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Published on January 21st, 2009 | by Jennifer Kaplan

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What Can You Do To Green The Country?

This morning I found myself thinking about inaugurations past. In particular, John F. Kennedy’s 1961 Inaugural Address. That, along with meeting Auden Schendler Executive Director of Sustainability at Aspen Ski Company a few weeks ago, got me thinking about my ideas of greening small businesses.

What would happen if we reframed the issue: ask not what the country can do to green you; ask what you can do to green the country?

We all know that in order to be a green business we have to walk the walk, as well as talk the talk.  And, walking the walk needs to be more than greening your individual business. Changing your business practices is only one piece of the greening puzzle. Just because you can’t afford to install solar panels right now, doesn’t mean you can’t make a big difference. In fact, the time you invest in making a difference may be as valuable to environmental progress as installing CFLs. What if every small business owner in America got involved?  Joined a green business organization? Strengthened their green requirements for suppliers? Provided customers with greener alternatives?

What if every small business owner looked for the levers—the things they could do to move others to be greener—to make a broader impact on the environment than their own business alone could effect. In other words, look for ways to influence others. Schendler calls this approach “asymmetric warfare.” Like when ASC, which only spends about $30,000 a year on Kleenex banned the brand from the resort, the CEO of $32 billion parent company, Kimberly Clark, reached out to them. As a result, ASC was able to begin an environmental dialogue with a company 160 times its size.

Now ask yourself: Can we influence our suppliers to be more environmentally responsible?  Can we influence our customers to be more environmentally responsible? I bet you can.

Scott Hauge, president of Small Business-California (SB-Cal), a nonpartisan, grassroots, small-business advocacy organization and vice chair of advocacy for the National Small Business Association (NSBA), the oldest small-business advocacy organization in the United States, recently said to me: “if every small business owner spent 15 minutes a month writing letters to elected officials it would make a huge difference.”  No doubt, letter writing campaigns (especially to elected officials you have supported) make a difference in aggregate.  But, letter writing is also only a small piece of the puzzle. In terms of leverage, joining a membership organization with active environmental advocacy activities is letter writing on steroids. As new environmental laws that impact your business are proposed and introduced, a good membership organization—which, in some cases, will be a trade association—will be a source of valuable information and guidance. Conversely, and just as importantly, if the membership organizations to which you belong are not aggressively advocating for green public policy changes, let them know you think they should be. Or, better yet, get involved in the organization. Work to ensure that your interests are represented and that you have a venue from which to comment on proposed legislation; use your influence as a business to drive policy change from within a membership organization:

•    Join a green trade association and push for greater advocacy.
•    Join or start a green task force within your trade association.
•    Join a national or local small business organization that has a green agenda.
•    Sign up for the National Small Business Association’s Action Network advocacy email alerts that let you know how and when to send letters to your elected officials about important small business environmental issues and then mobilize others to do the same.
• Sign up for the Center for American Progress’ Energy & Environment RSS feeds and their issue alerts.
•    Put a “Write to Congress” web sticker on your website so visitors can use the interactive banners to support small business issues, or write letters to officials and the media.

As business owners we collectively have significant leverage—if we act.  So, ask not what your country can do to green you; ask what you can do to green the country.

Photo: Aradyne Flags

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About the Author

Jennifer Kaplan writes regularly about sustainable food and wine, the intersection of food and marketing and food politics for EatDrinkBetter.com and is the author of Greening Your Small Business (November 2009, Penguin Group (USA)). She was been named one of The 16 Women You Must Follow on Twitter for Green Business. She has four kids, a dog, a hamster and an MBA - find her on .



  • http://cleanairconservancy.org Ashley

    This is a great list! We also posted a few ways that you can start to ‘green’ your life on our site:

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clean-Air-Conservancy/49459861092

    Happy reading!

    Ashley
    Clean Air Conservancy

  • http://www.coopamerica.org Blair Frank

    This website is awesome with all sorts of resources including the annually published “Green Pages”.

  • Trix

    Um, so all that’s suggested here is joining a few organisations’ mailing trees and putting a *bumper sticker* on your car?

    Raising awarenesss is a worthy objective, but only ONE objective. I think this list could do with some work – how about another 6 real *actions* people can take?

  • http://www.greenhance.com Jennifer Kaplan

    Thanks, Trix. What do you have in mind? I’d love to hear your ideas! I see another post in the making!

    FYI, my post is about what else we can do as business owners to leverage ourselves (beyond greening our own practices). I actually don’t put too much stock in letter writing (I live in DC after all). I do believe, however, that small businesses are economic engines of the community and that we create jobs and are tax payers. As such, we should leverage our status with our federal and state representatives and agencies that make rules(EPA, DOE, SBA, etc…) that effect the environment. Small businesses should have a seat at the table when our reps are introducing and decided whether to pass legislation.

    Your point is well taken. Six more actions coming soon.

    P.S. The web sticker is an interactive tool for websites, not actually a bumper sticker.

  • http://www.proformagreen.com John Simonetta

    We sell this stuff so yes this is a plug, but it is also practical. Most business use stuff like post-its, pens, notes pads, portfolios, pocket folders, packaging, cups/mugs for the water cooler or break room, uniforms, stationary, etc anyway.

    Why not simply substitute eco-friendly items for those office products you are using now? If you don’t need them branded (which is what we do) Office Depot and Office Max both offer a wide variety of off the self items and a quick Google search locates many Ecopreneurist offering similar services.

    Dollar for dollar quality green items are on par with quality traditional office items.

    Switching is easy. You just need to choose.

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  • http://www.nyreport.com Rob Levin

    There is plenty of inexpensive things that small businesses can do to go green. Here are a few articles that our contributors wrote on the subject (more on our site after 3/1): Green Your Marketing (Without Spending Lots of Green) – http://www.nyreport.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=Feature.showFeature&FeatureID=573 and Greening Your Small Business http://www.nyreport.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=Feature.showFeature&FeatureID=468.

    We have found the topic of green business to be very popular with our readers. In fact, we added a Green best practice award for the Small Business Awards.

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