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.
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.
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.
Aspart 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.
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.
This holiday season, we asked some of St. Pete’s best and brightest citizens to share one catalyzing idea for making St. Pete a better place to live. We asked not for lists of problems, but for meaty, actionable and impactful solutions, no matter how big or how small. Here’s the response from Jared Meyers, chairman, Salt Palm Development, and founder, Florida for Good.
Salt Palm Development will use half of its profit on its latest real estate project to benefit the St. Petersburg community.
Jared Meyers, chairman of Salt Palm, made the pledge at the groundbreaking for The Royal, a 13-unit townhome development at 545 4th Ave. S, just south of downtown and on the edge of the Innovation District. The project is across the street from Salt Palm’s initial project, Sabal Smart Homes, where profits also were reinvested in the community, Meyers said.
Salt Palm is a certified B-Corp, a type of for-profit business that balances purpose and profit.
“B-Corps are all about giving back to the community, taking a portion or in some cases all of their profits and investing them back into the community,” said Mayor Rick Kriseman at the groundbreaking. “Philosophically, they are aligned with what we’re trying to accomplish here in St. Pete.”
The Royal, with prices starting in the $500s, will be built with sustainable living in mind, with features such as LED lightning, energy star appliances, water efficiencies and others.
It also will be solar ready. The company has committed to be net zero by 2030, meaning the total amount of energy used by the building on an annual basis is equal to the amount of renewable energy created on the site.
Salt Palm is tapping into the “positive energy” in St. Petersburg, Meyers said. “Downtown St. Pete is unique and special. I felt that when I came here and wanted to be part of it and elevate it,” Meyers said.
There are only 23 B-Corps in Florida, and Salt Palm is the only one that is a real estate development firm.
“It’s a certification that companies receive that says you perform at the highest levels of social and environmental responsibility. It’s a hard certification to attain and that’s why there’s only 3,000 of them worldwide, half in the U.S.,” Meyers said. “I view this to be the type of business model that is best for any community. At the end of the day, communities need businesses that are there to lift the community up to the best of their abilities.”
Salt Palm has a formal commitment to use at least half its profits for the betterment of St. Petersburg and Florida. The company also has committed 1 percent of its revenue to environmental causes In September, Salt Palm was named a “Best For The World” honoree, a recognition from B Lab, the global nonprofit that certifies and supports certified B Corporations.
Meyers also has launched St. Pete For Good and Florida For Good.
“Businesses are coming together to say we want to do good, we’re responsible, we would like your help to improve on that and we provide free resources for them to get there,” Meyers said. “Whether they become a certified B-Corp at the end of it, or they just improve along the way, that’s fine. We just want you to contribute more to your community, take care of your employees, be more inclusive, and focus on regenerative thoughts processes, not exploitative ones.”
St. Pete For Good, with about 50 businesses in its directory, has inspired other “for good” organizations in central and northeast Florida and Boca Raton, as well as a similar group in Miami, Meyers said. The statewide Florida For Good has about 150 businesses.
The Royal one of two new structures going up in the area. TRB Development is building a new headquarters for insurance technology company Neptune Flood across the street at 400 6th St. S.
Neptune will have about 20 employees on the second level of the building. The ground level will house Lingr, an upscale casual eatery and bar developed by Jeffrey Jew, an alumnus of Bravo’s Top Chef.
“What we’re excited about is this entire part of St. Petersburg is getting the investment Jared is making, that we’re making, to help create this urban, walkable, livable, workable environment, where all of those elements can happen together in one place,” said Trevor Burgess, CEO of Neptune Flood and chairman of TRB.
Neptune fits St. Petersburg’s Grow Smarter economic strategy, which focuses on high-growth businesses. It’s the second business here for Burgess, who was president and CEO of C1 Bank before it sold to Bank OZK.
“Trevor has always been incredibly involved in the community, and so to have him back here with another business, employing people, paying a living wage, that’s a great thing,” Kriseman said.
ST. PETERSBURG — Townhomes are popping up all over the Tampa Bay area but the 13-unit Royal in St. Petersburg has an unusual distinction. It’s being developed by one of Florida’s few Certified B Corporations — companies that meet high standards for “social and environmental performance.”
St. Petersburg-based Salt Palm Development recently broke ground for the Royal at 545 Fourth Avenue S. near another townhome project, Sabal Smart Homes, that it recently completed. Like Sabal, the Royal will include eco-friendly features like LED lighting, reflective roof materials and drought-tolerant landscaping.
Jared M. Meyers is chairman of Salt Palm and Orlando-based Legacy Vacation Resorts, another Certified B Corporation. Both received their certifications from B Lab, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit with offices around the world. Meyers spoke with the Tampa Bay Times about Certified B Corporations and why he hopes to see more of them in Florida. The interview was edited for length and clarity.
What distinguishes this type of certification from something that says, for example, “this milk has been certified as organic.”
Other certifications apply to a certain product but you don’t know much about the company behind it. This is the only one that spans the entire business, not just a specific product. It says the entire company performs at a certain level so it enhances the trust level when you interact with it whether as an employee, a customer or an investor.
Where and how many Certified B Corporations are there?
They’re in 150 industries in over 70 countries. There are a little over 3,000 (corporations), about half in North America. Some of the companies are Ben & Jerry’s, TOMS shoes, Danone yogurt, Eileen Fisher (women’s clothing). In Florida, we have 23. Salt Palm is the only one in St. Pete but last month we picked up two in Tampa—a video production company called Diamond View and a software company called Harness. There’s a bigger concentration in South Florida.
What’s the process for getting certified?
There is an assessment every company must take, and you don’t just take it, (B Lab) does onsite audits and every three years after you have to be re-certified. There are five components— (corporate) governance, employees, environment, community and customers. With employees, they look at the ratio of highest to lowest paid, benefit packages, what sort of policies do you have in place re inclusion and diversity. B Lab will say, ‘Do you pay a living wage?’ At Salt Palm we don’t have many direct employees, it’s a lot of subcontractors, whereas my resort company has hundreds and we guarantee a living wage. In Orange County, it’s $12.70 an hour. (Florida’s minimum wage is $8.46.)
Does your board have any minority members?
(Laughs) The board is my wife and I, so no. What’s really cool about a B Corporation assessment is that as you take it, you become educated along the way and realize all the things you’re not doing. We’re constantly improving what we do. As proud as I am to be a Certified B Corporation, we’re not perfect, there are things we could be doing better.
What is the “community” aspect of certification?
That governs volunteerism, paid off time to volunteer, how many company-sponsored projects there are, what you give in the way of donations. For Salt Palm, for example, we have a public commitment to invest at least 50 percent of our profits into the city or the Florida for Good movement (encouraging businesses to become Certified B Corporations). We sponsored the SHINE Mural Festival, we’ve worked with the mayor’s efforts to beautify the city, We launched an initiative called HIVE – St. Pete, where we partner with nonprofits to educate the public about, say, water quality, and do local projects.
This all sounds great but presumably for-profit companies hope to get something out of B Corporation certification besides good will?
There are no tax breaks, no direct financial incentives. My personal reason to go in this direction is that I want to set an example to show other businesses that you can run a successful business with these practices. I want to create a new social norm. The Typical B Corporation becomes one because it aligns with their values and they use that to attract higher talent employees. Seventy percent of employees feel disengaged from the company they work for. If you can make them engaged and excited it changes everything. Some companies also use this to attract better financing.
And what is the “customer” aspect of a B Corporation certification?
We know the younger generation wants to know how their dollars are being used. We are very proactive in saying, ‘When you spend money with us, I’m not buying five new Feraris.’ We make sure we offset our carbon emissions. We will put money back into the community. The more we can lean into that, the more we will attract customers.
Legacy Vacation Resorts is dedicated to providing vacation experiences for families and friends to create their unique moments and lasting memories in a manner that respects our environment, employees and community. The company as a whole seeks to go beyond simple eco-friendly initiatives and use our business to make a legitimate positive impact in the communities we serve and the world at large.
In March of 2019, LVR became a Certified B Corporation, which are companies that voluntarily commit to transparency and legally dedicate themselves to a triple bottom line of serving people, the planet and profit. Since then, the company has used these principles as a guiding light for the future of our business and its stakeholders.
A Purpose Driven Mission For More
In late 2017, Legacy Vacation Resorts was working hard to deliver a great value on high quality vacation experiences for our guests and we were doing so successfully, at least by traditional metrics. We were profitable, reinvesting back into our operation, improving guest satisfaction and providing growth for our employees. Despite this success, it did not feel like we were driving a positive overall impact. In fact, it seemed we were, like many companies, seeking incremental improvement and allowing others to deal with our business’ negative externalities, many occurring without our knowledge because we did not measure them.
Legacy Vacation Club Indian Shores in Clearwater Beach, Florida
We struggled to see how we could make a net positive impact and felt that the word “sustainability” was being used by most businesses as part of a “green/purpose washing” campaign. Not wanting to do the same, we began educating ourselves on how we could use our resources and abilities most effectively and credibly. Through this process, we identified a few business movements and programs that enlightened us on how we could properly measure our impact, enhance what we were doing well, reduce or eliminate what we were not, and contribute to larger systematic change for a shared, inclusive, and durable prosperity for all.
We have since aligned with several of these organizations but were most enamored with Certified B Corporations. Administered by the non-profit, B Lab, Certified B Corps are businesses that voluntarily meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose through third-party verification. They adopt a higher purpose, stakeholder orientation, conscious practices, and offset their negative externalities.
These practices led them to thrive through strong profits, stability, and valuation. While some household names like Patagonia, Eileen Fisher, Ben & Jerry’s, and Seventh Generation were part of this movement, we were disheartened to learn that our home state of Florida (the 3rd most populous state), only had 17 B Corps, and the entire United States had no multi-state resort hospitality companies.
Finally, we had found a way that we could deliver a net positive societal impact and we were determined to not only become a certified B Corp, but to facilitate the growth of the B Corp movement in Florida and in the hospitality industry at large.
In early 2018, LVR began efforts toward securing B Corp Certification. This meant analyzing our operating procedures and efforts in five Impact Areas required by the certification process, including Governance, Workers, Community, Environment, and Customers. During what turned out to be a year-long process aligning every aspect of Legacy Vacation Resorts with B Lab’s requirements, the company rolled out multiple initiatives towards a more sustainable business model.
In addition to becoming a Certified B Corporation, LVR was among the first multi-state hotel companies to become a member of 1% For The Planet, a network of more than 1,500 member businesses, numerous individuals, and thousands of nonprofit partners in more than 40 countries. The organization is fostering a global movement, inspiring businesses to support environmental solutions by making a simple commitment to donate 1% of their sales revenue to various charities working in one of six core focus areas, including climate, food, land, pollution, water, and wildlife. LVR also became a proud partner of Conscious Capitalism International, an organization that maintains a philosophy based on a simple idea that when practiced consciously, business innately elevates humanity.
Building A Legacy
After certification became official in March of 2019, LVR became the first multi-state hospitality and vacation ownership company to offset the carbon footprint of guests booked through our website, offer to donate 5% of our guest’s reservation to a charity of their choice, donate 1% of our total revenue to environmental charities (as part of our 1% for the Planet commitment), sponsor Conscious Capitalism, and meet Certified B Corporation standards. The new sustainable business model includes 100% carbon footprint offsetting for guests that book directly with the LVR website, electric vehicle chargers at each property, waste reduction and enhanced recycling efforts, sustainable lifestyle awareness campaigns, green-focused renovation projects and a living wage initiative for employees in our eight locations across four states.
The company also implemented an internal “Day of Hope” campaign, which gives employees the opportunity to receive paid time off in pursuit of volunteer activities. Moving forward, LVR has adopted a reduction target to cut down all emissions by 25% by the year 2025.
LVR is also undergoing a process of changing the way we think as a company to a “Life-Cycle” approach. This means we are taking into account where our dollars go from manufacturing to distribution to consumption. Together with suppliers, we are working towards ensuring they enforce a responsible code of conduct in their own workplaces. We believe the companies, vendors and suppliers we work with should support their local economy and support purchases that do not sacrifice the environment or cause harm to human wellbeing and health.
While all of these changes will give our existing guests additional reasons to be proud to stay with us, they will also attract a new kind of traveler and customer – one that shares our values and places importance on social responsibility, environmental responsibility and sustainable travel. By incorporating these conscious values into our ethos rather than just creating a department for it, leadership sincerely believes we will achieve our mission better than ever before and experience revenue growth for the company.
Looking ahead, as we exhibit success by using our business as a force for good, we will share this information within the hospitality industry to help it attain sustainable economic development. Our desire is not to be the best in the world but the best for the world, and part of that is to inspire other companies to follow suit.
Our Impact in Action
An excellent place to see the implementation and execution of our new sustainable initiatives is at the company’s flagship location, Legacy Vacation Resorts Indian Shores, home to villa-style accommodations and beach access just a short walk away. Located on the picturesque Gulf Coast of Florida, the property recently underwent a full scale green renovation project and now boasts the smallest energy footprint of all locations in our portfolio.
The project introduced all new energy star appliances and fixtures as well as new operation and maintenance procedures to ensure that the building isn’t only built in a sustainable manner, but is also being managed efficiently as well. The remodel efforts used low VOC paints, and policies we have in place require the use of non-toxic cleaners, therefore reducing toxic output.
Water management products and systems are used to help conserve our water usage and reduce water waste, and guests are provided with in-room pitchers and signage detailing the safety of filtered water provided by the city to hopefully eliminate their need for single-use plastic water bottles. Furthermore, native and drought-resistant landscaping is used throughout the property to mitigate the need for heavy irrigation and use of fertilizers. The resort, along with all locations in the company, offers waste recycling services for guests as well as a partnership with Clean the World, a certified B Corp, based in Orlando, that recycles our used hygiene products and repurposes them back to vulnerable communities around the world.
The resort also seeks to do good for the local community, and we first look to utilize products and services from local and Certified B Corp suppliers and vendors whenever possible thus contributing to a circular economy. This supplier management is not just better business, but an effort to educate our guests about new responsible products that they can obtain back home.
We plan to implement similar projects and initiatives at all of our eight locations in four states, with some impressive programs having already been introduced. Currently, our Brigantine beach resort is powered by 100% renewable electricity. ‘Sustainability Champions’ have been appointed at each location that acts as a sustainability ambassador to communicate and promote corporate initiatives. All resorts with food and beverage operations offer plant-based food options and boxed water is available at Resort Markets. This year, we launched an annual scholarship program where we provided three $2,000.00 scholarships to employees or their dependents.
The company also began a matching campaign for employee contributions to approved charities which includes donations the employees give collectively throughout the company and during property activities up to $2,500.00. We have also established an employee energy rebate program at our headquarters, as well as the Orlando and Kissimmee properties, where employees can purchase LED lights at our company’s cost to help with reducing their personal carbon footprint at home. There is also a selection of socially responsible investing options available in employee retirement plans.
One of the most remarkable initiatives is our Employee Income Advance Program, currently available for Florida and New Jersey-based employees. This program offers bank assistance to employees in good standing (generally with a tenure of one year or greater) by providing loaned funds of $500 – $2,500 for emergency expenditures. Loans are repaid via automatic payroll deductions, thus building the borrower’s credit score. Once the loan is paid off, the payroll deduction is continued and rolled into a savings account. This program helps employees not only avoid predatory lending to take care of emergency financial needs, but also builds credit and savings, financial literacy and financial stability.
Looking ahead, each location will continue to find ways to reduce single use plastic items and unnecessary waste, individual amenities will be switched out for refillable dispensers, check-in documents will be streamlined to eliminate the need for printed collateral, and we will seek continued improvement.