How can you seize this rare moment the Green New Deal offers

Green New Deal protesters in Washington, D.C. in December 2018
ShutterstockRachael Warriner
Green New Deal protesters in Washington, D.C. in December.

Green businesses have a rare, maybe once-in-a-lifetime chance to grab a seat at the policy table. All of a sudden, the Green New Deal has momentum for the first time in the 12 years since author Thomas Friedman first brought the concept to wide attention — or the decades since earlier writers, such as Amory Lovins, planted the seeds.

Introduced in the Senate by Ed Markey (D-Mass) and in the House by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), the Green New Deal offers a framework for leveraging government to accomplish sweeping environmental and social goals. This is a chance for the green business community to create a level playing field as we move toward a cleaner, regenerative future.

If we simply let the wheels of government turn, on the other hand, we’re likely to see one of three outcomes:

  1. The framework becomes law without our input and may include so many bothersome restrictions that some of us will wish it hadn’t.
  2. Claiming the Green New Deal is anti-business, head-in-the-sand climate change deniers defeat the proposal, and we lose precious years to reverse climate catastrophe.
  3. The stars align, the magic happens, and we get something close to the bill we want, and thus the society we want.

Unfortunately, the first two are unacceptable, and the odds of No. 3 happening on its own are about as likely as the chances of a sparrow flying at the controls of a jetliner.

Here’s the good news: We, as green business leaders, can seize the moment, get involved and co-create that desirable third outcome. But we have to be vocal, public and committed. It starts with being public allies of the Green New Deal.

Sharpening our message

We step up with messaging such as these:

  • "As business leaders, we support the Green New Deal because … [and then we list our reasons, such as job creation, bringing back manufacturing, the economic opportunities and health benefits presented by clean air and water]."
  • "Green is totally compatible with economic growth — in fact, we can only have long-term economic growth if we solve the climate problem, get off fossil and nuclear and manage resources far better than we’ve done until now."
  • "The United States is missing the window on economic growth from switching to a green economy. We can’t afford to give up leadership in these growth industries to countries like China and Germany. As patriotic business leaders, we are prepared to step forward and make this happen," or even "If we don’t stave off catastrophic climate change, there won’t be any more business as usual, ever."

Because so many business leaders and their politician supporters claim that we can’t afford the Green New Deal or any environmental progress, because it’s bad for the economy, our leadership is crucial. We have to show the huge support in the business community for real climate action, and pair that support with a clear, consistent pro-planet-can-be-pro-business message of our own.

We have many channels to express these message points. To name a few:

  • Letters to the editor or op-eds in newspapers
  • Appearances on talk radio and TV
  • Press conferences and press releases announcing your company’s partnership with environmental organizations
  • Social media
  • Our internal and public communications, from newsletters to annual reports
  • Websites and blogs
  • Lobbying meetings with local, state and national elected officials and administrators
  • Speeches and presentations at trade shows, conferences, schools and other public events
  • Staff meetings and company celebrations
  • Networking events, such as chamber of commerce gatherings

Shaping the agenda

We also bring the reality check. As business owners and managers, we know what is feasible right away, what will take some time and what has to wait because the technology isn’t there or the costs are too high. This requires active participation in shaping the Green New Deal so that as a society, we can make progress as fast as possible, but as slow as necessary. We can put government purchasing on the fast track toward truly clean and renewable technologies that work, make a carbon difference, help the neediest and don’t suffer from unexamined negative consequences — and away from dangerous technologies masquerading as green (such as wood burning, more natural gas pipelines, or nuclear power).

We can make sure the laws evolving out of the Green New Deal support:

  • Deep energy, water and resource conservation, including retrofits for existing buildings
  • Small-scale organic agriculture, not chemiculture
  • "Trickle-out" benefits to private industry, homeowners and institutions as the infusion of government purchases brings prices down
  • Tax incentives for meaningful business investment in sustainability and regenerativity — including cleantech R&D, landfill mining and creating markets for recycled products
  • Locavore-friendly ordinances covering such activities as vacant-lot urban gardening or home chicken-raising
  • And many other initiatives that benefit people and the planet

So how do we move the conversation forward? By volunteering. Write to your senators and representative and offer to serve on the committees or task forces charged with creating the laws. Contact your state and municipal sustainability coordinators and do the same.

And yes, we can position our businesses to take advantage of this seismic shift, to be seen as industry leaders, companies worth supporting, founts of innovation and technical leadership as we develop and market profitable products and services that benefit people and planet. When we do, our companies and our ecosystems both will thrive.