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Boston Summit Unites Green Business Engagement Programs

By Mike Hower

Representatives from 21 green business engagement programs from across the country recently met in Boston for an unprecedented national summit that laid the groundwork for a national association charged with growing the role of green business programs nationwide.

As it stands, there currently are more than 50 different independent business engagement programs across the U.S. that serve several thousand businesses – from small neighborhood shops to large national corporations. Cities the country over are also increasingly looking to these programs for help in achieving climate action targets.

The summit was hosted by Boston-based nonprofit, A Better City (ABC), which is currently helping the City of Boston to attain its climate goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020 through a Challenge for Sustainability program. The initiative boasts more than 100 participant organizations, including P&G Gillette, John Hancock and Boston Properties, and provides participants with a comprehensive sustainability program that in 2012, resulted in the reduction of some 19 million kilowatts and an average energy decrease of nearly five percent across more than 21 million square feet of commercial space.

“Green business engagement programs have proven effective at positively impacting participants’ business practices with respect to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions,” said Michael Cantalupa, Chairman of A Better City and Senior Vice President of Development at Boston Properties. “By hosting the National Summit, ABC hoped to strengthen the coordination and impact of these programs across the country. We believe the information shared during the Summit will also lead to the development of new programs in more cities.”

Also present at the summit were organizations like the Environmental Defense Fund, ICLEI-USA, and California Green Business Challenge, which run programs that provide sustainability scorecards, energy benchmarking, one-on-one assistance, best practices sharing, online resources and toolkits, marketing and public recognition. Participation is usually free or heavily incentivized through utility and foundation grants.

Other represented initiatives included the Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge and Chula Vista’s Green Business Challenge, among others.

Alongside the summit, ABC published a comprehensive directory of participating programs and a survey of defining characteristics, such as funding, utility partnerships, number of staff, number of businesses enrolled, reductions, successes and challenges.

The survey found that participating programs work with well over 2,200 businesses, nearly 80 percent of them are free and nearly two-fifths operate on annual budgets of less than $100,000. Utilities are the largest single source of funding, providing support to just over 41 percent of participating programs. Remarkably, only 14 percent of the programs receive state or federal funding.

“We are all trying to achieve similar results in different communities, so attending this summit gave us vital insights into the challenges and innovations of green business programs around the country,” said Brian Geller, Executive Director of Seattle’s 2030 District. “Based on what we learned, Seattle may launch a Green Business Challenge to complement the 2030 District's building-level program."

Some key takeaways from the summit include the realization that successful retention of business members in green initiatives requires creativity. Program managers are eager to collaborate with other organizations and share what does and does not work. While the future funding of programs remains uncertain, the programs have helped implement a substantial amount of best practices that yield significant emissions reductions results. Most programs fit into one of four categories: competitions, recognition, certification or business improvement district.

The summit resulted in the establishment of a task force of administrators from ABC, ICLEI-USA and several other organizations that will meet twice per month through September 2013 to explore what the mission, structure and activities of a national organization may be. The task force will organize another national summit in May 2014.

Based in San Francisco, Mike Hower is an Associate Editor at Sustainable Brands and writes about companies and organizations engaged in sustainability strategy, clean technology and social entrepreneurship. As a natural politico, he has a soft spot for anything related to public policy and the intersection of business and government, which he also blogs about on SustySavvy.com. Contact him at mikehower@gmail.com. You  also can connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter (@mikehower).

Mike Hower headshot

Currently based in Washington, D.C, <strong>Mike Hower</strong> is a new media journalist and strategic communication professional focused on helping to drive the conversation at the intersection of sustainable business and public policy. To learn more about Mike, visit his blog,<a href="http://climatalk.com/&quot; > ClimaTalk</a>.

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