Helping Small Business Leaders Find a Voice

In society’s great messaging contest, a single small business owner’s voice is hard to hear. But the carbon-cutting knowledge being generated by this community is too important to ignore.

I’ve described how easy it is for small organizations to make deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. The potential benefits are huge because carbon cutting through energy efficiency happens quickly and buys more time to build a new, low-carbon energy system.

Moreover, engaging America’s small and medium-sized employers could effectively involve half of America’s workforce. A widespread effort with so many pro-business and pro-people benefits would literally transform society’s relationship to climate change.

Americans could move from helplessness to effective action in a heartbeat.

I’ve also noted that small business community is the ideal place to begin because owners tend to manage their companies according to their social values . This means any business owner who feels strongly about climate change is in a position to make an important social contribution within a few short months.

Society needs the small business community’s help.

A small but growing number of small business leaders have already risen to the challenge. They’ve seen the problem and taken action. Their stories reveal trends that point to a simple, coherent methodology others could follow. These pioneers have literally paved the way for everyone else.

Collectively, this group knows how to get the job done.

Unfortunately, our individual voices are faint. At this year’s Cool California Small Business of the Year Award reception, I asked how many awardees planned to issue press releases or had a publicist or PR agent. Not many. If I had asked how many of them planned to participate in the political process by sharing their experiences and insights the answer would have been the same.

Spreading the word, making the case, and sharing knowledge are not things that small business owners tend to do. Like their counterparts on the front lines of disaster relief, many of these green “first responders” simply move on to the next challenge. They don’t seek the limelight. They fix a problem and quietly get back to work.

They might tell their stories at local business luncheons, but that’s not the same thing as teaching peers how move ahead. As a result, a great deal of practical knowledge is being kept under wraps.

As a result, every small business owner has to figure the same things out from scratch.

Here’s the rub: if you were concerned enough to make sustainability a top priority in your business, then your neighbors, peers and elected leaders would benefit from to knowing what you learned.

I’ve discovered three barriers to small business action: (1) not knowing how to reduce emissions, (2) lacking time to learn and (3) believing that environmental action hurts businesses.

The fossil fuel industry has been fostering the third barrier for a very long time. Their virtual monopoly on the global energy system will crumble when renewable energy becomes cost-competitive. A Tesoro Corporation PowerPoint, which was leaked in 2010, confirms how hard the company is working to stop climate legislation. The Koch brothers and ExxonMobil are infamous for behaving like bullies too.

Their weapons include biased studies showing that our economy will be crippled if the fossil fuel industry has to pay for carbon pollution. That’s like putting a gun to our heads. But mainstream economists and real-world small business experience disprove these claims. It’s a fact: environmental regulations have virtually no impact on the overall economy or employment. Small business first responders are demonstrating that climate action saves money and builds good will as well.

We can overcome the time and knowledge barriers by sharing our success stories and strategies, and our observations about what works, what doesn’t and why.

This is why I am meeting with so many small business owners, interviewing some of them on the Climate Report™, publishing accounts of Bowman Design Group’s experience, and speaking to politicians and various experts at conferences. Collectively, we are amassing case studies and fleshing out the skeleton of a pro-business, cost-effective carbon-cutting strategy that small and medium size enterprises of all kinds can pursue—businesses, cultural institutions and NGOs.

It is time to move beyond the handful of individual voices speaking in the vast communications wilderness. These people know how to make rapid, deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. I am committed to bringing their knowledge to light.


About the Author

Tom is founder and CEO of Bowman Change, Inc., a consultancy dedicated to helping organizations reap the benefits of working with purpose—making social issues and environmental change central to their missions.