Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Green businesses

One of the more interesting stereotypes about Greens and environmentalists (often equated in the public mind) is that we are somehow anti-job, or anti-economy. This is a patently silly idea. Matt Funicello, of the New York Greens, in his interesting article, "Walking the walk," describes the typical Green mentality when it comes to business:
I own and run Rock Hill Bakehouse, a wholesale bread bakery in upstate New York. We pay everyone who works for us a living wage, and we do our best to provide all the benefits that can be afforded in our market. We use local and organic ingredients in our breads and foods whenever possible and have been instrumental in creating a demand for locally-grown and milled grains and flours. We use fair trade coffees roasted locally. We use organic teas from our local self-titled "Tea Maven". The majority of our produce is local, and we sell our breads at over a dozen farmer's markets—many in New York City. My father raises free-range chickens on his farm and we use their meat to make our popular curried chicken salad. We use beef from a small farm about twenty minutes away as often as it is available. Ingredients that cannot regularly be sourced locally are purchased from local distributors who have made a commitment to paying their employees a living wage and to buying local wherever possible.
In other words, do well by doing good. Part of the basic approach of a Green business is to keep in mind the community economy. Green economics means a lot of things: buying & producing locally (keeps money and jobs going in the community and reduces the environmental cost of production by reducing shipping), buying morally (i.e., consider the intangible costs & benefits of buying from a child-labor sweatshop in Indonesia vs. buying from, say, an adult employee-owned cooperative in Venezuela), buying & producing green (from companies that reduce their environmental footprint, have fair employment practices, make safe, long-lasting, and high-quality products, etc.).

The basic point is to contribute to the economy by recalling that the market is not all—it is irrevocably tied to many other things in our lives, and thinking only in terms of short-term monetary gain can come back to bite you, hard. What we do with our money in commerce has a profound effect on the quality of our and other people's lives. And this is the central point about Green economics: underlying all the buy-local, etc., approaches is the idea that individuals and businesses have an effect on their world, a powerful one. So, if what one does in the economic world has an effect for good or for ill, it behooves us to make the choices that will have a good effect. Pretending that what we do doesn't have an impact means we can pretend not to have responsibility for what goes on in our communities, in our state, in our country, in our world.

Unfortunately, it can be hard to make the right choice, even if you know that it's better, say, to shop at the local Mom-n-Pop grocery that stocks locally produced goods rather than at Sam's Club or Wal-Mart or some other giant chain. If you're pressed for cash, every dollar counts. But even if one must, for the budget's sake, patronize a company one doesn't like (or maybe there just isn't a choice in your town), there are still seemingly small choices one can make that help increase the benefits to the local community or to the Greening of the economy. Even a small change can make a difference. That idea is part and parcel of Green economics.

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