What makes a sustainable company different from others is that its work must be environmentally and socially responsible.
Something very basic is required to pull that off: staying in business.
"So we realize that, from a pragmatic perspective, we have to help our small businesses survive," said Leanne Krueger-Braneky, executive director of the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia (SBN).
That is why the 10-year-old nonprofit group has visited more than 100 businesses in the city since January looking for answers. The question put to them: Which city policies, procedures, and mandates are obstacles to their success?
Though Krueger-Braneky refuses to divulge specific findings before their anticipated release in November, she summed up what she has heard so far:
"It seems like many city processes, they're really set up just to make life harder."
The $75,000 study is funded by the William Penn Foundation, which considered SBN a natural, given its membership, said Geraldine Wang, director of the foundation's Environment and Communities Program. Of SBN's 500 members, 70 percent are in the city.
"They're a great connector, and they can speak on behalf of this very diverse world that they touch," Wang said.
(As full disclosure, the foundation noted that its outgoing president, Feather Houstoun, is the mother of SBN staffer Kate Houstoun, director of green-economy initiatives. Consequently, Feather Houstoun recused herself from all funding decisions involving SBN, William Penn spokesman Brent Thompson said.)
Outreach for the small-business study is going well beyond SBN members, Krueger-Braneky said.
"We want to make sure this is actually representative of Philadelphia, to identify things that the city could do pretty easily to fix," she said. "It's not meant to be a pure critique. It's meant to be informative."
Krueger-Braneky has come to one other conclusion: "There are some government resources to support small businesses in Philadelphia; I don't think there's enough, given the need."
Wang likened the goal of the study to that of a research effort that yielded "If We Fix It They Will Come," a 2004 report funded by the foundation and produced by the Building Industry Association of Philadelphia. Its intent, too, was change - in that case, to streamline the city's development-review process and modernize its zoning code.
The author of that report, Karen Black, a policy consultant, also is leading the small-business study. Its conclusions will help SBN with its own plans to become a more proactive organization, Krueger-Braneky said.
"We haven't had a proactive policy agenda where we really looked at the needs of our members and local businesses and translated that into policy," she said. "This report will give us business-driven research."