For Business Policy Change, You’re in Charge
by David Levine, Co-founder/CEO, and
Richard Eidlin, Public Policy Director
American Sustainable Business Council
Great opportunities lie ahead for America: strong consumer buying power from a workforce that is productively employed in meaningful work, financial stability, accessible health care, food security, and a clean and healthy environment. These essential components of a sustainable economy will meet our country’s economic, social and environmental needs. And they’re all within reach – if business leaders take their leadership to the next level.
Unfortunately, for too long now, institutional lobbying groups that say they represent business have opposed improvements based on the old notion that businesses must choose between jobs and clean air and water, between profitability and fairness, and between growth and healthy communities. The media have reinforced this misunderstanding. The dominant narrative has become that the business community doesn’t want action on climate change, smart regulations, a living wage and other important issues. But we know that’s not true.
Increasingly, polling shows that small business owners, of which there are some 28 million in the U.S., are aligning more and more with the general public on important policy issues, whether environmental, economic, health and safety, and so on. For example, large majorities want to improve clean water regulations, decrease carbon in the atmosphere and increase the minimum wage.
But polls don’t visit their elected representatives in government like lobbyists do every day. And polls don’t write op-eds or letters to the editor. And they don’t get quoted in news articles.
In order to change the narrative, business people who are passionate about building both sustainable business and the economy need to become more visible on the issues and engaged on policy.
Our organization, the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC), can help.
ASBC offers sustainably minded business leaders and organizations the resources, access and representation needed to be heard by decision-makers on the issues and policies that matter to them. ASBC also helps business leaders take their own business success stories and use them to influence other businesses and policymakers at work on the local, state and national levels.
ASBC believes that a market-based economy is the most powerful engine of prosperity yet devised. We also believe that the market must be structured far differently than it is today for the good of businesses, for all Americans, and for the seven billion people who share this planet. For instance, in our economy many costs that should be borne by producers are instead transferred to the public who pay for them through such classic externalities as poor health, air pollution and higher prices.
We call on government to empower the engines of our economy—businesses —to be agents of growth and revitalization. Businesses need to stand up and encourage government to create a set of incentives and market signals that level the playing field and lead to a more equitable and sustainable economy.
We are unifying companies and business groups to change the current, shortsighted systems and build a sustainable economy. ASBC aggregates business power, informs and advocates to policymakers, and improves our members’ media presence. This strategy transforms the public debate and lets forward-thinking business leaders show and tell what the majority of the business community really wants.
Public policy is a crucial strategy to transform the economy from the sometimes-damaging system it can be today. But if passionate, sustainably minded business leaders are not at the table, only the voices of legacy, profit-at all costs business lobbies will be heard. And our economy and society will suffer.
Yes, the policy process can be frustrating, but so can business. Good leaders don’t let that stop them. They understand that public policy action takes the same skills business management does: Drive to improve, big-picture thinking, the ability to sell an idea, a long-term planning horizon, intelligent compromise, and an accurate assessment of the cost vs. benefit of every decision.
Through informing and empowering business leaders and working with them to influence and enroll policymakers, ASBC is working to invigorate the economy with innovative approaches; support safer chemicals and products; create greater transparency throughout supply chains; support fair workplaces, address pressing issues as climate change; work toward a level playing field on taxes and subsidies; work to acknowledge full cost of doing business and address externalities; preserve essential regulations that safeguard our food, drinking water and other common assets. ASBC engages businesses to use their skills, experience and insights to guide business and policymakers toward lasting answers to today’s crucial issues.
Specifically, for each issue, business leaders join with ASBC to:
• Draw media attention to businesses that show success and sustainability can go together.
• Identify and pursue opportunities for responsible businesses to engage with legislators and other policy makers at the federal and state levels.
• Develop and provide research and informational communications that demonstrate how sustainable and responsible approaches benefit both business and society.
One ASBC member may already have built a strong relationship with a state legislator. Another may have the skill to help quantify externalities or interpret survey data. Yet another may be comfortable articulating the importance of an issue on-camera or writing an op-ed. Whatever your business skill-set, you can put it to use improving America’s public and economic policies through ASBC.
ASBC was formed to unite the business community, show that business leaders want responsible change, and to reframe the debate over the future of our economy. Since 2009, the American Sustainable Business Council and the ASBC Action Fund have come to represent a membership network of more than 200,000 businesses nationwide, and more than 325,000 entrepreneurs, executives, managers and investors. Our diverse members of business organizations are comprised of trade associations, local and state chambers of commerce, microenterprise, social enterprise, cooperatives, green and sustainable business groups, local and community-rooted business, women business leaders, economic development organizations and investor and business incubators. In addition a wide range of companies, including Patagonia, Eileen Fisher, Method, Stonyfield Farm, Ben & Jerry’s, Seventh Generation, Etsy, Organic Valley, New Belgium Brewery, American Income Life, Green Depot, New Resource Bank, Naturepedic, and Trillium Asset Management and many known and unknown names has joined ASBC.
ASBC Hot Button Issues
Because of the comprehensiveness of how we define a sustainable economy, ASBC works on a wide range of policy issues. These include: campaign finance, water quality, climate change, net neutrality, financial accountability, health care, chemical policy reform, community based economic development, workplace fairness, benefit corporations and other key issues that affect our country. Business can champion policies that facilitate economic, social and environmental benefit. The legacy industries and the media have told America that the entire business community is against these measures.
Water quality is an ABSC issue that affects all businesses and consumers. ASBC is working with businesses such as New Belgium Brewing Company and organizations such as the North Carolina Business Council to support a federal EPA rule on clean water. They also supported state-level action in West Virginia following the Elk River chemical spill earlier this year. Every business that gets involved in those efforts knows that clean water is essential for their operations, their workforce and the economy.
Net neutrality – preserving equal access to the Internet – is another important cause to ASBC. Net neutrality prevents the information superhighway from breaking into the fast lanes for a few, and slow lanes for the rest, and lets all players gain and retain the share of attention they’ve earned, not bought. Net neutrality lets the market work the way it is supposed to, and thriving companies including Etsy and Better World Telecom have already joined to mobilize the business community to send comments to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that businesses don’t want a two-tiered system. They know that if they don’t speak up, businesses across the country — theirs included – will be unfairly hampered.
To address another important issue, climate change, ASBC and its members are contacting members of Congress, arranging Hill visits, supporting innovative legislation such as Clean Energy Victory Bonds, sending comments to the EPA about their upcoming rules on power plants, and hosting business focused events across the nation to bring the voices of enlightened business leaders to forefront.
For example, in cooperation with the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, ASBC launched the Businesses against Sea Level Rise Initiative. This educational campaign encouraged coastal businesses to create and post sea level markers showing tourists and locals the projected new sea level in 30 years — in many cases, leaving their economy underwater, while also encouraging municipalities to take action.
These are just a few of the ways ASBC helps time-crunched-but-concerned business leaders make an impact on public policy that affects their companies and communities. Many don’t require a great amount of time or effort because they leverage the work of many other like-minded leaders doing the same thing. Together, they are telling America that its business community is not one monolithic group with a short-sighted, narrow corporate objective after all, but rather one with a vision and strategy for a strong, healthy and sustainable economy.
As this new narrative continues to gain traction, companies have found that policymakers not only listen, they actively seek out those business leaders. Such is one of the opportunities by the upcoming Business Summit for a Sustainable Economy, November 12-14, part of which is hosted by the White House.
Media, too, are interested in a fresh angle from fresh contributors on entrenched problems. ASBC empowers our member companies to give policymakers and opinion-leaders a different story, improve business practices using familiar cost/benefit assessments, and offer strong political support for policies that foster reliable growth and stability.
Bottom line: Policy makers listen when businesses move past stale, status-quo statements to show and tell how profit and broad prosperity can be achieved simultaneously, how innovation enables businesses to reduce their carbon footprint, and how sustainability is the right value for business policy.
The business perspective matters – especially to policymakers. Just ask them. Then do more: Make them prove it by getting engaged. Tell your sustainable business success story, and advocate for the policies that will move our economy onto a sustainable footing. A lot of American business leaders will be doing the same thing, so you’ll be in good company.
In closing we invite to our Business Summit – Accelerating the Policies that Advance a Sustainable Economy
Join the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) at the 3rd Annual Business Summit, November 12-14, 2014, in Washington, D.C., for an up-close and candid opportunity to exchange ideas with the White House and Members of Congress. With a new Congress coming to D.C., this Summit will enable sustainable businesses to influence the policies that will make the American economy more vibrant and just. Gain valuable insight into where policy is evolving in 2015, and learn how your company or organization can help shape the agenda.
Article by David Levine, Co-founder/CEO, and Richard Eidlin, Public Policy Director, American Sustainable Business Council. More information at- http://asbcouncil.org