It was a rainy week in Washington DC, and the crowds in town for the Pope’s visit had gone. President Xi Jinping of China and President Vladimir Putin of Russia had been in town – but they too had left. No doubt there was a sense of exhaustion and a feeling of relaxation to be felt in some quarters – but NOT at the American Sustainable Business Council’s (ASBC) annual Sustainable Business Summit.
In our group, the sense of energy and commitment to the growth of sustainable businesses and our impact on the national conversation about what business can and should be, and what the nation can and should be, was infectious and invigorating. The ASBC’s Summit is one of my favorite events of the year! (www.asbcouncil.org)
Quoting from Richard Eidlin’s “Welcome” in the Summit Program, “This year’s theme, “Shaping the Policies and Narrative to Build a Sustainable Economy,” speaks to ASBC’s continued influence here in Washington and across the nation. It also reflects our growing engagement with the media to ensure that the views of sustainable businesses are heard. Since our founding in late 2009, ASBC has advocated for a wide range of policy initiatives aimed at building a sustainable economy – an economy that promotes smart development, shared prosperity, environmental protection, responsible workplaces and social justice.” – Richard Eidlin, Vice President and Co-Founder.
And to quote further from the program, “With Congress and the White House searching for ways to strengthen the economy, address climate change and break the political paralysis, the role of sustainable business has never been as important…” The businesses represented at the conference, and the panelists and government officials who were involved, take their roles as initiators of change and communicators regarding the achievements of sustainable businesses – as well as our requests of policy-makers – seriously.
- From the panel on “Finding Common Ground Between Conservatives and Liberals in Addressing Economic Inequality; Is it Possible?” we learned that people across the political spectrum and in both urban and rural areas are deeply concerned about the decrease in the “micro-enterprise” sector nationally, and are beginning to collaborate in developing effective, appropriate, bi-partisan approaches to growing businesses and opportunities; those approaches potentially include such strategies as implementing different ownership models, or floating Social Impact Bonds.
- Nan Orrock, State Senator from Georgia, described the “Green Tea Coalition” in Georgia — https://www.facebook.com/thegreenteacoalitionGrogan — an alliance of progressives and conservatives advocating for clean energy.
- US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island argued for putting a price on carbon as a way to more fully understand and assign the costs of the energy we produce and use, while simultaneously addressing the issue of climate change. Former Congressman Bob Inglis of North Carolina supported the idea, noting that climate change is an important economic issue.
- The working group on “externalities” made plans to investigate ways to account for both costs and benefits which are be disconnected from the price charged for a product or a service – ways which might include assigning a value to the benefit of returning water to the watershed, for example, or assigning a cost for the cleanup of a toxic spill. These externalized costs and benefits would then be borne by the parties to the transaction (the manufacturers and the buyers) rather than by the society and the environment at large.
- Small business (which, by the SBA definition, are 94% of all businesses) were a focus of the conference, of course, and many discussions included ways in which these small businesses can be better supported and provided with greater opportunities for financing, training, and business prospects.
- Sharon Block, the Senior Advisor for Working Families & Labor at the White House Office of Public Engagement, provided some details during our visit to the White House regarding the ways in which the staff are seeking to address the many issues brought about by the “on-demand, fissured economy” which increasingly uses contract staff and relies on fewer integrated manufacturing or service companies.
- Deputy Secretary Lu of the Department of Labor, highlighted the need to train our current and future workforce for jobs that do not yet exist, and that we cannot even imagine – along with the extreme difficulty in doing so.
- During more than 40 visits on Capitol Hill, we met with our various delegations, highlighted the importance of sustainable businesses for growing the economy, and compared issues the Congressmen and we are working on.
The concept of a sustainable business, focused on the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit, is an important one, and such businesses can – and do – drive economic growth and opportunity. ASBC and its’ member companies / organizations (including Ben & Jerry’s, New Belgium Brewing, Earth Friendly Products, Eileen Fisher, Patagonia, Etsy, Sealaska, Local First Arizona, the Social Venture Alliance, the National Latino Farmers and Ranchers Trade Association and many others including Current-C Energy Systems) are demonstrating that. The annual Sustainable Business Summit is a celebration of that concept – and a call to action. I’m already looking forward to next year!