Accounting for sustainability: businesses learn to measure more than profit

Boundary Bay Brewery has always worked toward supporting Whatcom County’s economy and doing less harm to the planet, owner Ed Bennett said. The brewery donates beer to help nonprofits raise money and gives employees time to volunteer for local causes and events. Boundary Bay’s beer garden is certified by the National Wildlife Federation as a backyard wildlife habitat.

But tracking progress toward goals like spending more money in Whatcom County and doing it in a way that doesn’t hurt the environment isn’t easy.

Bennett and other Bellingham business owners worked to find new ways to measure progress toward social and environmental goals at a Sustainable Connections member lunch on March 5. Chris McGee, business counselor with Business Support Services Northwest, led a seminar and demonstrated ways to use Quickbooks software to account for what he calls “sustainability factors.”

Most businesses use QuickBooks or other accounting software programs to chart all the variables that can make or break the bottom line, McGee said. But very few track how much waste is produced in the course of business or how much of the businesses purchases are made locally, he said.

At the talk, titled “Accounting for Sustainability,” McGee recommended using the “class tracking” function in QuickBooks to group together variables that contribute to non-financial goals. The talk wasn’t a lecture, but a discussion where McGee and business owners brainstormed and helped each other solve accounting problems.

Some solutions are simple. Jack Lamb, CEO of Aslan Brewery, said during the discussion that he’s looking for a way to keep track of how much waste his brewery produces. Businesses in the building industry can track the total weight of waste they take to the landfill because they pay per pound to drop it off, but Lamb pays a flat rate to for waste disposal.

Mark Peterson, sustainable business manager for Sustainable Connections, suggested a simple if inelegant solution—draw lines that mark when the garbage bin is a quarter full, half full and three-quarters full, and record how high the waste is piled on pick-up day.

Supporting local businesses is one of Chuckanut Builders’ core missions, owner Ian Rae said. The green building firm started accounting for where geographically its money went in 2012 and in 2013 it managed to spend 89.8 percent of its budget in Whatcom County. Accounting for where the money goes makes it easier to increase the amount spent locally, Rae said.

“Anytime you’re tracking something like this it makes you more motivated to improve,” he said. “The side benefit is you get better relationships with local suppliers and the prices are often similar.”

Oliver Lazenby, associate editor of The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805, Ext. 5052, or

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