A New Vision of the Economy
The inspiration for the American Sustainable Business Council came to David Levine in the early days of the Obama administration. Sitting at a White House transition team meeting, he realized that each of the 50 business leaders in the meeting had ideas to contribute towards a new, sustainable economy. Levine thought, “What if we brought all of those leaders together to tell a combined story about what the economy and society could look like from a sustainable business perspective?”
Levine led efforts, along with a number of other business leaders, to create a letter outlining shared priorities for a sustainable economy. This experience showed him how powerful the voice of business could be in shaping a national dialogue. Now, what was needed was an organization that could embrace this larger vision of the economy and build its influence and power.
Levine co-founded the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) in 2009. It’s now a national organization representing over 250,000 businesses across all sectors. ASBC offers programs that educate and inform businesses, policy makers, and the media about the benefits of a sustainable economy – one that provides economic development along with shared prosperity, environmental protection, and social justice.
ASBC memberships are available to business associations and networks, as well as U.S.-based corporations of all sizes. Both types of members share a commitment to the principles of a sustainable economy and participate in outreach through media work, public speaking, issue advocacy, and using their collective power to influence market and policy shifts.
The Power of Bringing People Together
Levine has always believed in the power of community. Coming of age in the early 70s – an era when there was a lot of questioning about the right direction for society – he saw that people want to have a voice in shaping their future. To empower people to be active in their communities and the world, he founded the Learning Alliance in 1984. This independent education and action organization offered workshops, training programs, and cultural events where people could explore the key social, political, and cultural issues of the times.
That experience helped Levine learn more about what was working and what was not working to create meaningful change. It reaffirmed his belief that broad alliances are needed in order to be effective, and that along with specific goals, you need a common vision, thought-out strategies, and a positive framework of hope and understanding.
Starting with Principles
Growing ASBC into a national organization meant engaging independent business organizations and companies in a variety of sectors from across the country with diverse characteristics and purposes. The first step was to create a platform of shared principles, so business leaders could see that sustainability provides economic as well as social and environmental benefits, and that sustainable practices are in everyone’s best interest.
Increasingly, business leaders are looking to express their values through their businesses. To help support this common framework, ASBC offers a variety of educational and training programs as well as the development of issue briefs to help businesses become more sustainable along with case studies and talking points that build the case for climate-friendly solutions and a sustainable economy.
Being a part of a large coalition that presents a united front gives individual businesses and diverse business organizations a greater voice and power. In a landscape where outdated narratives and monolithic organizations based on short-term profit at all cost tend to dominate, it’s important for value-based businesses to be able to insert a fresh perspective and have their voices be heard. This is why ASBC also creates access and supports business leaders to engage with the White House, Congress, and state legislatures.
This is about every company and every business having an opportunity to make a real difference and impact key issues of our time like climate change.
Co-founder and CEO, American Sustainable Business Council
Empowering Business Leaders
A truly sustainable economy is built on clean, renewable energy like wind and solar, not fossil fuels. Levine is encouraged to see main street industries stepping up and saying that transitioning away from fossil fuels will help their business prosper. The next step is giving these businesses the support they need to make the change.
ASBC has created a variety of platforms where business leaders can learn from one another, share their success stories, get media attention for their sustainability initiatives, and speak out for new policies that will affirm their values. Members have access to webinars, case studies, polls, and other research to help inform their business practices and set their sustainability goals. ASBC also offers media training to help organizations develop more effective relationships with the press. In addition, ASBC and member organizations like the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, Green America, Climate Action Business Association, and others have created a range of initiatives to address climate change, including a Price on Carbon, Business Acting on Rising Seas, Rethinking Fracking, Clean Energy Victory Bonds, and numerous other efforts to advance renewable energy.
Along with other issues, from advancing sustainable agriculture and supply chains to cleaner water and safer chemistry, with working to raise awareness of climate issues, ASBC has been active in promoting green building practices. As Levine points out, every brick-and-mortar business has an opportunity to design or retrofit their facilities in order to reduce energy consumption, incorporate sustainable, non-toxic materials, and move towards renewable energy and healthier buildings. In partnership with the U.S. Green Building Council, ASBC has been working to advance the business case for LEED building standards.
Levine feels that in addition to improving business specific practices, companies face a key moment towards systemic change – policies, rules, and guidelines that will level the playing field and advance us towards an economy that helps everyone thrive. The immediacy of the climate change issue calls us to a new level of engagement, and he says, “Now is the time in history for business leaders working towards a sustainable economy and society to step up, and tell their story, and make their impact be felt.”
KEYS TO SUCCESS
- Reach out to your network – connect with other leaders to find common ground on climate issues and identify key issues.
- Form a set of guiding principles – base your actions around rules that create social, environmental, and economic benefits.
Motivate others to join your efforts by providing a platform they can take part in.
Harness the power of groups – build coalitions to amplify your collective voice and motivate others to join your efforts.
- Provide education and materials – teach your stakeholders about climate issues and solutions, and offer cases studies and other resources to help support and communicate your message.
- Go in with a sound business economic case – make it clear that ignoring climate change is bad for business, but embracing climate solutions will help the economy thrive.
- Cultivate relationships with the media – make sure your successful initiatives get the attention they deserve.
- Lead by example – help build a sustainable economy! Lower your energy consumption, switch to renewable power like wind and solar, and look for the many ways you can “walk the walk.”
- Show up and be seen and heard.