This past week we had the opportunity to sit down for a Green Line Series interview with Richard Eidlin, Co-Founder and Vice President, Policy and Campaigns for the American Sustainable Business Council.
Richard has worked for 30 years on sustainability, social entrepreneurship, policy, and CSR in the public and private sector. We are thrilled to learn more from Richard in person as a featured speaker and expert at the GoGreen Conference Closing Plenary on March 16th: The Role of Business in Climate and Clean Energy Policy.
You have been a business advocate for a sustainable economy under the Obama administration over the last several years. What are the biggest challenges you overcame in the past year?
One challenge was educating the media that there are a variety of opinions within the business community about what success looks like. We have mobilized thousands of companies who are triple bottom line, or what you might call responsible or sustainable firms, to weigh in on a variety of policy issues. We try to show the media that there are a lot of very successful companies who are making money and are also environmental stewards, paying people well and also paying their fair share of taxes. So challenge number one has been convincing the media by example that the traditional narrative that it’s either clean a environment or jobs is false and you can instead you can do both at the same time.
The second challenge has been working with legislators, both on the federal and state level, and educating them on that same dynamic. We have been pointing out that certain policies don’t evenly affect all segments of society or businesses the same, and that often policies are enacted that inhibit progress in the part of responsibly sustainable companies. Those are two of the challenges we face.
What were some of the ASBC’s key accomplishments during that time?
I would cite the success we’ve had across the country on improving benefits for employees and workers through the passage of minimum wage increases in a number of states. That has been more successful on a state level than a federal level, but we did succeed in encouraging President Obama to raise the minimum wage rate for contract workers to $10.10. That was the second bit of success on that issue.
Another success has been working with BLab when they first started to get benefit corporation legislation passed in over two dozen states across the country. We were quite active in that campaign.
The third has been a lot of work we’ve done around climate change and the idea that a carbon tax has an important role to play negating the use of fossil fuels. We’ve been addressing the risk that business and society faces from climate change, so we’ve been working with a number of states and the federal government and were able to get both Republicans and Democrats to look at the merit of a carbon tax. We didn’t get any legislation passed, but we did succeed at least in broadening the conversation.
We also have been involved with a number of initiatives on safer chemicals and disclosure on what’s in chemicals that consumers use. I work with the EPA on a number of those issues.
Another example would be helping to promote net neutrality, wherein there is the same price for access to the internet. That was an important issue for a lot of small businesses.
Through the Jobs Act in 2010, we were able to help create some rules that led to the development of crowd funding platforms that were widespread in allowing individual small investors take a piece of companies as they grow.
The last issue looks at this whole suite of what your might call “high road workplace practices”, or “family friendly benefits”, family medical leave and paid sick leave etc, and made a lot of success at the state level. We really raised the bar and made it an important conversation, making the business case that those kind of practices create success in the workplace and are actually good for the economy.
The political landscape will undoubtedly look very different with the upcoming administration. How do you anticipate your role changing in the next four years?
We will look to collaborate with Congress and the Trump administration, and really find alignment. On issues where there isn’t compatibility, we will defend the progress that our constituency has made and argue for a different perspective. It will be somewhat on a case by case basis. Over the past several weeks we have weighed in on some of the nominations that the incoming administration has made and also have been meeting with members of Congress and will continue to do that.
There are a few issues where we think there may be opportunities for collaboration, like with the idea of having more workers own a piece of the company they work in through employee stock owned plans or co-ops. There may be some synergy around infrastructure, but we’ll have to see.
There are lots of issues, particularly around environmental and energy issues, where we are not optimistic. We are concerned that the rollback of regulations, the retreat from our international commitments, doing away with water quality, chemical safety and air quality regulations are all a really bad idea. We are going to be working on that. We will be really involved in what’s going on in D.C., while at the same time devoting some energy on what’s happening on the state level. We will target some states where we think more progress can be made than in Washington.
We are excited about learning your perspective on the role of business in climate and clean energy policy at GoGreen Conference in March. What are the key takeaways/action items that you want our private and public sector decision makers to walk away with?
The states are really important. In the Northwest there is a lot of opportunity for addressing climate change. A cap in trade or a carbon tax are really important initiatives for states that we want states to pursue, and the business community is a critical voice in that process. Sustainably-minded companies really need to step up and their views heard because if they don’t, the rules and policies that get written are not going to be aligned with their values.
At the same time, we think it is important for companies to take their own steps in becoming more energy-efficient and less dependent on fossil fuels. We are looking for companies to advocate for the maintenance of certain good ideas on a policy level. We are also interested in electric vehicles and building out a smarter grid in this country. Energy efficiency is another concern. All of these issues are important to many small businesses and large companies, so we will potentially call on companies to get involved and to recognize that there are a lot of good jobs that have been created. We are undergoing a major transition in this economy, and to remain dependent on the fossil fuel industry without appropriate investment in clean energy is extremely short-sighted and puts the US at a competitive disadvantage.
The American Sustainable Business Council is a network of businesses and business associations that have committed themselves to the triple bottom line of People, Planet, and Profit. ASBC members believe that sustainable business is good business, and a sustainable economy is a prosperous and resilient one. Find out more about the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) on their website.
The GoGreen Conference, brought to you by King County, will take place Thursday, March 16, 2017 at the Conference Center located at Eighth Avenue and Pike Street in Seattle, Washington. Tickets are available at seattle.gogreenconference.net or via phone at 206.459.0595.