From Student Leader To Community Leader
By Alyssa Schoeneman, AEL Intern
Illinois Alumna Cassandra (Cassie) Carroll knows how to put her dreams in motion. Just a few short years ago, the 2008 Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences graduate was sitting on a friend’s couch daydreaming about sustainability in Illinois; she is now the executive director of the Illinois Green Business Association (IGBA), an organization dedicated to assisting businesses in reducing their ecological footprints.
Carroll’s initial vision stemmed from a simple question: how can the Champaign-Urbana community make Green Street more “green”? She partnered with two fellow members of the U of I Students for Environmental Concerns (SECS) to establish the IGBA as a registered student organization on campus. One of the group’s initial projects focused on building better local recycling programs and on increasing environmental awareness on campus; 2008 saw the formation of C.O.R.E., Community Organized Recycling Efforts, an organization that went on to apply for and receive a Building a Lasting University Environment (BLUE) grant from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Facilities and Services Environmental Compliance department.
“One of the most influential experiences I had during my time at the U of I was getting involved with Students for Environmental ConcernS (SECS) and with the University YMCA,” Carroll said. “After working on multi-family recycling issues in Champaign through SECS and beginning to understand the community outside of the University, I really realized what potential a new company could have in the community.”
With this realization fresh in their minds, Carroll and her co-founders sought to adapt and adopt a green business certification program for local businesses. The IGBA built partnerships with the University of Illinois Offices of Sustainability and of Public Engagement, with First Busey Corporation and with One Main Development, among others; the IGBA’s founders distinguished their brand from competing certification programs by working from within the business community to build better relationships.
“Our partnerships with the University's Office of Sustainability, Office of Public Engagement, First Busey Corporation and One Main Development really assisted and jump-started the IGBA,”
Carroll said. “Without the support of both the local and University community, the IGBA could not have the traction or stability that it does today.”
She continued to say that many community leaders have helped the IGBA to grow and expand as an organization; these leaders also taught the IGBA staff ways to enhance existing organizations’ services to influence a greater environmental impact in communities throughout the state.
“Our University and local community have incredible knowledge and passion; connecting with organizations throughout multiple sectors has been what has made the IGBA successful and real in our local communities,” Carroll gushed.
But running a non-profit organization is not always so glamorous – the hardest part, Carroll said, has been doing the paperwork. Filing for taxes, for 501C3 status and for other logistical endeavors were not areas where Carroll had a lot of experience or knowledge as an environmental science major in the college of ACES, she explained. But she didn’t give up.
“I have found that there are amazing resources and people throughout our community that can assist local business owners with these sometimes confusing tasks,” Carroll said. “And those people were integral in the start-up of the IGBA.”
So what is Carroll’s best advice for aspiring student entrepreneurs?
“Don’t be discouraged by the ‘grunt work’ or the planning process of your idea,” she said. “Take the time to think things out and to really craft a vision or paint a picture of what you want to see happen with your idea/with the product you have created. Write this down and articulate it clearly. It helps not only guide you towards your goal, but also helps you think out the smaller, finer details of your endeavor. “
And as for what she has learned in the process, the lessons have been innumerable.
“Being an entrepreneur has a fast learning curve!” Carroll said emphatically.
For more information about the IGBA, visit www.illinoisgba.com, or visit them in person at:
IL Green Business Association
301 N Neil, Suite 402
Champaign, IL 61820