps, Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, Genesee/Finger Lakes Regional Planning Council, and the United Way.

Free workshop Feb. 28    

After MeasureUp’s launch in October, 10 people showed up at the first workshop and 35 attended a December gathering co-sponsored by the architectural firm SWBR and hosted by Conscious Capitalism ROC, says Trish Donohue, sustainable supply chain program manager and senior pollution prevention engineer with NYSP2I. So far, 24 companies have completed or at least started the B Corp Quick Impact Assessment, and the next MeasureUp workshop, free at the NextCorps offices in downtown Rochester on Feb. 28, will guide participants through filling out the QIA.

The QIA is affectionately called by some “B Corp Lite.” Becoming a certified B Corp takes rigorous self-assessment and demonstrated results. The QIA is a shorter version of the B Lab assessment. Taking just half an hour to fill out, it gives a quick snapshot view of an organization’s impacts—a first step toward greater self-knowledge and perhaps transformation. 

“I took the QIA for ourselves, to better understand what we were asking companies to do—and see if it was reasonable,” says Annette Brenner, senior business adviser with NextCorps, a nonprofit organization that fosters local entrepreneurship and innovation-based economic development. “The assessment can identify weak points.”  

The results are confidential; nobody else needs to know you aren’t composting your banana peels. NYSP2I analyzes the data and, with its partners, sponsors MeasureUp workshops. Once participating companies gain the insights the QIA yields, they can choose to act on all, some or none of them. It depends on their own goals and objectives. 

“It’s a way to get your foot in the water without diving in,” says Anne Sherman, director of operations and sustainability at Staach, a Rochester furniture and design company, and a certified B Corp. “Even if you act on just one area of impact, it’s a tool for moving forward.”    

A planning tool for business growth

Katarina Schwarz, owner of the startup Katboocha LLC, kombucha brewery in Rochester, took the QIA and attended a MeasureUP workshop. Kombucha is a fermented tea full of probiotics. Schwarz wants her product to be organic, healthful and sustainably manufactured. From the beginning, she has emphasized responsible sourcing and composting. Now, RIT’s Donohue is helping her reduce water waste and take advantage of tax credits. 

Schwarz is glad she took the QIA, but even the quick version of the B Lab assessment seemed geared toward bigger companies than hers, she says. For example, she doesn’t have a board of directors, and her “work culture” is her doing everything. 

“It’s a one-employee company, and that’s me,” Schwarz says. “I’ve got to fill orders this week and I’ve got to do my taxes,” she says. “I did the quick assessment, but I didn’t quite realize what I was getting myself into.”

Still, the experience illuminated the many kinds of corporate issues she will face down the road, Schwarz says—especially as she prepares to hire her first employee. 

“I want to implement these practices as the company grows, instead of having to go back later and fix things,” Schwarz says. “It also pushes you to do more—maybe things you want to do but didn’t know how.”  

A community of peer support 

One of the defining characteristics of MeasureUp is that it provides expert support to act on assessment findings. Workshops guide participants on how to improve customer communications, environmental stewardship, community service, employee policies and diversity. Networking events enable them to share best practices. NYSP2I is itself a hub for helping New York residents and businesses to find implementable and cost-effective sustainability solutions. And, some members of Rochester’s growing roster of certified or aspiring B Corps are stepping up to support other local companies.

“We want more and more of them to be the mentors for MeasureUp—and we want peers to learn from each other,” Donohue says.

Rochester roots of sustainability action

MeasureUp Finger Lakes traces its roots in part to Rochester sustainability efforts going back decades. Back in the 1990s, some local business and community leaders joined forces to promote the “triple bottom line” concept, which includes social and environmental as well as financial considerations when measuring business performance. David Beinetti, a principal of SWBR and its chief marketing officer, became involved with an organization called the Rochester Sustainability Collaborative. A fellow RSC member, Staach’s Sherman, helped bring the QIA to Rochester. 

In addition to running a B Corp, Sherman volunteers with B Lab to spread the word about impact assessments. At a gathering of B Corp leaders in New York City some years back, she met a principal from another Rochester B Corp, Butler/Till Media Services Inc. The two knew that Finger Lakes Forward, a strategic plan developed by the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Upstate Revitalization Initiative, had been selected to receive state funding. They envisioned a match. 

“We saw the overlap between the categories of the impact assessment and the categories of strategic importance to the Finger Lakes—and wondered, ‘How are we measuring impacts in the Finger Lakes? Can this tool be used?’” Sherman recalls. 

They also saw that New York had mustered the financing and political will to support the endeavor that became MeasureUP Finger Lakes, which is modeled on similar initiatives in other U.S. and Canadian cities. 

“NYSP2I has staff, they’ve got financial backing, and the state now supports utilization and proliferation of the B Lab assessment tool (through) MeasureUp Finger Lakes,” Beinetti says.

The state’s interest in all this is to grow jobs, attract and retain workers, reduce poverty, and foster business and environmental sustainability, Donohue says. MeasureUp brings it all together with metrics-driven insights and the support structures to act on them.   

“We call this collective positive impact,” Donohue says. “The collective piece of that is all these companies coming together to do more and more good for our region.” 

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