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5 Reasons Why the Chamber of Commerce Can Be a Force for Green

This week in Las Vegas, the Business Civic Leadership Center (BCLC) -- the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's corporate citizenship affiliate -- sidled up to the blackjack table and placed a few chips on the table by hosting its first conference focused on environmental sustainability.

More specifically, the National R4 Conference for Business Leaders in Environmental Innovation focused on how companies can share and foster best practices related to environmental innovation. Environmental sustainability and Employee, Health and Safety executives from companies including Baxter, Intel, IBM, UPS and Shell joined execs from regional Chambers of Commerce to participate.

R4 stands for Revitalization, Reinvention, Resilience and Responsibility. Representing the BCLC's first foray into the environmental sustainability waters, the R4 conference and focus on environmental innovation is a natural offshoot of their work with corporations on disaster response and preparedness, explained Stephen Jordan, BCLC founder and executive director. It is an area BCLC members encouraged the organization to get more engaged in.

The skeptical reader may wonder how the BCLC can effectively and authentically lead a discussion about environmental innovation given the U.S. Chamber's  opposition to any climate change legislation. To those skeptics, I'd like to offer five reasons why the BCLC should get engaged in the environmental sustainability and innovation arena and why you need to pay attention to what there are doing.

1. The Chamber's BCLC has an Impressive List of Corporate Members

The BCLC works with corporate leaders in the environmental sustainability space, including IBM, Intel, Siemens and Microsoft. Additionally, the U.S. Chamber represents more than three million businesses, both large and small. Its reach and corporate membership base makes it uniquely positioned to convene a meaningful discussion about how U.S. companies can focus on and accelerate the pace of environmental innovation.

2. Local Chamber Affiliates Can Be a Huge Asset

As we read in the pages of every day, big companies are leading the way in environmental innovation efforts. But what about the small- and medium-sized businesses in communities all across the country? Through their network of local and regional Chambers of Commerce, the U.S. Chamber's BCLC has the reach to share best practices and drive awareness about environmental innovation among small- and medium-sized businesses that may not be on our collective radar screens.

3. The Environmental Movement is Not Just About Cap-and-Trade

No matter which side of the debate you find yourself on regarding climate change and related legislation, it is a politically charged and polarizing issue that deeply divides the public. U.S. companies, big and small, however, can all come together to share best practices and accelerate the pace of environmental innovation. Using environmental innovation as a foundation to help cut costs and grow revenues is something all businesses can agree on.

4. The BCLC Can Help Re-Frame the Debate on Climate Change

Increasingly some environmental stakeholder groups are realizing that in the U.S. we need to re-frame the national discourse about climate change to focus less on carbon and more on issues such as job creation, energy efficiency and American competitiveness in a global business environment. The BCLC can help lead this effort and provide a credible voice for this movement.

5. The U.S. Chamber has Political Clout in Washington

The BCLC's parent organization has the ear of politicians on the Hill. When the U.S. Chamber talks, people in Washington listen. They may not agree with what the Chamber has to say, but they will hear them out. If the Chamber's corporate citizenship affiliate can begin a national dialogue on how businesses can accelerate a environmental innovation agenda, Washington insiders may start to pay attention.

Look for a recap from me about the R4 conference later this week at including some key takeaways from the conference (and an update on my own personal results at the Blackjack table).

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