Vermont Business Magazine Gathered in the backyard of Ben Cohen’s home on the evening last Wednesday, 200 Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility (VBSR) members and guests celebrated the group’s 25th anniversary and the remarkable achievements of Duane Peterson, cofounder of SunCommon, Vermont’s largest residential solar company. Peterson was honored with the Terry Ehrich Award for Excellence in Socially Responsible Business. Named for the late owner of Hemmings Motor News and a founding member of VBSR, the award is given to a VBSR member who best exemplifies Terry Ehrich’s commitment to the environment, workplace, progressive public policy, and community.
“The VBSR membership was very pleased to present this award to Duane,” said Avram Patt, Interim Director of VBSR. “His support of the triple-bottom-line approach to business is evident in the work he does professionally and personally. It’s clear that he values the importance taking care of People, Profit, and Planet, and sees this type of business model as essential for a strong and sustainable economy.”
“Duane is a big thinker, with a big heart. He has shown us, through his creativity and service, how to change the world,” said Sue Minter, former Secretary of Transportation, who spoke at Wednesday’s ceremony.
The award ceremony presented an opportunity for many of VBSR’s 700 business members to reconnect, honor and reflect on the non-profit’s mission to advance business ethics that value a multiple-bottom-line approach to business, where people in the workplace and community are valued equally as much as environmental impact and profits made.
“I knew Terry,” said Peterson, “and really value his kindness and thoughtfulness. He showed us that business can be a natural extension of who we are…that the same values which guide our lives can guide the way we walk in business. For Terry, and these wonderful leaders since, doing right in business is not a hardship nor burden, it’s an honor to be able to wield the resources of a business towards justice…for employees, vendors, communities, customers and the very habitats that sustain our lives.”
A social entrepreneur, Peterson is on his seventh career with stints as a medic, police officer, nonprofit manager, political campaigner, justice department official, legislative director and values-led business practitioner.
The common thread has been organizing people to take meaningful action towards positive change. He moved to Vermont in 1996 to help Ben use Ben & Jerry’s as a force for social change. After 12 years there as Ben’s Chief of Stuff, Duane left to launch his latest venture, SunCommon, to make it easy and affordable for homeowners to help repower Vermont with clean, safe and local solar power.
A Benefit Corporation and a Certified BCorp, SunCommon is Vermont’s largest solar business with 75 workers. Duane has been a part of the VBSR community since 1996 and his wife Laura has served as VBSR’s Program Manager. He’s a member of the Social Venture Network and serves on the Board of VPIRG as well as VBSR.
“Of the many aspects I love about this opportunity is choosing the people we surround ourselves with. One of the reasons I start ventures is that I want to create a place I’d want to work at. What a gift,” said Peterson. “It’s great to be in this gathering of committed souls, folks who seek to use the power of business for social and environmental change. It’s a testament to how deeply ingrained these values are in much of Vermont’s business community.”
2010 Terry Ehrich Award winners Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield (of Ben & Jerry’s fame) presented Peterson with the award in front of the sold out crowd.
The SunCommon team. Photos courtesy VBSR.