A story about sustainability in business and in Akron (and the new story that isn't written yet)

Back in 2009, when I started Karen Starr ReDesign, my first consulting business for interiors, I was very focused on the positive environmental impact of reuse in interior design. I was passionate about building a business out of optimizing what already exists, and then adding new, environmentally-smart items from there.

On Saturday nights back then, a close group of friends would let me dream my dream out loud and hear me talk about things, like how a strong, sharing, local economy will save the world (I was and still am very serious about that). They'd offer up bits of advice and encouragement to help guide my initial business decisions for how to begin building on my ultimate vision.

Very early on, my friend Ron mentioned an organization called Entrepreneurs for Sustainability, or E4S, that I should look into. His words were something like, “If you are going to be building your design business around sustainability, there is no better place to go as a resource.” Ron knew about E4S because the company he works for had just gone through their “SI Class” (Sustainability Implementation Class). I wrote the name down in my trusty notebook, and shortly thereafter, attended an E4S meeting to find out what the organization was all about.

Thus began a wild, educational and inspirational ride, and a love of mine for the passion and knowledge of this incredible Cleveland-based organization. E4S was born in 2000, when one woman, Holly Harlan, had a big idea and a handful of people to help her realize the beginning of it. That big idea eventually grew into a network of over 8000 people who made huge strides in what sustainability looked like for our region.

Along the way, E4S blazed trails of every kind in awareness, programming and innovation in sustainability in Northeast Ohio and beyond. They helped ignite ingenuity in small business, big business, multiple large institutions, and really, the entire city of Cleveland. E4S was always ahead of its time and encouraged its members to consider a smarter way of thinking about what truly is sustainable, what our relationship to our local food economy is, about what is considered waste, and what we can learn from nature's examples.

The E4S network met regularly each month in Cleveland for all those years, and for two extended periods of time that I am aware of, also made its way to Akron for about a year’s worth of monthly Akron meetings. These Akron meetings were where I made my connections with others in my town who were doing similar work, seeing similar problems needing addressing, dreaming similar dreams about what sustainability looks like for our community.

So, this brings us to current day.

And why am I telling you this story? Because, after all those years, E4S recently told its network that the decision was made to disband as an organization.

I know. I know. Sad day, indeed. But here we are and we know that we need to decide where we go from here. That is the reason why I am writing this post.

A handful of active E4S Akron members went up to Cleveland a few weeks ago to attend the “final toast” to the E4S network. There were eight or nine of us, I think. That evening, we all agreed that there was a collective passion and need to keep up the work that our little Akron network was doing – in a new, collaborative form. 

A form that will be determined as it goes, as we see who shows up. A new form that would honor the spirit of what E4S brought to each of our businesses and personal lives and that would keep anyone engaged in this type of work communicating and gathering in a room together - the best thing about the E4S network.

We don’t yet know what that will look like, but what we do know is that we are determined to keep this conversation going and begin something new.

You are invited and encouraged to join in.

If you are already doing any kind of work in an area of sustainability, are interested in starting a business based on a sustainable idea, or just want to know where to go if you are looking for someone who is doing this type of work, please consider joining this conversation.

The first opportunity to do so with the new Akron sustainability network (not an official name, but as close to the point for now) is tomorrow night, Wednesday, June 13. Traditionally, E4S would meet in Akron on the second Wednesday each month in downtown Akron, at Musica - beginning at 5:30. Because this is what E4S used to do, this is what we will do again.

If you are available and interested in attending tomorrow, click here for the EventBrite invitation

If you can’t attend tomorrow but want to be notified about what happened at the gathering and where the group decides it will go from here, go to the EventBrite invitation and just follow the link for contact at the top or bottom of the page. There, you can send us your email address, and we'll be sure to contact you when the next steps are decided.

Thank you for reading. Please forward this to anyone who may be interested in some facet of it.