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Time for a New Economy | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

Time for a New Economy

Last week, as Republican House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa held a hearing on “job-killing” government regulations, and President Obama ventured over to the anti-worker US Chamber of Commerce, a very different kind of meeting between Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) went unreported.
 
The ASBC—a network representing 65,000 businesses and more than 150,000 entrepreneurs, owners, executives, investors, business professionals and individuals from diverse regions and sectors—was in town for the 2011 Green Jobs Conference. Solis scheduled a 1-hour meeting with the ASBC to explore ideas benefiting workers, unemployed people, and the business community—it ran nearly two hours.
 
Solis heard from a good range of ASBC members—all business leaders dedicated to pursuing a “triple bottom line” that reflects social and environmental responsibility, as well as the profitability of their operations.
 
Ana Gilmore Hall, executive director of Practice Greenhealth, described hospitals that are preserving and creating jobs by moving towards greener food systems and buildings, energy reduction, and replacing hazardous materials and products with green chemistry. Connie Evans, president and CEO of the Association for Enterprise Opportunity, discussed public-private partnerships with microenterprises—which generate nearly $2.5 trillion annually in the US economy—as an underappreciated way to accelerate employment and economic recovery.
 
“If one in three microenterprises were to employ one additional employee, the US economy would be at full employment [(4 percent unemployment)],” said Evans.

Rudy Arredondo of the Latino Farmers and Ranchers Trade Association pointed to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s challenge to create 100,000 new farming jobs. Arredondo sees an opportunity to help farm workers become farmers, and in doing so promote small-scale farming, food security, and local businesses by working with individuals who already know how to work the land.
 
Brian Golden, President of Litecontrol—an employee-owned and unionized manufacturer of high efficiency lighting products—described how the company has been able to grow at a steady clip and now has 200 employee-owners. And Vince Sicliano, President and CEO of New Resource Bank in San Francisco, described the commercial bank’s “mission-based” approach of achieving environmental and social as well as financial returns by investing in companies that share these values. He spoke of consumers’ growing interest in “knowing where their money sleeps.”
 
“We need to understand that these are not some fictional, utopian opportunities,” ASBC executive director David Levine told me. “There are billions of dollars already invested, so hundreds of thousands of businesses in all sectors and all aspects of the supply chain are driving towards more sustainable practices, and this is where there is the opportunity to create more and better jobs and a stronger economy that supports people for generations to come.”
 
Other key ideas explored with Solis included public-private partnerships that support locally-rooted start-ups that offer a higher financial return for communities; procurement and lending policies that promote businesses pursuing a triple bottom line; cooperative research, development, and training programs to create healthier, cleaner, and more profitable products; and a mentorship program by ASBC members to help move the marketplace further along down this road.
 
Solis rarely hears from businesses that are interested in a triple-bottom line, and clearly enjoyed this meeting of the minds. “This is music to my ears,” she noted at one point, after a discussion of the Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland. 

The Secretary said she expects this is the beginning of an “ongoing conversation,” and there was discussion of a “business summit for a new economy.”
 
“This meeting couldn’t have come at a better time,” said Levine. “We’re standing strong that there are ways to partner with the government—for the government to incentivize responsible business—and that we can help lead the way towards the new economy. We desperately need in this country for everyone to understand that there is no longer one monolithic business voice.  That time has come and gone.”

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