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USF internship program matches students with ethically responsible businesses

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Published 3 hours ago on April 19, 2021By Jaymi Butler

This fall, more than two dozen University of South Florida students will get the chance to learn how to support socially and environmentally responsible businesses as they prepare for their B Corp certification.

Through the new Business for Good internship program, students will work directly with business leaders on the B Impact Assessment, a tool that helps get companies ready to become Certified B Corporations. Companies that earn this designation balance purpose and profit and are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community and the environment.

“The Business for Good internship program allows our students to see how the business community can be part of the solution for societal issues,” said Sri Sundaram, Tiedemann-Cotton Dean of the Kate Tiedemann School of Business and Finance on USF’s St. Petersburg campus. “This reshapes the conversation about how businesses view their commitment to all stakeholders they serve.”

Participants in the remote internship program, a partnership between Florida for Good, B is for Benefit and the university’s Bishop Center for Ethical Leadership within the Muma College of Business, will come from all three campuses and will represent a variety of majors and academic disciplines. They’ll be placed with one of seven businesses across various industries in Florida and Texas and will receive their training through B is for Benefit, an organization that offers services to academic institutions that wish to incorporate the intersectional nature of sustainability with business strategy through internships.

Emma Jacobs, a student at USF’s St. Petersburg campus, came up with the idea for the program after she completed a previous internship where she was charged with certifying the firm she was working with as a B Corporation.

“It was the most valuable experiential learning opportunity I have received in my entire college career,” said Jacobs, who worked alongside leaders from the Bishop Center and B is for Benefit to create Business for Good. “This internship will provide others with a similar experience.”

According to the Bishop Center’s Bekah Vigil – herself a grad student studying anthropology on the St. Pete campus – this type of internship is something that students have been requesting for a long time.

“Current and future students consistently tell us that they want to work for conscious and values-driven businesses, and this internship will provide such an opportunity,” she said.

David O’Neill, director of the Bishop Center, said that the internship program further reinforces USF’s commitment to ethical leadership.

 “Students get an inside view of what leaders in a business must consider, and the companies build awareness to improve their positive impact,” he said. “The values of a B Corp align well with our vision of what leadership should be, making this program a seamless addition to our offerings.”

And in turn, businesses will get help on their certification journey, making it a win-win for everyone involved.

“We are most excited about starting to work with a team of students, because we can learn from each other in many ways,” said Tony Selvaggio, CEO of Tampa-based eSmart Recycling, one of the businesses that will host interns. “We are passionate about what we build, and the opportunity to share that passion is the highlight of why we do what we do.”

Funnel : Leasing Launches H.O.M.E. to Increase Fair and Equitable Housing

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Non-Profit to Combat Housing Discrimination through Responsible Technology, Education and $1 Donations per Online Leasing Application

Funnel Receives Florida for Good Award, Moves Toward B Corporation Certification

Funnel, the only renter-centric property management software platform, announced the launch of H.O.M.E. (Housing Opportunities Made Equal), a 501(c)3 not-for-profit, dedicated to building responsible technology and supporting causes that provide disadvantaged renters with access to safe and healthy housing. The launch of H.O.M.E., timed during Fair Housing Month and the anniversary of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 (April 11), will further Funnel’s mission to combat the systemic oppression prevalent throughout the leasing process and increase housing access for individuals of color and other marginalized home seekers. Every online application completed through Funnel’s platform will now generate a $1 donation on behalf of H.O.M.E. that will be used toward creating more equitable housing access and opportunity.

“A home is the foundational block of economic progress and possibility. Without equal access to housing, people of color and other vulnerable groups will continue to be left further behind,” said Tyler Christiansen, CEO of Funnel. “Biases and homogeneity in teams responsible for the development of technology in the housing process can make the problem worse. We formed H.O.M.E. because we knew we could make a difference. By helping to change the housing process, we can influence the industry and change the world.”

As part of this larger commitment, Funnel has made a specific point of identifying and eliminating biases in their suite of leasing products, including in their new virtual leasing agent. Funnel has ensured the virtual agent can respond to messages about affordable housing and help find the least expensive apartments. Steps were also taken to accommodate messages in foreign languages, unsupported inquiries, and messages that indicate adverse prospective renter situations, including potential exposure to trauma such as domestic abuse.

Often overlooked, housing discrimination is a constant and formidable obstacle for millions of Americans. Studies confirm that home seekers of color are told about and shown fewer homes and apartments than their white counterparts, raising their housing search costs and restricting housing options. According to the Urban Institute, people of color are shown 12% fewer rental units, respectively, than whites. Safe and affordable housing is critical to many other aspects of well-being, including health, education, and job security.

Funnel was recently recognized as one of the leading companies in Florida using the power of business as a force for good by the University of Florida and received their 2021 “Florida for Good” award. Funnel is also in the process of filing for B Certification, having completed the BIA assessment and ensuring all aspects of its business model are optimized for social and environmental impact.

About Funnel

Funnel’s renter-centric solutions revolutionize the antiquated process of finding a home into an enjoyable experience. We believe all renters deserve a seamless, simple and personalized journey. We provide leasing and communication tools that are intuitive and obliterate repetitive tasks — driving more efficient leasing. Join us as we help leading property management teams create tomorrow’s rental experience at funnelleasing.com.

About H.O.M.E. (Housing Opportunities Made Equal)

Funnel is dedicated to fair housing for all. We created H.O.M.E. to advance our commitment of building responsible technology and supporting causes that provide marginalized renters with access to safe and healthy housing. Through our actions, we strive to identify and combat the systemic oppression prevalent throughout the leasing process that results in limited housing access for individuals of color and other marginalized home seekers. Every online application completed through our platform generates a $1 donation on behalf of H.O.M.E. that is used toward ending housing discrimination and increasing economic opportunity through housing. Learn more at homebyfunnel.org.

Florida for Good highlights stakeholder message at first conference

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Photo credit: Institute B

Companies across the southeast United States that balance purpose and profits will come together for their first conference to learn how to improve their businesses.

Florida for Good, co-founded by Jared Meyers, a St. Petersburg real estate developer, will co-host the first-ever BLD [B Corp Leadership Development] Back Better Southeast Conference, a virtual gathering on Nov. 12.

“These BLD conferences have been held in other states, but none have been held in the Southeast. This year we decided we needed to do this,” said Jennifer Moreau, executive director of Florida for Good.

Jennifer Moreau

There are relatively few B Corp companies in the southeast U.S., but conference organizers hope to change that mentality through education.

“Either they don’t know they can do it that way or they are so ingrained in the profit-only and shareholder-only mentality. That’s something we want to change,” Moreau said. “We want to  talk to people about a stakeholder mentality, to consider employees, to consider the environment and think about something other profits. A company has to be profitable, but it won’t stay in business if it’s not considering all of its stakeholders.”

There are nearly 3,400 companies around the world that are certified B Corporation and are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. There are 20 certified B Corp companies in Florida, including Meyers’ Salt Palm Development and Legacy Vacation Resorts, as well as Diamond View, a video production company, and Harness, a subscription philanthropy initiative, both in Tampa.

Jared Meyers, owner and chairman, Salt Palm Development

The BLD Back Better Southeast Conference is not just for B Corp companies, Moreau said.

“We want to include the social enterprises, the Conscious Capitalism chapters, the 1 Percent for the Planet members, anyone who owns a sustainable company and who wants to network with others that they didn’t know existed in the region, and also to help companies that have just heard about this and want more information. We want to give them a taste of what it’s like running a B Corp company, what’s important and should be considered in business operations, to light their fire and let them know here are the next steps,” Moreau said.

The day-long event will feature networking and learning opportunities, including discussions with local and national B Corp leaders. Tim Moore, CEO of Diamond View, is a panelist for B Corp 101, which will focus on how the B impact assessment tool can improve business. Other sessions will focus on branding, climate change, leadership and impact investing. Meyers will host a virtual happy hour event at the end of the conference.

More details and registration are here.

Orlando Sentinel: Jared Meyers: Minimum-wage amendment good for business and Floridians

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Op-Ed By Jared Meyers
Orlando Sentinel, Oct 17, 2020

People are at the center of the hospitality business. How we treat people matters every day — from our employees to our community to our guests.

That’s why I support Amendment 2, the ballot measure to gradually raise Florida’s minimum wage. No one in the hospitality industry or any other industry should be working full-time and struggling just to keep a roof overhead and food on the table. There’s nothing hospitable about that. …

My companies and the organization I co-founded, Florida for Good, have joined with many others in the Florida Business for a Fair Minimum Wage coalition. There is strong business support for raising the minimum wage across the state and across industries — from hospitality to manufacturing; from big companies to the small businesses that are such a vibrant part of our local communities.

Amendment 2 will put Florida’s minimum wage on the path to a living wage, which is fundamentally good business. When wages go up, there is not only more consumer spending, businesses experience lower turnover (cutting down the costs of hiring and training employees), and businesses see increased productivity and better customer service.

Amendment 2 will help us build a more resilient post-pandemic economy that is more equitable, inclusive and sustainable.

We have a path laid out for shared recovery and shared prosperity. We just need to walk it together.

Jared Meyers is owner of Legacy Vacation Resorts (which includes locations in Orlando and Kissimmee) and Salt Palm Development in St. Petersburg. He is also co-founder of Florida for Good.

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BUSINESS Ken LaRoe, founder of First Green Bank, wants to focus on climate change with new venture

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When Orlando-based First Green Bank merged with Seacoast Bank in 2018, customer Ben Johansen was most upset about the loss of his branch’s building in Winter Park, which sported solar panels and recycled building materials.

“Why get rid of a building that had almost no carbon footprint?” said the owner of Embellish FX in Orlando.

Johansen’s disappointment reflects a common theme among former customers and employees of the environmentally focused First Green, including the bank’s founder, Ken LaRoe.

“When [the merger] was done, I thought, ‘What have I done? I’ve sold this thing that meant so much to so many people,’” he said.

So LaRoe, 63, is returning to values-based banking with his latest venture, Climate First Bank (In Organization), a Florida-based community bank looking to open its first branch in St. Petersburg in May.

“Not to sound egotistical, but there’s nobody better situated to do it,” he said.

First Green was LaRoe’s second bank, after he founded Florida Choice Bank in 1998 and sold it to Alabama National in 2006. “I wanted to do something with my life … something that would give back rather than just make people a bunch of money,” LaRoe said. “I’m a rabid environmentalist, but I’m a rabid capitalist also.”

Inspired by the autobiography of Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, LaRoe created First Green with a mission to help people make more environmentally conscious decisions. The bank became known for its eco-friendly branches as well as loans to help customers add solar panels to their homes and offices.

Lynne Lawrie, First Green’s vice president of human resources, recalled running the Mission Specialist program at the bank, which gave bonuses to employees who underwent voluntary education on the values of the bank.

A lifelong resident of Eustis, LaRoe went on join the Global Alliance for Banking on Values in 2012. He also created the First Green Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes renewable energy and conservation.

So what happened? Why did First Green, which had nearly $800 million in assets at its conclusion, merge with Seacoast?

It was investor pressure, LaRoe said. “The cycle of community banks in Florida is you start it, you build it, you sell it,” he said. Seacoast bought First Green for $115 million.

LaRoe would not disclose how much he pocketed personally on the sale, saying that he would have to review his records. “I can assure you that it wasn’t enough for 10 years of my life!” he wrote in a text message.

With Climate First, LaRoe is looking to break that cycle and keep the mission of his bank alive. To that end, he has filed for his new venture to be the first bank to qualify as a Florida benefit corporation, a legal status that helps prevent shareholders from forcing a company to make decisions against the company’s values. “I believe in shareholder primacy, but I believe in stakeholder primacy as well,” LaRoe said. “They’re at least equal.”

LaRoe is still waiting on certification from Florida to start seeking investors in Climate First, though he said he already has $7.25 million in written commitments. His main goal is to “provide a place for the community to vote with their dollars and … put money toward what they care about,” he said.

LaRoe also said Climate First will be more aggressive in its attempts to address climate change. This means expanding the solar loans program to allow customers to sign up online, collaborating with other banks to fund scale solar projects, and funding building retrofits and regenerative agriculture.

Climate First will also be “doubling down” on its commitment to take care of its workers, according to LaRoe. First Green had a living wage initiative that started every employee with a salary of at least $30,000 a year. It also offered 401(k) and insurance benefits to employees from day one.

Most of the former First Green employees were transitioned to work at Seacoast. First Green reached out to customers and other businesses to help place the two dozen employees who didn’t get jobs in the merger. “Their welfare really mattered to [LaRoe],” Lawrie said.

Lawrie, who is consulting on recruitment efforts for the new bank, said she is “looking forward to picking out the new 401K options.”

Johansen has been banking with Seacoast since the merger and he’s not sure he’s going to switch any time soon. But he admits a social mission was part of what drew him to First Green.

“If you value our planet, that was the right choice for us,” he said. “We’re putting our money behind what we believe in.”

Want to reach out? Email tfraser@orlandosentinel.com.

Community Voices: The importance of corporate civic responsibility

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Welcome to the Catalyst’s Community Voices platform. We’ve curated community leaders and thinkers from all parts of our great city to speak on issues that affect us all. Visit our Community Voices page for more details.

Freedom to cast a ballot and vote in government elections is the cornerstone of our democratic society. This duty is a hard-won right and a privilege that too often goes unclaimed in America. With the current national conversation about social justice and racial equity, along with concerns of voter safety due to the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses must support democracy and voting accessibility for their workforce. A healthy business and country depend on equity and civic engagement.

Many businesses are posting statements explaining their care and concern for employees, their support of Black, indigenous, and people of color communities, as well as compassion for those impacted by COVID-19. These companies can extend that care from words into actions by educating their staff, supporting mail in and early voting options and providing paid time off to vote. Employees should not have to choose between a paycheck and their voice, as expressed through their ballot. Businesses often focus on corporate social responsibility while neglecting corporate civic responsibility, which is necessary to feel invested in the democratic process.

At Legacy Vacation Resorts (LVR), Salt Palm Development (SPD), and Florida for Good (FFG), it is critical that our employees can vote in a safe and secure manner. Based on their unique personal circumstances, they can choose between mail in voting and in-person voting (early or regular). For those with health concerns during a pandemic, child care or other obstacles, mail in voting is a good option.  This voting method has been legal in Florida for decades and it is the preferred personal voting method of the current President of the United States. However, for those that prefer in-person voting, as I do, they are given paid time off to vote through early voting or on Election Day. Early voting offers faster lines, smaller crowds and will help reduce wait times for others on Election Day.

We are participating in a few initiatives that help support elections and ensure employees have the time and resources they need to cast their ballot. Time To Vote is a nonpartisan coalition of US companies representing 2.7 million workers to address voting barriers and increase voter participation. This business-led initiative is unaffiliated with any one specific NGO or other independent party, non-prescriptive and completely free to join for any company interested. It shows a commitment through employee accommodations and dedicated time off to vote. We have also joined forces with Business for America (BFA), a 501c3/c4 which has mobilized more than 200 companies, business groups and executives across the country to ​sign a letter to Congress.​ State and local governments and agencies need sufficient funding to hold safe and accessible elections in the face of the coronavirus pandemic and potential social unrest.

Our participation in these efforts has translated into a few initiatives. First, we encouraged our employees to register to vote via a motivational contest. Next, we created an employee educational program that shows how voting can shape the world they wish to see, not just in the presidential elections, but local and state as well. Now, we are offering assistance with mail in ballots for employees who need it and providing paid time off for those who wish to vote in person.

Securing the means to safe voting and providing time to do so by employers is critical.  Our government cannot reflect the will of its people when business policies, practices and norms interfere. The call has never been greater for business leaders to show their capacity for humanity and proactively engage their employees in the voting process. If you are an employee, insist that your employer supports the Time to Vote initiative, vote early and in person if possible and use vote-by-mail as an alternative. If you are an employer, go to Business for America’s website, sign their letter to Congress, and show that you value your employees by supporting their participation at the ballot box.

Jared Meyers is chairman, Salt Palm Development, and the founder of Florida for Good.

Florida For Good Launches National B Tourism Network

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ORLANDO, Fla. (March 30, 2020) – Florida For Good (FFG), an organization that helps bolster the business for good movement in the state, has just launched the B Tourism resource platform for sustainable tourism businesses to connect, share best practices and during these trying times, provide free resources to those companies dealing with negative impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the For Good Movement Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit, FFG was founded on the principles of helping businesses in Florida become more conscious, sustainable and focused on people and the planet instead of just profit while putting a strong sense of community at the core of all they do. Having been co-created in partnership with a hospitality company, Certified B Corporation Legacy Vacation Resorts, that sense of community is stronger than ever during this unprecedented time for an industry that has suffered devastating impacts and leadership felt a strong call to action to create the new B Tourism network to be of assistance to their industry partners.

It’s Time for the Business Community to Step Up

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How our corporate leaders act now is critical to beating the coronavirus.

Over the past few years, we have watched the American business community move beyond caring simply about shareholders and bottom lines to embrace their relationships with their communities, employees and customers. Led by groups like the Business Roundtable and B Corporation, this movement — some call it “stakeholder capitalism” or “compassionate capitalism” — has the potential to change American society. Now is the time for us to live up to those commitments.

Jared Meyers: “Here are 5 things we must do to inspire the next generation about sustainability and the environment”

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Lead by example — Ralph Waldo Emerson said “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” When you practice sustainable efforts at home and in your day to day activities, your children become forces for good by habit. My children and their friends are well aware that my family supports ethical and conscious products and companies, avoids single use items, drives electric vehicles uses solar panels at home, has a composter in the backyard and an heirloom seed garden for produce and herbs, and we even share with them how we donate to various charities to become carbon neutral through offsets. Showing children and young people exactly what to do and that you do it yourself is critical to driving home the message that sustainability is easily practiced and attained.


part of my series about what we must do to inspire the next generation about sustainability and the environment, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jared Meyers.

What’s ahead for St. Petersburg’s sustainability and resiliency work in 2020

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Five years after it was created, St. Petersburg’s Office of Sustainability & Resiliency isn’t slowing down.

Reduced greenhouse gas emissions, solar co-ops and equity investments are among the projects on the drawing board for 2020, Sharon Wright, sustainability director, said at a Jan. 30 City Council committee meeting. So is meeting the commitments of the American Cities Climate Challenge, the Bloomberg Philanthropies-backed initiative to tackle climate change and promote a sustainable future.

St. Petersburg was one of 25 cities selected just over a year ago to participate in the accelerator program for energy strategies. The award, a technical assistance and support package valued at more than $2 million, funded a full-time climate advisor, helped create several energy programs and provided staff training, among other things, Wright told the Health, Energy, Resiliency & Sustainability Committee.

“If we had been given $2 million [in cash], we probably could have done one net zero building, or a couple of improvements. What this is doing is standing up some structures and working with us on data so that we can having lasting programs,” she said.

The Climate Challenge continues through 2020,  and Wright said there’s still a “heavy lift” to meet its goals.

Planned actions she cited for 2020 include:

  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions community-wide by 20 percent
  • Establishing two solar co-ops, working with Solar United Neighbors
  • Waste minimization
  • Programs and collaborations across city departments, including reviewing codes with the city building department
  • Strengthening regional coalitions with other communities that also have sustainability and resiliency initiatives underway
  • Adding sustainability and resiliency data to St. Pete Stat, an interactive platform that uses live data to measure performance, demonstrate transparency and encourage accountability.

The office also is working on several equity investments, including in Childs Park, the neighborhood between 34th Street and 49th Street, and 5th Avenue South and 18th Avenue South.

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Wright expects the Office of Sustainability and Resiliency to take more of a role in urban forestry this year.

“The tree canopy analysis will help with equity investments because we want to make sure people have access to shade and cool ways to get around the city,” she said.

Among the 2019 accomplishments she highlighted was an improved scorecard in the STAR Communities rating system, a framework and certification program for evaluating local sustainability that takes into account economic, environmental and social performance measures. St. Petersburg was certified as a 3-STAR community in December 2016, and improved to a 4-STAR community in 2019. There are only five 5-STAR communities and 25 4-STAR communities in the United States.

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The STAR Communities program was acquired by the U.S. Green Building Council, which does LEED certifications for buildings and for municipalities.

“We negotiated a deal so we are now automatically a LEED certified city too,” Wright said.

The city’s Integrated Sustainability Action Plan, adopted in 2019,  is built around the STAR Communities framework.

“Even though it’s switching, STAR will be really good to have. These are big goals. We are keeping those as our targets with numbers to collect data against,” Wright said.

Margie ManningMargie started her journalism career as a radio news reporter in St. Louis, before putting down her microphone and picking up a pen to work at the St. Louis Business Journal. Unable to resist the call of warm weather and beaches, Margie took an entrepreneurial detour to run an ice cream shop in Treasure Island with her husband. Before joining the Catalyst, Margie spent 14 years at the Tampa Bay Business Journal where she wrote about business successes, failures and the exciting world of innovation and start-ups. Her writing coaches are Bonnie the Dog and Coffee the Cat, joined recently by a new edition, Jack the Cat. Margie can be contacted at margie@stpetecatalyst.com