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L-R: Nick Ridley, Rohan Shanker, Bruno Dyck, and Savanna Vagianos. Photo by Reis Best

Documentary spotlighting sustainable local businesses has Winnipeg premiere

Directed and produced by Asper School of Business student, alumni and faculty, Beyond Profit shines at Manitoba Museum screening

June 25, 2024 — 

With over 100 guests in their seats listening intently to a baker, a farmer and a builder on stage, Asper BComm student Nick Ridley [BA/23] watches the conversation from the wings of the Manitoba Museum auditorium. Ever the sound engineer, he was mostly hoping that the audio-visual equipment would work (it did), bringing a project two years in the making to an excited audience.

Beyond Profit: Seeking Sustainability, a short documentary film directed by Ridley, had its Winnipeg premiere on June 12, 2024. Featuring an introduction from the film’s executive producer, Bruno Dyck (Norman Frohlich Professorship in Business Sustainability at the Asper School of Business) and a fireside chat moderated by Asper MBA alum, instructor and producer Rohan Shanker [MBA/23], the premiere welcomed community members, local business owners, students and faculty to connect over their passion for sustainable business.

Tall Grass Prairie Bread Company co-founder Tabitha Langel, Long Way Homestead co-owner Anna Hunter and BUILD Inc. director Sean Hogan (each featured in the film), answered audience questions after the screening, reflecting on the power of storytelling, their journey into sustainable business and the reasons they do things the way they do.

Production started back in 2022 when Dyck encouraged Ridley to use his background in film studies to apply for a UM Undergraduate Research Award project, spotlighting local firms classified as SET (Social & Ecological Thought) businesses.

While minoring in management during completion of his BA, Ridley was inspired to pursue his BComm, drawn to the business of media. With a major in accounting, he plans to achieve his CPA designation after completing his BComm.

Ridley is also currently conducting research with Mingzhi Liu (Associate Professor in Accounting & Finance) developing pro forma financial statements for the newest course on business sustainability.

“Ultimately, I’m excited to contribute to the standards behind sustainability and ESG reporting,” he says. “One of the central ideas of the film is that we need to reconsider net income as being the sole measure for business excellence. We cannot afford to continue business practices that pollute and damage our own backyards for the sake of a share price.”

Dyck, with Asper colleagues and Associates Fellows Sean Buchanan, Chi Liao, Rajesh Manchanda and Kelsey Taylor, leads a SSHRC-funded research project, interviewing and studying SET firms across Canada. Asper alum, instructor and producer of the film, Savanna Vagianos [BComm(Hons)/19, MSc/22] has worked on this project as a research assistant since 2019, completing firm interviews and data collection. Her rapport with the firms made her a perfect fit for the film’s growing team.

In her view, the film’s Asper School of Business connections are the result of an environment where diverse students and faculty can connect over what they are passionate about, whether that’s a documentary about sustainable business or her own entrepreneurial pursuit: the Manitoba Local Business Alliance, a social enterprise that supports small local businesses and connects local business owners.

“With the premiere, I’m most excited to host an event that fosters a sense of community, bringing people who care about sustainability together to connect,” she said.

Fellow producer Shanker explains that this is the goal of the film itself. “Our purpose is to inspire others who want to pursue sustainability or who are on the fence. I think the film tells them that they are not the only ones looking to change or do something totally new,” he says.

The film makes a provocative case for rethinking the purpose of business and uses the concept of externalities to reimagine what profit, sufficiency or even a dollar really mean. “Externalities,” Dyck explains, “refer to those things a company does that are not reported in its financial statements. Some firms create positive externalities, such as providing jobs to those on the margins or using practices that regenerate the soil.”

A loaf of bread baked and sold by Tall Grass, for instance, contains about two-dollars-worth of positive externalities not found in grocery store bread because, among other things, they use local organic flour.

As Shanker notes, the numbers provide context, but it’s the stories that make an impact. The film received a Merit Award from the 2023 Canada Shorts Film Festival and was officially selected for the 2024 WILDsound Film Festival.

“The film tells human stories about real people who are doing this amazing work. That’s really what got me interested in the project,” Shanker says. “It’s been a thrilling journey to see our little film about Winnipeg-based firms go on to win accolades at Toronto- and Los Angeles-based film festivals.”

In his introduction before the screening, Dyck emphasizes this point further, taking a moment to pause and express awe of the people involved in the film, the event and the community.

It was, he explained, an evening of celebration—for everyone involved in producing the film, for the businesses interviewed and featured on screen and for “the larger community who ‘gets it’.”

“Businesses like these create the kinds of communities that we all want to be a part of,” he said. “They represent the best of us, and they bring out the best in us.”

Beyond Profit is a film about sustainability that makes you feel—it’s not the doom of complete climate cynicism, but not the bright (fleeting) assuagement of greenwashed marketing either. No, the film invites audiences to “let your heart break a little,” as BUILD Inc.’s Hogan quipped in the Q&A. It invites care because it offers community; it welcomes a little bit of fear and uncertainty because it fosters connection; and it inspires because it dares to imagine a better way forward.

Learn more about the incredible work done by local SET businesses and hear from Asper School of Business faculty, students and alumni (and more!) by watching Beyond Profit: Seeking Sustainability here.

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