Can local chambers be catalysts for clean energy?

Can local chambers be catalysts for clean energy?

Local chambers of commerce across the country are serving as surprising catalysts of clean-energy innovation and growth, attracting investment, improving business competitiveness and helping diversify their local economies around clean energy and energy efficiency.

While clean energy progress remains slow at the national level, a new report finds that local chambers of commerce around the United States are becoming major drivers of innovation and economic development with clean energy. My organization, Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy, a nonpartisan clean-energy network and information hub for local chambers of commerce, released the report last week.

In surveying hundreds of local chambers from around the country, we found that chambers are eager to help their member companies tap into growing clean-energy markets. Local chambers are trusted business experts in their communities and have a unique ability to bring together policymakers, regulators, entrepreneurs, investors, academics, nonprofit groups, and labor around economic development and the emerging clean-energy economy.

From the national surveys, we developed 10 in-depth case studies of local chambers in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.

they range from efforts like those by the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce to lead the charge to modernize Chicago’s outdated electric grid, to the Bartlett, Tenn., and Cleveland chambers, which have focused on saving their member companies money through energy-efficiency assessments and retrofits. Other local chambers such as the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce in Michigan and the Austin (Tex.) Chamber have helped attract investment in clean-tech manufacturing, wind energy, and a smart-grid demonstration project. The San Francisco Chamber helped lead the charge to grow its regional economy by building clean-energy infrastructure.

“As this report shows, local chambers in Ohio and throughout the country understand that efficient and clean energy make smart business sense,” said Nicole Stika, Senior Director of Energy Services at the Council of Smaller Enterprises, the small business partner of the local Cleveland chamber, the Greater Cleveland Partnership. “Even chambers in states known for oil and coal production are helping their members dramatically reduce their energy use and utility bills using simple energy efficiency upgrades.”

In North Carolina, the Asheville Area Chamber recognized that its local manufacturers were paying to transport empty shipping containers back to the region, after shipping their goods about 250 miles to the port of Charleston. It established an innovative statewide network of companies to coordinate transportation and shipping routes. The Western North Carolina Transportation Alliance helped member companies save more than 44,000 gallons of fuel in 2011.

In South Carolina, the North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce championed a project to transform its coastal tourist town into a wind energy demonstration site. Thanks to the project, South Carolina installed its first grid-connected wind turbine in 2010 and now, small test turbines dot the beachfront, creating a future test bed for entrepreneurs and sharing data to help train local engineering students.

Created and led by local chambers, Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy helps chambers and their member companies navigate and prosper in the clean-energy space. With a growing network of more than 325 participating chambers representing more than 278,000 businesses from 48 states, the council includes chamber executives from every region of the country.

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