By Matthew Wheeland at Greener World Media
Thursday Feb 24, 2011 1:00am EST
Eighteen months ago, in the fevered run-up to the Copenhagen climate summit, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s lobbying priorities caused an uproar in the business and environmental communities. The group’s stance on climate legislation led a number of companies to abandon the chamber.
What a difference a year and a half can make. With hopes for climate legislation in the U.S. dead in the water, the chamber dust-up seems like a quaint memory.
But even as the policy front goes from bad to worse, the greening of business is only getting better, and a new group based in San Diego hopes to harness the networking power of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and put it toward environmental initiatives.
The U.S. Green Chamber, launched last weekend, is the evolution of the Green Chamber of San Diego, a spinoff of a Chamber of Commerce chapter in San Diego County. Now, with a national focus and an ever-expanding membership roster, the group hopes to take its successes, and its membership of about 250 companies — mostly in Southern California, but with some members across the country — and scale them up to the national level.
“It’s been our vision since the beginning that we do something bigger than San Diego,” U.S. Green Chamber CEO David Steel explained in an interview. “This is just the right time — I don’t think we have many years to wait and see what happens. And right now, there’s a really good relationship between the environmental side of things and the business side of things.”
That good relationship is due in large part to the economic savings from environmental projects — something we document every day on GreenBiz.com — as well as the growing number of businesses focused on helping companies get greener and more efficient.
While the national Chamber of Commerce is known primarily for its lobbying prowess, for now, the U.S. Green Chamber is focused on real-world implementations, on bringing companies together to share expertise and best practices. In that sense, Steel said the Green Chamber is more of a complement to the Chamber of Commerce, rather than a replacement.
“We do some of the same things that the chamber offers,” Steel said. “We’re an advocate for the business, we help them establish their credibility in the community, and visibility as well. But we also layer the sustainability commitment on top of it — no matter where you are with your sustainability projects currently, you have to make our commitment.”
The Green Commitment developed by Steel’s company is a roadmap for getting started on green initiatives. It starts with a commitment to put one person in charge of coordinating a company’s sustainability goals and projects, and then lays out a menu of projects almost any company can undertake.
For instance, within 60 days of joining the Green Chamber, companies commit to complete at least three waste-reduction projects, which can include a green purchasing program, launching or expanding a recycling system, switching office printers to duplex printing, responsibly disposing of e-waste, and so on.
If these sounds like GreenBiz 101 projects, they are — but the reality is that most companies are still at the 101 level, and once they’ve gotten started on environmental projects, it becomes clear how simple and rewarding they can be.
Steel offered the example of an online shoe retailer that started out by cutting the amount of packaging and boxes used to deliver shipments; after having success with that waste reduction effort, the firm moved on to start a company-wide recycling project, a ridesharing program, and other initiatives.
The same areas where the Green Chamber of San Diego was able to succeed — a regional focus, a small membership that helps fine-tune connections between groups — may prove to be a hurdle for a nationally focused U.S. Green Chamber. In addition to not having the infrastructure to check on companies’ progress on their green pledges, bringing far-flung businesses into the fold means the Green Chamber will have to ramp up its distance-learning projects and webinars.
“For us, it’s really about our members, and that means we have to deliver a lot of value wherever they are,” Steel said. “We have a lot of great advisors that have done implementations on larger scales, and the odds are that we have someone close to you that can help with best practices.”
For more information about the U.S. Green Chamber’s green commitment, membership rates, and a list of current members, see USGreenChamber.com.