Author Archives: Symone Jackson

Shrink your environmental footprint with this DIY urban mess kit

Shrink your environmental footprint with this DIY urban mess kit

By Stanley Carpenter | LinkedIn 

Stanley is a Beneficial Banker based in Portland, OR.

Did you know that Beneficial State Bank’s Fresno branch was the first CDFI in the Central Valley to become a certified California Green Business? If you’re reading this, you probably already know about our environmental sustainability efforts in the community, but how many of you know what goes on behind the scenes??

You’re about to find out! I’m going to highlight the ways in which we’re striving to be a model for environmentally-sustainable companies and challenge you to think about steps you can take to reduce waste (hint: your very own DIY urban mess kit). You can think of our bank in Portland as a small-scale model of our community—we hope our internal business practices will spark some ideas for how you can lower your environmental footprint everywhere you go!  So put on your surgical mask because we are about to dig through some trash facts.

Did you know that many cities throughout the world sell their waste to China to be recycled? According to the Guardian,  in 2010 China imported 7.4 million tons of discard plastic, 28 million tons of waste paper and 5.8 million tons of steel scrap. The big news of 2017 is China has actually stopped accepting foreign recyclable items through an initiative that has been translated into English as “National Sword.” Sword cracks down on illegal plastic recycling, like contaminated plastics that arrive in China either dirty or moldy, which leads to these plastics ending up in China’s landfills. China is tired of being the world’s garbage dumping ground, which is what led me to write this article. Let’s get back to the banks recycling efforts.

Take a look at this picture:

At first glance, our recycling system in Portland is confusing. But if you look closely, you see that we have from left to right: Mixed Recycling, Other Plastics, Landfill, Glass, Compost and a box for recycling metal lids. We have so many different bins because of the style of Portland’s extensive recycling system, which is considered a “single stream” recycling system. Many cities offer “single stream” recycling: You can throw all of your recyclable items into one bin, the hauler (aka your neighborhood recycling person) comes to pick up your bins, dumps them into their truck, takes the recycling to highly advanced sorting facilities which then separate all the items. Sounds great, right!? Not so fast! This comes with challenges— the biggest one being contamination.

Even though we’re able to recycle special items here in our Portland office, you may be surprised to find out that many are NOT recyclable, such as Starbucks cups and food takeout clamshells. The fact that so many products cannot be placed in our plastic recycling makes sorting a challenge for Portlanders, which is why our Beneficial State Green Team invests so much time and energy into making sure every employee is knowledgeable about our recycling methods.

And now for the DIY part: On a daily basis, we toss coffee cups, straws, lids, plastic silverware and napkins. With a few simple changes, you can easily reduce your waste by replacing those items with a reusable coffee container, steel straw, metal silverware and hankie. It’s your very own urban mess kit! Building your kit is easy—you can pick most of these items up at your local stores. Check out my personal kit:

In my backpack, I keep my Liberty Bottleworks, Hydroflask, and GoBox membership (well, I use an app for the last one). I also keep mason jars around for buying in bulk when I make a trip to the grocery store. People’s Food Co-op is a great example of a business in Portland that encourages customers to get creative about cutting waste. They simply weigh my mason jars, or I can weigh them myself before filling them up. When I go to the register, they subtract the weight of the jar off the total weight. This does two things: it keeps a container that would be recycled or trashed out of the bins, and also keeps emissions down. Brilliant! In 2008, McDonald’s stated that they sell 1 billion of coffee per year. I divided this number by $3 (the cost of one cup). That amount is staggering: 333 million coffee cups!

For the new year, I challenge you to look at your personal waste stream to see what you can cut out. Try making an urban mess kit to navigate the concrete jungle. Don’t be afraid to challenge the norm! If you see something that can be done differently, ask that person or company to do it and offer up some advice for how they can easily make a small but mighty change. A changemaker is only as powerful as the ask. For all the readers out here, I would love to see your mess kits! Feel free to add any waste-reducing ideas you have in the comments below!

Wish you had your own Green Team to keep you on track? Check out Portland’s city-wide program Sustainability at Work or get in touch with us!

This blog post reflects the author’s personal views and opinions, and does not represent the views and opinions of Beneficial State Bank and/or Beneficial State Foundation.

The Freshwater Trust moves money to make bigger difference

The Freshwater Trust moves money to make bigger difference

By Haley Walker | LinkedIn 

This post originally appeared on The Freshwater Trust’s website. Haley Walker is the Freshwater Trust’s Communications Director, based in Portland, OR.

The Freshwater Trust (TFT) began the New Year by partnering with Beneficial State Bank, one of only a few financial institutions in the world certified as a B Corporation.

Certified B Corporations are for profit companies that meet strict social and environmental standards.  There are more than 2,000 in 50 countries.

“These companies are retooling the way ‘success’ has long been defined,” said Joe Whitworth, president of TFT “It’s not just about financial returns but also what’s being given back to the society and to our natural resources.”

“Our core mission is to fix rivers, but our positive impact doesn’t have to be reserved for just a river system. Fortunately, it can – and should – extend further than that.”

Philanthropist and environmentalist Tom Steyer and his wife Kat Taylor founded Beneficial State Bank in California in 2007. Just in 2016, the bank loaned $86 million to nonprofits, $57 million to affordable housing projects, $36 million for renewable energy, and $122 million to low and moderate income communities.

“The mission of Beneficial State Bank is to build prosperity in our communities through beneficial banking services delivered in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner. We believe banks can nourish communities instead of extracting from them. Together we can build a new banking system, and a new economy, that helps restore the environment and invests in economic security for all,” said Randell Leach, president and chief operating officer of Beneficial State.

In 2017, TFT evaluated its systems and practices to identify areas of improvement–in its internal operations and externally in terms of restoration work on the ground.

“We audited ourselves to be candid about where we could make a bigger difference,” said Kimberlee Myers, TFT’s operations director. “Moving our money was one pretty immediate way we could do better.”

TFT also recently pursued and won a $20,000 grant from Meyer Memorial Trust to provide its staff and board with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training. The two-day training session will focus on capacity building, creating a shared understanding of the importance of DEI work and exploring issues, challenges and opportunities for the organization and its partners.

Beneficial State reports seeing a steady increase in the number of people, nonprofits, and businesses opening new accounts at the bank since images of water protectors at Standing Rock Sioux first appeared on television screens across the country. Recognizing that many people wanted to move their money out of the big banks funding the pipeline – but were unsure of where they should move their money to – Beneficial State released a Move Your Money toolkit in 2016 to help individuals, businesses, and institutions take action with their deposits. Joining the Beneficial State banking family means joining a values-based banking movement that continues to gain traction as people wake up to their agency in the banking system and demand more from the banks that serve them.

Reflecting on this new partnership, Matt Anderson, Beneficial State’s SVP and director of nonprofit banking says, “We are very focused on helping nonprofits increasing their impact, and our relationship with The Freshwater Trust is prime example of how aligning our vision for beneficial banking with their tremendously effective model for conservation, research, and advocacy, moves us all closer to the reality of an economy that nurtures and protects our natural environment. Our entire team is excited to support such an impactful organization.”

This blog post reflects the author’s personal views and opinions, and does not represent the views and opinions of Beneficial State Bank and/or Beneficial State Foundation.

Best social justice and equity conferences in 2018

Best social justice and equity conferences in 2018

By Emma Guttman-Slater | LinkedIn 

Emma is the Strategic Communications Director at Beneficial State Foundation based in Oakland, CA.

Who doesn’t love a good social justice conference? Inspo, healthy optimism, new friends?! We social justice conference groupies are in luck because 2018 is optimal for justice-themed conferences across the country.  Aside from the learning and knowledge-sponging that are bound to happen while you conference, the networking and connections you’ll make while attending will help you to grow both personally and professionally. And, you will feel far less alone when doing the challenging work of advancing equity.  I’m lucky that my organization provides a professional development budget which helps us to take advantage of these kinds of opportunities, so I put this list together to help out my rad colleagues (shout out to the team!) and they suggested sharing it with the world! Putting this out there: If you need help making the case for a professional development budget to your employer, let’s talk!

And now, a note and a disclaimer!

Beneficial State Foundation staff at the 2017 Mills College CSRB Conference in Oakland, CA.

Note: This list is certainly not exhaustive. There are so many incredible convenings out there. Most of these conferences focus on racial and economic equity, and there’s at least one financial health-focused gathering for good measure.

Disclaimer: I haven’t attended all of these (I wish!). Feel free to reach out about any of them and we’ll connect you to someone who has attended if you want to learn more. And please add your favorite social justice conferences in the comment box so we can grow the list!

Best Social Justice & Equity Conferences in 2018

National LGBTQ Task Force’s Creating Change Conference
January 24 – 28, 2018
Washington DC

Center For Socially Responsible Business (CSRB) Conference at Mills College
March 9, 2018
Oakland, CA

White Privilege Conference
April 4 – April 7, 2018
Grand Rapids, MI

PolicyLink’s National Equity Summit
April 11 – 13, 2018
Chicago, IL

Greenlining Institute’s Economic Summit
May 24, 2018
Oakland, CA

Left Forum
June 1 – 3, 2018
New York City, NY

Center for Financial Services Innovation’s Emerge Forum
June 6 – 8, 2018
Los Angeles, CA

Allied Media Conference
June 14 – 17, 2018
Detroit, MI

New Economy Coalition’s CommonBound Conference
June 22 – 24, 2018
St Louis, MO

Netroots Nation
August 2 – 4, 2018
New Orleans, LA

Global Climate Action Summit
September 12 – 14, 2018
San Francisco, CA

Worker Cooperative National Conference by the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives & Democracy at Work Institute
September 14 – 16, 2018
Los Angeles, CA

COCAP (Community Capital)
Date TBA
Oakland, CA

Race Forward’s Facing Race Conference
November 8 – 10, 2018
Detroit, MI

Wellstone Action’s RootsCamp
Date and location TBA

Transform Finance Institute for Social Justice Leaders
Date and location TBA

Democracy Convention
Date and location TBA

And a 2019 bonus!

International Drug Policy Reform Conference
November 6 – 9, 2019
St Louis, MO

 

This blog post reflects the author’s personal views and opinions, and does not represent the views and opinions of Beneficial State Bank and/or Beneficial State Foundation.

The internet belongs to all of us! Preserving net neutrality and the information commons

The internet belongs to all of us! Preserving net neutrality and the information commons

By Emma Guttman-Slater | LinkedIn and Symone Jackson | LinkedIn

Emma is the Strategic Communications Director and Symone is the Social Media and Digital Engagement Manager for Beneficial State Foundation, both based in Oakland, CA.

In two days, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote to repeal net neutrality, a 2015 ruling that enacted oversight of internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast and Verizon on the principle that they should treat all content on the internet equally.

If right now the internet is a “place where the lowest income user has the same access to unfiltered information as the wealthiest, and where individuals can successfully compete with multibillion dollar corporations”… Imagine the opposite.

A place where you have to “pay to play.” A place where the wealthy get high-speed internet access, while low-income families are confined to the slow lane, and our country becomes one where people must pay for access to information, entertainment, and the social and political capital that comes with expanding one’s network and connecting with other people. It’s not hard to imagine: We’re already seen this type of censorship in net neutrality violations where, for example, companies have censored text messages sent to reproductive rights activists who signed up to receive alerts.

Fair internet access is essential for shared prosperity.

The internet, whose development in the US was funded by the American public (the Department of Defense) is a public good, like electricity and broadcasting. We think about this in the context of banking, which can be viewed as quasi-public because of the privileges we the public have bestowed upon the banking system. Consider the FDIC: Federal deposit insurance set up by the government that makes it possible for someone to run a bank and hold your and my cash deposits.

Without limits, the financial institutions and ISPs serving us these public goods can harm citizens. During the financial crisis, we saw what happens when banks operate unchecked. And still, it’s not difficult to envision a future where access to services and information is in the hands of corporations, not the people, and the people have to pay those corporations to get access to free and available information. Getting rid of net neutrality might widen our already increasing economic inequality gap and would leave consumers unprotected. Not only would those with lower incomes be adversely affected by increased costs, but people of color also stand to be disproportionately disadvantaged — including their ability to make their voices heard on the internet — by the loss of the rule. Repealing net neutrality rules would also have significant impacts on health outcomes in rural communities where people rely on telehealth services, and in LGBTQ communities where young people often must turn to the internet to access health education resources.

A thriving economy is one in which everyone who desires to participate has the option to do so, and everyone has equal access and choice. A strong public utility backbone, which includes fair internet access, is essential for shared prosperity that comes out of full participation.

Image obtained from: https://imgur.com/gallery/zfxwB

It’s true that California, as an example, has innovation and prosperity a-plenty — the state has some of the richest zip codes in the country! Yet almost 20 percent of Californians live at or close to the poverty line. Prosperity is not shared. By establishing a pay-to-play internet, it’s clear who will win and who will lose.

We already know trickle-down economics doesn’t work. Earlier this month we saw a tax bill pass that will leave America’s wealthiest as the winners, at the expense of low and middle income communities. When the national debt balloons, we’ll hear the GOP’s call to cut costs to social services and healthcare to make up for it, further undermining low and middle income families’ chances at getting ahead. Privileging corporations and wealthy people does not foster economic opportunity; it leaves huge swaths of our country high and dry. This kind of increasing inequality is not only an affront to our sense of justice and fairness, but also to our democracy — everyone’s ability to access opportunity and to participate.

If you’ve been following the net neutrality debate, you’ve probably heard that 30 percent of Americans don’t have a choice when it comes to their ISP. Thirty seven percent can choose between only two. Without net neutrality disallowing filtered data lanes, huge chunks of the population stand to lose at the whims of these corporate ISPs.

Do you trust that your internet provider will put your interest above its own?

We also have to look at who has access right now. The rural-urban digital gap is stark: While 96 percent of urban Americans have access to broadband service, 39 percent of rural Americans lack access. There is also a gap within America’s major cities: In Detroit, for example, 40 percent of the population does not have any internet access. “Because of high foreclosure rates, and because of bad credit, a lot of telecom companies don’t offer good service within these areas, or they won’t even turn on their fibers so we have a lot of dark fiber that doesn’t have internet running though it throughout the city,” says Diana Nucera, director of the Detroit Community Technology Project. Luckily, community-based organizations are working locally to address this need by installing high speed internet systems in the homes of Detroiters who have not had internet access. Still Detroit is a prime example of what happens when consumers are left unprotected from entities that are supposed to serve their needs.

Christopher Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance explains that without net neutrality rules, major ISPs will be able to extract more money from their existing customer base, providing less of an incentive to expand their customer base into those areas lacking internet access now. The prediction makes sense: With even fewer rules, why should we expect to see investment into rural communities, which already face disinvestment? Mitchell says areas without access need rules to protect them. If there’s no hope for competition, there’s no hope for a marketplace to regulate behavior.

Without net neutrality, we are beholden to corporations whose primary interest is profit. These companies will further entrench their position as  “gatekeepers to the internet.” To paraphrase Mignon Clyburn at the FCC: Do you unequivocally trust that your internet provider will put your interest above its own?

Exactly.

So, what can you do?

  • Keep net neutrality in place.  Take action at battleforthenet.com
  • Invest directly into low- and middle-income communities, with their needs and economic and racial equity in mind. Think of all the untapped innovation and abundance in these communities, often out of reach because of severe unequal access to basic services. That might look like banking local, supporting local business, and investing your time and energy into power-building within these communities.
  • Look to the communities that are making it work with place-based solutions, cooperative solutions. There are more than 350 organizations across the US where cooperatives are currently delivering fiber to the people.

This blog post reflects the authors’ personal views and opinions, and does not represent the views and opinions of Beneficial State Bank and/or Beneficial State Foundation.

Beyond one-day service: how you and your company can build lasting relationships with nonprofits to further your mission

Beyond one-day service: how you and your company can build lasting relationships with nonprofits to further your mission

By Tegan Molloy | LinkedIn

Tegan participated in Beneficial State Foundation’s 2017 Summer Fellowship as the Community Engagement Fellow based in Portland, OR.

In order to build a new economy that’s inclusive of all communities and sustainable for the planet, the business and nonprofit sectors must team up and build new systems together. As a Beneficial State Foundation Fellow, my focus was to lead market research on the nonprofit sector, including conducting interviews with thirteen nonprofit leaders throughout California, Oregon and Washington. This blog explores a few challenges I identified through these interviews, and some suggestions for how individuals and business leaders can be better partners to nonprofits.

As an MBA candidate at Presidio Graduate School studying triple-bottom-line business and social entrepreneurship, I deeply believe in the power that business can have in catalyzing systems change with thoughtful consideration for its stakeholders. Despite the progress the business sector has made towards becoming more sustainable, we still have mountains of work ahead of us. Let’s face it: big, gnarly, societal problems will always persist in various forms. As one of my wise professors likes to say, “As soon as you have the answers, the questions change.”

“The most critical work that needs to be done is what I call high impact, low profile work.” – Jan Masaoka, CEO, CalNonprofits

The nonprofit sector is critical for addressing these problems with its reach across interconnected spectrums of society. Nonprofits play the important role of think tanks who lead formative research, build pilot programs, and catalyze movements. On the other side, nonprofits can also act as last line of defense, serving those who have been failed by inequitable systems in our society. And while the business pendulum is beginning to shift in a more responsible direction, nonprofits are often the invisible glue, binding communities. In an era where various public sector players are failing to meet basic needs for some of our population, the role of nonprofits is more important than ever before.

CHALLENGE: Capacity Building

Volunteers working with Beneficial State Bank nonprofit client SupplyBank.org to stuff school supply bags and dental kits for children.

The greatest capacity building challenge that nonprofits face is a shortage of staff and talent. In one interview, an Executive Director revealed: “The dark side or shadow to nonprofits is that they compete for talent. The sector has a challenging time sourcing professionals because the pay isn’t competitive. And there’s a lot of turnover between like organizations.”

In learning about the talent shortage, I thought that this was yet another reason why volunteering plays such an important role. While this may be true, I discovered that volunteering can also be problematic. In fact, multiple interviewees expressed that one-time volunteering habits are often something nonprofits “endured.” Yikes!

Interviewees expressed that when it comes to Board of Director positions, board members can be harmful when they apply the exact same principles and strategy of their own businesses to the nonprofit they’re serving on. Instead, the organization should be treated as a unique entity with different resources, operations, and purpose.

Nonprofit leadership can also create problems with board service. While on a mission to find a board member to a) amplify their mission and b) fulfill legal requirements, it’s not uncommon to lure business leaders into serving on a board under false pretenses. Often they’ll frame the opportunity as one that “won’t be that much work!” The fib that board service is a small undertaking is hugely destructive to organizations and their potential. In doing this, nonprofits automatically diminish the huge responsibility it is to serve on a board. If you’re a current or future board member, be ready and willing for a significant commitment.

SOLUTION!

  • Update your company’s volunteer hours strategy to encourage long-term service & formal partnership capacities. Some companies are known to compensate employees’ time for up to 40 hours / year.
  • As a volunteer, ditch any thinking that you might “know what’s best” for the nonprofits you’re serving.
  • Consider how your business can count civic engagement as volunteerism. How is it defined in your policy?
  • Like many behavioral patterns, there’s a gap between people wanting to volunteer and actually doing it. If you must, address stagnant volunteerism at your company by organizing a group outing where people can volunteer together. Making it a regular habit will hopefully outweigh any drain it might have on a nonprofit.

“Nonprofits are at the forefront of understanding and addressing social and economic disparities.” – Nonprofit Association of Oregon

CHALLENGE: Nonprofit Displacement

The second greatest capacity building challenge nonprofits face is lack of space and equipment. Nonprofits in urban areas are increasingly being forced to move, or combine offices with two to three other organizations due to rising rents. Why not purchase a building? It’s challenging for nonprofits skating by on their annual budget to set aside savings towards a down payment towards a building purchase. Oftentimes, the majority of nonprofits (who are under $100,000 in annual revenues) don’t have not any collateral to begin with. The cycle of nonprofit displacement is a real issue that’s costly, and exacerbates stress and employee turnover.

SOLUTION!

  • If your company’s based in an urban area with rising rents, consider renting space or equipment to a nonprofit at a more affordable rate.

CHALLENGE: Equity Work

Equity can be roughly defined as allocating money and systemic support to the communities who have been marginalized and systematically discriminated against to level the playing field for all. Vu Le, a comedic nonprofit thought leader and the Executive Director of Rainier Valley Corps defines equity on his popular blog here.

Beneficial State Foundation and Bank teaching young creatives from Oratory Glory’s leadership cohort about socially responsible banking.

It’s not news that oftentimes communities with the highest need get the least attention and least financial support. Many foundations and funders have been shifting funding practices towards using “an equity lens”. However, according to one nonprofit consultant interviewed, despite this focus, equity isn’t getting better, it’s getting worse. She wasn’t alone in this unsettling sentiment.

In trying to do good things for, rather than with, marginalized communities, there are still very harmful practices that halt progress. Effective community engagement with marginalized communities is often missing, or is treated as an afterthought. This only reinforces cycles of inequity. Oftentimes businesses want to turn their attention to the shiny, trending objects, rather than embracing the lower profile work that may be most impactful to communities.

SOLUTION!

  • Hire a consultant and host a diversity and social justice training (or ongoing trainings) with employees to deepen awareness of inherent bias and systems that may be failing or harming your stakeholders. And create a permanent committee within the company who will keep social justice issues at the forefront of company decision-making.
  • Consider setting aside funds for rapid responses needed in the community.
  • Focus on specific communities and not just hot-button issues. The most significant impacts are often felt when they’re tangible and targeted for specific community needs.
  • Inequity is incredibly complex and will require many different solutions. Keep in mind that these solutions will require a whole lot of trying, failing, and learning along the way.

CHALLENGE: Funding Cuts & Policy Reform

Source: CalNonprofits

Perhaps the largest trend affecting the behavior and well-being of nonprofits today is the current political climate. The chart below illustrates responses from 800 nonprofits in a CalNonprofits survey taken in March of 2017. With federal budget cuts to human services, the environment, the arts—and more organizations need to face the reality and quickly adapt to current and imminent funding disruptions.

What many people don’t realize is that much of this funding is invisible to the general public and it’ll likely have a domino effect.

What happens when government funding disappears? Nonprofits will scale back from innovation to providing basic services in times of economic stress. For example, the health and wellness program for a low-income population will be reduced to a simple food program. This shatters the holistic desired outcomes that these organizations and their funders envisioned. In addition to shrinking services, there’s always a chance that people will be laid off or that the organization will close its doors.

For policy affecting nonprofits, and well, everyone. . . The Johnson Amendment will be eliminated by Congress and the Trump Administration through the latest tax bill. This enables nonprofit and religious organizations (who are exempt from taxation) to legally endorse political candidates, having serious implications for campaign finance. Boiled down, the repeal of The Johnson Amendment eliminates nonpartisan regulations in place for tax-exempt institutions.

SOLUTION!

  • Show up for nonprofit stakeholders on policy positions by making endorsements and being vocal advocates for issues aligned with your values. Attend community events and forums, hang signs, wear buttons, write an op-ed, start a flash dance mob.

    Mike Torres (Opportunity Fund), Sarah Livnat (Opportun) and Beneficial State Foundation’s Director of Strategic Communications Emma Guttman-Slater meet with Congresswoman Roybal-Allard to share the importance of the CDFI Fund.

  • As an organization’s financial capacity grows, it’s typically more effective in accomplishing its mission. Donate a portion of your profits to nonprofits. Stumped on who to support? Utilize resources like Willamette Week’s Give!Guide, an annual guide to giving in Portland, OR. Note that California nonprofits receive roughly 8% of their revenues from individual donors. So even if individual giving has increased to 10%, it will likely not make up for the loss of funding. This is yet another reason why it’s critical to donate money as a member of the business community. If funds are tight, consider donating to smaller nonprofits where your money could make a more significant local impact.
  • Further the missions of your favorite nonprofits by simply moving your money into banks, credit unions, and retirement funds that align with these missions. While your money sleeps at night, it has the potential to help advance those causes. You can even take steps to convince your employer to shift your company’s retirement plans. Here are some resources to get a move on it:

A special thank you to the talented nonprofit community who generously shared their time, ideas, insights, and expertise!

Nonprofit Sector Resources:

This blog post reflects the author’s personal views and opinions, and does not represent the views and opinions of Beneficial State Bank and/or Beneficial State Foundation.

A small change makes a big impact

A small change makes a big impact

By Annette Vasquez

Annette is a Beneficial Banker at Beneficial State Bank based in Visalia, CA.

Every year, people from around the world come together to participate in a challenge that is not only fun, but also beneficial to themselves, their communities and our planet. The Northwest Earth Institute’s EcoChallenge invites you to set personal sustainability and wellness goals that often lie outside of your comfort zone—and to stick with those goals for two weeks. It may sound impossible to change your behavior at the drop of a hat, or it may sound like one small change from one person just won’t make a difference! However, each action is tallied on a platform that the NorthWest Earth Institute provides for participants, and when everything is added up, it’s clear how big of a difference each person has made. There is nothing better than sitting back and being genuinely being proud of your impact—which is why Beneficial State participates in the EcoChallenge.

Congratulations to this year’s Beneficial State EcoChallenge winners: Bethany, Jackie, and Amanda!

We asked our winners to share a few thoughts about how the EcoChallenge inspired them to make a well-being change:

Jackie Alcantar (Porterville, CA)
“I was born and raised in San Jose, CA. I moved to Porterville in September of 2016, and started to work with Beneficial State Bank in November of 2016 as a Legal Collection Department Representative. Beneficial State is an organization that encourages its employees to be ‘beneficial’ to their community and the earth. My own values align with the organization’s passion for environmental sustainability, and this year’s EcoChallenge inspired me to plant an herb garden. I was also encouraged to come out of my shell when I set a goal to chat with new colleagues and share ecofriendly tips. I felt proud to show my love for our planet and the people around me by participating in this fun workplace challenge!”

Amanda Wingfield (Porterville, CA)
“I was born and raised in the Central Valley, and I currently work in Beneficial State Bank’s Legal Collection Department. My hardest challenge was trying a new method of food preparation. As for my favorite result from the EcoChallenge—I now have a variety of plants in my kitchen! I was also able to involve my children in the goals I set for myself, which gave them the chance to learn more about the importance of environmental sustainability. This was a great introduction. I am planning on teaching my kids about other ways we can nurture our environment.”

Bethany Ambrosini (Porterville, CA)
“I was born and raised in the Central Valley. Due to the lack of water resources in this area, I focused on challenges that would help conserve water. I graduated from Fresno State with a Bachelor’s degree in business administration and option marketing. I have worked in the banking industry for more than twenty years, and the majority of those years were with Finance and Thrift Company. Currently, I work as a supervisor in Beneficial State Bank’s Legal Collection Department. I am married with two kids, and I enjoy going to the coast or Lake Tahoe in my free time.”

Beneficial State’s Team Impact for the 2017 EcoChallenge: up to 1,216 pounds of CO2 saved; up to 1,625 gallons of water saved; and up to 1,915 minutes spent outdoors

Overall, Beneficial State’s EcoChallenge team saved up to 350,265 gallons of water and prevented roughly 29,305 plastic bottles and cups from being sent to the landfill. We collectively spent roughly 268,886 more minutes outdoors than usual, and spent about 453,143 more minutes exercising!

Thank you to everyone who participated in this year’s EcoChallenge! I challenge everyone to keep up the good work, and to join us for next year’s challenge. Whether you’re thinking of bringing the EcoChallenge into a classroom, the workplace, or even your home—it’s a great way to see just how easily you can help decrease your carbon footprint and establish healthy habits.

To learn more about how you can join next year’s EcoChallenge, visit: https://EcoChallenge.org/

This blog post reflects the author’s personal views and opinions, and does not represent the views and opinions of Beneficial State Bank and/or Beneficial State Foundation.

Can cooperatives help us create an equitable economy?

Can cooperatives help us create an equitable economy?

By Salvador Menjivar | LinkedIn | Twitter

Salvador is Beneficial State Foundation’s Executive Director based in Oakland, CA.

There are many different types of cooperatives in the U.S. and some have been more successful than others in establishing roots in the communities where they reside. Contrary to popular narratives, co-ops are as American as apple pie, and they have a long history in the United States.

In 1752, Benjamin Franklin founded the country’s first federally-recognized cooperative business—the Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss by Fire. Moreover, by refusing to ensure houses not up to fire safety standards, the company set new criteria, which would eventually be incorporated into building codes and zoning laws, for housing safety.

Cooperatives also played a key role in the South for enslaved Africans and African Americans seeking to build lives for their families following the Civil War. W.E.B. Du Bois often spoke of cooperative economics in his work, and recognized the Underground Railroad as a co-op in which abolitionists shared resources to help enslaved Africans escape. Vigilance committees within the Underground Railroad provided food, clothing and shelter, and raised revenue so these resources could be readily available for runaways. Additional cooperatives were later established to help build wealth within Black communities, such as the Freedom Quilting Bee in Alberta, Alabama, which helped African American women earn money collectively, enabling its members to purchase land and a factory. Ownership of their labor allowed some of the women to make enough money to purchase their freedom from sharecropping.

Contrary to popular narratives, co-ops are as American as apple pie, and they have a long history in the United States.

Today, co-ops are defined as legal entities created and operated with the intention of benefiting their members. There are multiple cooperatives structures which are commonly used today: consumer co-ops, worker owned co-ops, employee owned businesses, and real estate co-ops.

REI is a well know consumer co-op, where people come together to buy products at better prices. Worker-owned coops are increasing, but still rare in the U.S.; according to some sources there are just over 300.

Alabama Freedom Quilting Bee, Encyclopedia of Alabama

Employee Stock Option Plans (ESOP) are slightly different than co-ops—cooperative structures grant each member or worker-owner an equal share of the business AND an equal vote in decision-making, regardless of pay or seniority. In the case of an ESOP employees are granted the option of acquiring company stock, usually at a discounted prize. However, the objective of an ESOP is usually to reward employees for the growth and profitability of the business, not to create a distrusted ownership of the company. Kelly-Moore Paint is one of the most widely-recognized companies with an employee stock ownership program.

Real estate co-ops facilitate the ownership of housing by members, making property ownership more affordable. For example, the NYC Real Estate Investment Cooperative (NYC REIC) consists of more than 400 members who “are pooling their money and power to secure space for community, small business, and cultural use” in New York City. In California, the East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative was born out of a collaboration between the People of Color Sustainable Housing Network and the Sustainable Economies Law Center. The East Bay Real Estate Cooperative is “designed to remove land from the speculative market, create permanently affordable housing and commercial space…and assert democratic control into the development process in the face of mass displacement in the Bay Area,” says Chris Tittle, Director of Organizational Resilience at the Law Center.

Some of the most successful co-ops in the U.S are financial co-ops, also known as credit unions, and they can provide a great alternative to traditional big banks. Credit unions are not-for-profit institutions that either invest profits back into the organization or distribute profits among members as dividends in the form of earned interest. Technically, credit unions are owned by their account holders, known as members. As not-for-profit institutions, credit unions pay no state or federal taxes, meaning they can charge lower interest rates than banks for most financial services. Today, more than 100 million Americans are members of credit unions in the U.S.

It’s time for a new economic system—one that balances the needs of all its stakeholders.

Co-ops offer great hope for addressing one of the biggest problems of our current economic system: the concentration of wealth among a shrinking number of investors in big corporations and banks. From 1979 to 2007, “paycheck income of the top 1 percent of US earners increased by over 256 percent.” During the same period of time, “the bottom 90 percent of earners saw little increases to their average income, with a dismal 21 percent increase from 1979 to 2015.

Stagnant wages in the U.S. are just one of many factors that have made home ownership a lofty goal for countless working-class families. Homeownership remains a significant driver of wealth in the United States, which is why many housing rights advocates are looking at collective ownership models that make home ownership a possibility for people who have historically been excluded from the housing market. In general, co-ops offer an opportunity for communities to reimagine what ownership looks like with a lense towards equity.

Cooperatives represent a solution that can help increase ownership within untapped communities, build generational wealth, and foster economically resilient neighborhoods. A robust and innovative co-op movement is one of the keys to an equitable economic system that abandons models which value profits over people and the planet. It’s time for a new economic system—one that balances the needs of all its stakeholders, including workers, community, the environment, and even investors.

This blog post reflects the author’s personal views and opinions, and does not represent the views and opinions of Beneficial State Bank and/or Beneficial State Foundation.