It really seemed the stuff of fairy tales when the program 60 Minutes told the story of how Fogo Island Inn, on a remote island off Newfoundland on Canada’s east coast, came to be. An islander (Zita Cobb) who got an education, headed off to Silicon Valley, made a fortune, and came back home to invest it in making life better at home.
It is not an unusual story in some senses. That’s what a lot of people from other countries who come to work in the US and send their remittances home, aim to do – make life better at home. But what seems extraordinary to me, at any rate, is how effectively Fogo Island has applied the kind of asset-based community development principles that I’ve used in work internationally. Just like you can see a label on food and beverages you buy, you can find something called an “Economic Nutrition” label on the Fogo Island Inn website.
This brilliant idea was developed by Shorefast, a registered Canadian charity whose mandate is to help secure a resilient future for Fogo Island, for its social businesses, Fogo Island Inn, Fogo Island Workshops, and Fogo Island Fish. “Food nutrition labeling was revolutionary for the food industry. Now, we want to spark the same energy for change with the launch of Shorefast’s ECONOMIC NUTRITIONCM mark.”
Zita Cobb developed the Shorefast Foundation to work on developing Fogo Island and Newfoundland and Labrador. “At the centre of a community is its economy. If there’s no economy, there’s no community,” she said when she was inducted into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame in 2020.
The whole purpose of social entrepreneurship, like the kind she has pursued with Shorefast, is different than regular entrepreneurial pursuit, she told CBC. “That’s why I think business is such a beautiful human tool — we invented it, and if we use it in ways that strengthen the things that are real and valuable and important, like community, then that is a home run.” And for Fogo Island, the inn is indeed a home run, attracting worldwide attention.
And that is part of what the Economic Nutrition label does. “One of the strongest influences an individual can have is through their personal spending decisions. We believe that most consumers want to make purchasing decisions that positively impact people and planet. Unfortunately, information about where “the money goes” is rarely available and is certainly not readily available at the point of purchase. The information provided by our ECONOMIC NUTRITIONCM notification shows how your purchase impacts the local and global economy by detailing how the money you spend is distributed.”
And the Fogo Island Inn was designed sustainably from the get-go. From its website:
“From its inception, Fogo Island Inn has adopted a responsible, systems-based approach to design and implementation in order to conduct itself in a way that demonstrates and upholds a higher fidelity relationship with the natural world. The Inn has a concrete and accredited environmental strategy, ethical suppliers, and tactics in place to protect the environment. We are deeply committed to and invested in all things local, and we consistently surpass the requirements of environmental laws.Our ultimate goal is to develop a place-based solution for carbon offset, which would directly benefit Fogo Island. This would be an important step towards achieving carbon neutrality on Fogo Island. Until this project is in place, Fogo Island Inn has partnered with Carbonzero, so our guests can opt in to achieve carbon neutrality for their stay. When you make your reservation with us, we will provide you with an estimate of the carbon footprint of your visit, including your travel to and from the Inn, your room’s heat and electricity, as well as the waste and food-related emissions associated with your stay.
Our guests will then have the option to purchase carbon offsets that will support Newfoundland-based carbon-offsetting projects in Stephenville and Appleton-Glenwood: the Newfoundland Climate and Ecosystems Conservancy Project. Guests that choose to support this project are supporting local emissions reductions and the ongoing protection of the marine life habitat in Newfoundland and Labrador.”
And they explain clearly, on their website, how they decide on their product sourcing decisions. “We start by seeking local, Fogo Island suppliers. If a product or service is not available locally, we then move to our closest communities on mainland Newfoundland, and then to other suppliers within the province of Newfoundland & Labrador. From there, we move to other suppliers in Canada, then North America, our traditional international trading partners, followed by the rest of the world. In every sourcing decision, goods and services are purchased only when they originate from jurisdictions that abide by basic environmental protection laws and labour standards.”
Fogo Island Inn website.
Entrepreneur Zita Cobb’s social conscience lands her in the Business Hall of Fame. CBC News, Jan. 5, 2020
Fogo Island Inn is Open. Jun. 25, 2013