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Tompkins Weekly 3-3-14

By Bob Rossi

I arrived at SewGreen with two SEEN member cards in my pocket, a smile on my face and a broken zipper on my coat. “Well, let’s get you fixed up first,” offered Wendy Skinner, founder and director of Ithaca’s non-profit sustainable sewing center.

As she mended my zipper, we talked about her upcoming event. SewGreen is the site of the first in a series of “cash mobs” organized by the Sustainable Enterprise & Entrepreneur Network (SEEN). The Ithaca community is invited to converge on SewGreen at 112 N. Cayuga St. in downtown Ithaca between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturday, March 22. Refreshments, classroom tours, free activities and special deals will be offered all day.

“We’re thrilled to be the first organization to be cash mobbed by the SEEN,” Skinner said. “The post-holiday doldrums have put a dent in our revenue and our good spirits. We could use an infusion of both.”

SewGreen operates a reuse/resale store that diverts about 20 tons of materials from the landfill annually. Most of the store’s stock is donated by community members looking for an environmentally sound way to dispose of unwanted fabric, yarn, needlecraft supplies and sewing machines. SewGreen resells the best-quality donations in its retail store, or uses the materials in sewing classes. Resale proceeds support a youth apprenticeship and teen jobs program.

Cash mobs boost revenue and show support for essential businesses in our local economy. They are among the many new developments at the SEEN, whose membership is united on a common commitment to long-term, balanced growth. Rather than striving solely for financial enrichment, SEEN members also measure success by their impact on employees, the community and the natural environment.

“Times have changed since this journey began five years ago,” said Gladys Brangman, board president of the Green Resource Hub, which is the SEEN’s parent organization. “Every year our community becomes more knowledgeable and more empowered. Where there were once dozens of sustainable business leaders in this region, there are now hundreds, and we are providing a place for them to convene.”

SEEN members gather for quarterly meetings organized by Hub board member and SEEN volunteer David Gower. At these meetings, participants discuss collective goals, set intentions for the net- work, decide on cash mobs and organize educational networking events.

These informal meetings also serve as a place for SEEN members to reconnect. Skinner reports on a serendipitous connection at a recent SEEN meeting: “I was chatting with people when I heard from Christine Barksdale that she was closing Diaspora Gallery on the Commons. We practically made a deal on the spot to move her African fabrics to SewGreen. The SEEN helped us both to be in the right place at the right time.”

The next SEEN quarterly event is Currency & Community, an exploration of the role that money plays in our lives, how new technologies like Bitcoin and currencies like Ithaca Hours can transform that relationship, and how to engage in commerce that builds personal and community well-being.

This event will include a movie screening and panel discussion at Cinemapolis from 6:30 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, March 18, followed by a reception. Other SEEN events for 2014 are Food not Fracking, the Power of Networks and the annual holiday banquet.

At the heart of these activities is the network itself. We believe mission-minded business is a driver of positive change, and we all play a critical role in this movement.

That is why I was smiling so broadly when I entered SewGreen—well, that and the comic timing of breaking my jacket zipper on the way there. I was delivering SewGreen’s member cards, and we quickly set up SewGreen’s member-to-member discount (M2M). Every SEEN business or organization can offer a discount to the network through our M2M program. SewGreen is now offering 10 percent off all classes and merchandise to anyone with a SEEN member card. All M2Ms are marketed through the SEEN website and social media, and provide a way for SEEN members to support each other.

The cash mobs, SEEN member meetings, quarterly-event structure and M2M program have all been inspired by SEEN members. They are signs of the evolving sustainable business culture in our community. For more information, visit TheSEEN.org.

Bob Rossi is the director of the SEEN and owner of CommonSpot, a social enterprise incubator on the Ithaca Commons.

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