Our goal is to create a model Eco-Entrepreneur Program that will be unique among two year and four year colleges. The interdisciplinary program will build on existing courses in the sciences, sustainability, entrepreneurship and business and create new courses based in part on the principles of the Zero Emissions Research Initiative (ZERI) and The Blue Economy: 10 years; 100 Innovations; 100 Million Jobs.
Providing Students with the Skills to Create New Jobs for a New Economy
The concept of the “green” job suffers from at times either too narrow a focus or too lax criteria. The current environmental and social crises were created by a disconnect between our economy and the environment and people upon which our economy depends. A new economy must include far more than renewable energy and organic farming. The extent of the challenge means business models must be eco-literate and socially-just by design. Fortunately, we have examples of successful businesses that protect ecosystem function, prioritize the well-being of their workforce, and create profit. We wish to use the impetus of this challenge and these successful examples to create opportunity for entrepreneurs to simultaneously develop viable businesses and regenerate environmental and social systems.
“Chance favors the prepared mind.”- Louis Pasteur
Four billion years of evolution has created natural systems of consumption that create no waste and are powered by renewable energy. A foundation in ecology and basic science will provide students the tools to mine the wisdom of ecosystems. The coffee industry illustrates this point. From beans to brewing there is 99.8% waste. It turns out that coffee “waste” is the ideal substrate for cultivating the second most widely traded commodity in the world—mushrooms. The mushrooms provide a cash flow and break down the caffeine making the waste suitable for animal feed or a garden soil amendment, a second cash flow. Creation of a few creative businesses is not a sufficient goal, however. We have seen both the need and potential of the new green economy during our community program where we bring innovative thinkers to SBCC to motivate, inspire, and educate our campus and community about the possibilities for a more sustainable system. Along with Gunter Pauli whose extensive research and work serves as a foundation for this program we have also learned from Terracycle, Back to the Roots Ventures, and Janet Unruh, author of “How to recycle everything, why me must and how we can.” These innovators and thinkers gave us insight into the broader picture of what is needed and possible in a new economy. Sustainable designers such as Geoff Lawton, Art Ludwig, and Brad Lancaster showed us how we can work with nature and through a more holistic approach create systems that provide a high quality of life while regenerating ecosystem function. Tyrone Hayes and Vandana Shiva made it clear that business as usual will degrade both environmental and social systems.
We are not just trying to green up existing careers, or train students to enter traditional “green” jobs, we have to go further and create the opportunity for students to develop entirely new niches in the economy and workforce. A perfect example of this comes from Janet Unruh whose careful research showed a dire need for an entire industry focused on dismantling products to recycle and reclaim rare and valuable resources from our product lines. If we don’t do this we will run out of materials such as rare earth elements and that will shut down entire product lines. What this means to us is that not only are there new businesses to create, but entire new sectors of the economy.
The ultimate goal of the SBCC Eco-Entrepreneur Program will be to produce graduates that combine a foundation in science, ecological literacy, and entrepreneurial skills with an inspired and broad view of what sustainable business systems can be; and for these students to leave the college with a critically reviewed business plan. Currently, Eco-Entrepreneur Programs exist only on the graduate level. SBCC can provide a one year certificate program that is affordable, accessible to incoming high school and current SBCC students as well as people with degrees or already engaged in business.