For those not able to attend the sold out Green Drinks-Business Edition last night, I wanted to provide a brief recap (below) of the observations shared. To the best of my knowledge, this was the first time that these 7 organizations collaborated on such an event, and that their leaders have appeared on the same “stage.” Our gratitude to them, and to all who attended, for a great event. A special thanks to ELPC for hosting in their space, and to Hannah’s Bretzel for providing delicious food. We look forward to the next edition on June 14.
Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC)
Executive Director Howard Learner shared statistics regarding the growth of, in particular, the renewable energy sector in Chicago. For example, in the last several years, 15 wind companies have established world or North American headquarters here. He suggested that we need to more aggressively assert the presence of a robust and growing sustainable business sector in the city and leverage that into public policies supportive of a more vibrant and resilient economy.
Executive Director Donna Ducharme observed a trend from viewing environmental issues as isolated topics, toward one in which they are seen as the basis for more effective economic development. This will require a different type of planning than has traditionally been undertaken, particularly by municipalities. That said, she noted that there is a need to better define what a “green/sustainable” business is in order to better advance the sector.
Local First Chicago
Executive Director Suzanne Keers provided a concise overview of the benefits of locally owned businesses and admonished attendees to “vote with your dollars” when making choices about where to shop. The organization is looking forward to an expanded Buy Local campaign this year, as well as further involvement in issues related to the right of communities to determine whether to allow big box retailers.
Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (MEEA)
Executive Director Jay Wrobel commented on the challenges ahead for energy efficiency efforts. With many of the easier undertakings, such as converting to CFL usage, well inaugurated, more complex challenges remain ahead. The sector is growing, thanks in large part to stimulus funds and utility investments, a trend that is projected to continue. That said, he noted that in order to tackle more systemic issues, greater coordination and an approach that considers user behaviors more will be required.
United States Green Building Council – IL Chapter (USGBC-IL)
Executive Director Doug Widener remarked on the growth of the green building movement in the region, and noted that in the recent real estate downturn, greater emphasis was being placed on building performance and operation than on new construction topics. A shift from looking at sustainability issues at the scale of individual buildings, to considering them in the context of entire communities, was a significant and accelerating trend, propelled by LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND).
Chicago Green Restaurant Co-op (CGRC)
Director Dan Rosenthal provided several examples of the need for greater definition and third party standards within the food industry. Use of vague terms (e.g. “all natural”) abound, as do multiple, overlapping certifications with differing parameters. He also observed how the industry was quickly becoming more diverse (and confusing!). The market and consumers are increasingly facing a multitude of sometimes dubious marketing claims. He highlighted the co-ops efforts in creating the “Guaranteed Green” restaurant certification which will soon have 37 adopters in the Chicago area.
Foresight Sustainable Business Alliance (FSBA)
Executive Director Peter Nicholson stated that stasis is not an option and issued a call for four actions:
- Greater efforts to preserve and promote the integrity of sustainability-minded businesses.
- The need for the organizations that support sustainable businesses to form closer collaborations, alignment of missions, and mutually supported expansion of programs.
- The imperative to work with government to insure better informed policies.
- The creation of a “new business norm” that emphasizes sustainability principles, and that could begin with any new enterprise launching in the Chicago area.