The U.S. Chamber’s lobbying efforts against climate change legislation has sparked highly public defections by Nike and Apple. What is bubbling below the surface could be more telling as local businesses and associations explore sustainability’s potential as a catalyst for economic growth.
One such example is the 100-member Sustainable Business Alliance (SBA) of Berkeley, California and its Executive Director Mark McLeod. From my chamber and association experiences, including serving as the founding president of the Decatur (Georgia) Business Association that now has 400 members with a strong track record of economic and community accomplishments, I would describe McLeod as the prototype of the association/chamber leader who leads through outreach, engagement, consensus and innovation. This is his perspective on sustainability:
“Sustainability is not a threat but rather an economic and community opportunity. A role of civic organizations like the SBA is to help our local businesses find their path for making money and a positive difference. When we are successful the results are job growth, community enrichment and a cleaner environment. For example, one SBA supported project is the David Brower Center, a LEED platinum building home to dozens of non-profit organizations and for-profit companies pioneering sustainability’s adoption. Another example is our support of the East Bay Green Corridor Partnership, an alliance of fourteen mayors, the Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, and the Director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.”
An example is New Voice of Business, a grass-roots business advocacy alternative to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It was started just four years ago by Elliot Hoffman, a bakery entrepreneur who also served for six years on the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors. New Voice of Business was created in response to a request for business community support from activists seeking legislation supportive of solar power. As Hoffman explains, “I was approached about adding a business voice to the public policy debate on solar after the utilities and the California Chamber of Commerce had successfully lobbied in our legislature against enabling subsidies for roof top solar. Working with others in the business community I approached our Public Utilities Commission on the business benefits that California could harvest with an expansive solar program. The end result is now known as The Million Solar Roofs that has created jobs and a leadership position for California in this important technology.”
Following this success the New Voice of Business supported passage of AB 32, the nation’s first legislation limiting CO2 emissions. “The resistance to AB 32 is similar to what the U.S. Chamber is doing by scaring people [by saying] that limiting pollution will threaten their job and cost them money,” Hoffman explains. “We were able to pass AB 32 by showing how finding solutions to climate change was a path to more jobs and a better economy. California is suffering like the rest of this country through this recession but I would hate to think where we would be if we didn’t have the clean tech industry that was created as a result of AB 32’s passage.”
And now New Voice of Business is reaching out to the rest of America with an alternative perspective to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s lobbying against climate legislation. “What we are finding is that a lot of business people understand the opportunity created from operating our country on our own renewable resources. They want public policy that supports a sustainable economy and a lot of these business people don’t think the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is representing their interests.”
And that summarizes the cross roads facing the U.S Chamber of Commerce. As I write in The Secret Green Sauce, CEOs are emerging as leaders in adopting sustainability with more than half of the Fortune 500 companies now tracking their carbon footprint. Eighty-five percent of American consumers have now purchased a green product. Time will tell if the U.S. Chamber’s position is a sustainable path as America’s businesses shift toward the revenue growth potential created through a sustainable economy.