Sustainable business comes to the White House

Corporate executives lobby Washington every day.

Not many come to plead for higher taxes and stronger regulation.

This week, though, a group called the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) convened in our nation’s capital to issue "A Business Call for a New Economy" that's built around “triple bottom line” principles, shared prosperity and environmental stewardship. The event was unofficially closed to the media, but ASBC invited as a media observer.

The ASBC members -- about 125 showed up for a couple of days of meetings -- are supporting, among other things, higher taxes on big companies, closing overseas tax havens, tax credits for renewable energy, EPA regulation of greenhouse gas emissions and stricter regulation of chemicals.

In the Business Call for a New Economy [PDF, download], the group says it wants to preserve the efficiency and dynamism of markets, while curbing what it calls capitalism’s “destructive tendencies” toward “overuse of resources” and “extremes of wealth and poverty.”.

“When too few have too much and too many have too little, society cannot be sustained,” said Roger Smith, CEO of American Income Life, a fast-growing insurance company that provides life insurance to working families. “On the public policy side, the key word is investing. We are not going to cut our way to shared prosperity.”

“I am a big, big believer in unions, and a big, big believer in the collective bargaining process,” Smith said.  Unions help build a strong middle class which is good for business, he said.

The ASBC was started in 2009 by Jeffrey Hollender, the former CEO of Seventh Generation, and David Levine, an entrepreneur, in part as a counterweight to conservative corporate lobbies like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Its members were welcomed to the White House (actually, the Executive Office Building) today by officials from the Obama administration; tomorrow they’ll visit Congress. The ASBC, a coalition of state and local business networks, says it represents 150,000 business and social enterprises, many of them small businesses that don’t have the time or resources to lobby. Among the better-known companies on hand in D.C. were Stonyfield Farms, Eileen Fisher, New Belgium Brewery and BetterWord Telecom.

Next page: Turning platitudes into policy