A Vital Piece Missing in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act

van_stairs.jpgAlso known as the stimulus package, the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), along with Van Jones‘ appointment as Green Jobs Czar, will help American workers get back to work with job training and incentives for green initiatives. The subject has been well covered in the blogosphere and with good reason. Interest in the green economy is at an all time high, while employment is at…well, it’s not good.
But there’s a piece of the equation that’s missing. What happens when all of those people get trained, weatherize 60 million homes and offices, and the green work starts to dry up? We’d be missing a tremendous opportunity if we didn’t take this process one step further: help these people become independent by providing them the tools they need to start their own business and be successful in the green economy.
Right now, the Small Business Administration (SBA) has no programs designed to help small business owners go green. No advisory councils, no tax incentive worksheets specifically for eco-friendly initiatives, and no loan specialists who focus on the green market. I started a petition to Karen Mills, Administrator of the SBA. I’d encourage everyone not to just sign it, but to take this message further.
Without green businesses to continue the momentum of the current interest in green, the ARRA risks being just a stimulus bill. Barack Obama and the Democrats would be wise not to let that happen, as that is likely to be the greatest criticism of the bill after the dust settles.
No agency has more potential for being a catalyst for a green overhaul on our economy than the SBA, as half a million Americans start businesses every year in the U.S. However, after a thorough search of the SBA site, I could find nothing related to helping businesses go green, so I started calling the agency, getting passed from person to person until I was passed to something called the ‘advocacy’ group. I began by asking one of the advisors how he felt the SBA might work with Van Jones to help create the green transition. After a few moments, there was a pregnant pause in the air, so I stopped, not knowing what I had said wrong.
“Who is Van Jones?” he asked.
So what would a greener SBA look like? Glad you asked…

My petition calls for the creation of elements within the SBA to help entrepreneurs and existing small business owners understand the realities of the green economy. Perhaps the most important is an advisory council, perhaps regionally distributed in their Small Business Development Centers, which exist in every state, to act as a panel of experts and a sounding board for entrepreneurs to ask about what they can do to go green. These experts would act as marketing consultants, LOHAS demographers, green tax incentive snoops, and sustainability consultants.
Another crucial element to the creation of green businesses is assistance with needed funding. While the SBA does not evaluate loans directly, there are resources within the agency that assist small businesses to get those loans, and it would help tremendously to have knowledgeable experts at the SBA to ensure that business plans and loan applications have all the tools they need to get eco-entrepreneurs the money they need to create green jobs.
The availability of seasoned sustainability mentorship on a local level will vary tremendously across geographic regions. How is an aspiring eco-entrepreneur in Topeka supposed to get the same kind of advice and assistance as one in San Francisco?
The local Small Business Development Centers and SCORE (the Service Corps of Retired Executives), a volunteer agency that helps small businesses through mentorship, would benefit greatly from a set of documents, podcasts, webinars, and other resources developed by the SBA around a core set of sustainable business practices and sent out (to be adapted by region if necessary).
Scott Cooney is the author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and hopes that someday the green economy will simply be referred to as….the economy.
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Scott Cooney, Principal of GreenBusinessOwner.com and author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill, November 2008), is also a serial ecopreneur who has started and grown several green businesses and consulted several other green startups. He co-founded the ReDirect Guide, a green business directory, in Salt Lake City, UT. He greened his home in Salt Lake City, including xeriscaping, an organic orchard, extra natural fiber insulation, a 1.8kW solar PV array, on-demand hot water, energy star appliances, and natural paints. He is a vegetarian, an avid cyclist, ultimate frisbee player, and surfer, and currently lives in the sunny Mission district of San Francisco. Scott is working on his second book, a look at microeconomics in the green sector.In June 2010, Scott launched GreenBusinessOwner.com, a sustainability consulting firm dedicated to providing solutions to common business problems by leveraging the power of the triple bottom line. Focused exclusively on small business, GBO's mission is to facilitate the creation and success of small, green businesses.

2 responses

  1. This is a brilliant suggestion – it’s obvious to anyone who’s thought deeply about the current economic situation that it’s unsustainable practices that put us here. The time is now to invest in the future businesses who will get us out of this pickle and onto a new, green economy.

  2. Brilliant indeed and a vital piece of the “green jobs” puzzle. As we all know there has been great debate over what constitutes a “green job”, especially since the Obama Administration has made this a key feature of its economic stimulus package. Even in states like California, Oregon and Washington, policy makers and labor groups have boldly recognized the nexus between climate change and jobs and are developing vocational initiatives designed to get people back to work performing jobs and developing projects that promote environmental quality and sustainable communities.
    It’s been my observation as a seasoned sustainability practitioner that what is lacking to date is a “boots to the ground” work force that is trained and certified as green workers and the jobs infrastructure to support long term growth of small businesses (like the SBA).
    There are a myriad of programs that offer targeted skill development and retraining for traditional tradespersons into a retained work force. But it is paramount that in order for skilled trades to effectively ‘brand” themselves to gain those higher paying jobs that there be concentrated, collaborative programs in place to provide the education, certification and immediate job entry and small business opportunities necessary to make meaningful contributions to the economy and to support individual growth and and professional development.
    Collaborative efforts between community colleges, university, workforce education, organized labor industry organizations, and federal agencies like the SBA and similar state run agencies are vital to capture stimulus funds in a meaningful and productive way.

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