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ASBC At The Conventions, Part II: Making The Business Case For The High Road

Let’s say you want to pass a policy on some aspect of the environment, the workplace, tax reform or another important issue. You’ve laid out the legislative blueprint; you know how it would work, how much it would cost, maybe how much it would save. You have all the arguments you need to help it pass. Or so you think.

But what if policymakers are skeptical? What if they say your policy is too expensive, or it could cost jobs, or it could hurt business?  The most compelling way to answer those concerns is simple: Bring in business leaders who know the policy is workable because they’re already doing it themselves!

In ASBC events like our forum at Azavea Corporation during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, you could see this approach at work. It’s exciting to see business leaders, policymakers, and the media all come to understand that there is a connection—not a contradiction—between business and sustainability.

Participating businesses, including Trillium Asset Management, American Income Life, and Eileen Fisher—represented by Eileen Fisher herself—brought their own compelling views to the event. For our 80 attendees and the hundreds who followed our live broadcast on Periscope, these leaders and others delivered an exciting new perspective at an event with historic significance.

Take climate change action, a frequent target for critics who say they’re worried about job losses. ASBC has the polling to prove small businesses are worried about how climate change will affect their operations. The view of our successful business panelists, that we can boost growth while fighting climate change, was surprising to some, and encouraging to all.

“Focusing on electric policy as a bipartisan issue and should be given bipartisan support, promoting the greater use of distributive energy rather than centralized is essential in sustainability as a whole,” said Jon Carson, Vice President of Policy and Electricity Markets at SolarCity (a new ASBC member).

Or take lack of access to credit. This (not government regulation), is many businesses’ biggest problem, as the polling again proves.

“There needs to be recognition of the difference between small businesses, which have a low- to-medium risk for investors; and start-ups, which have a higher risk and are sectioned into a whole different field,” said Marilyn Waite, Sector Manager of Energy at Village Capital. “There needs to be a road map for each company laying out the incentives at both a national and local level for the entrepreneur.”

Or take policy promoting greater transparency, which ASBC member B Lab advocates, so that companies can treat workers fairly, contribute to the community, limit environmental impact—and be rewarded as a certified B Corp.

“Providing the public with greater corporate transparency, through a certification process to measure success, will encourage improvement of the worker's environmental and community standards,” said Jay Coen Gilbert, co-founder of B Lab. “Within a business, constructive feedback is essential, so workers and business owners can use this as a motivational tool to aid to better future performance.”

From climate to credit, our nation faces these and other major challenges, but if we want to figure out what policies will work, policymakers should stop assuming they know what “the business community” thinks. Instead, they’d do well to learn from a variety of business leaders who can provide real-world, expert feedback on how current policy impacts them; feedback policymakers can get nowhere else. Events like this ASBC forum, spotlighting sustainable business leaders at a national, high-stakes political event, can dramatically change how policymakers, the media and other companies think about sustainability in business. Hopefully, the lessons learned here will get picked up by both parties.

Zach Bernstein is the research and social media manager for ASBC.