Green Chamber takes root

SOLANA BEACH — “It’s not easy being green,” Kermit the Frog lamented. Hoping to change that, a group of San Diego business professionals recently launched the Green Chamber of San Diego County, a nonprofit organization whose mission is “to create business opportunities and encourage environmentally friendly business practices,” according to Peter Zahn, chamber president.
To do so, the organization will connect businesses, investors and governmental and nonprofit agencies; create partnerships to grow businesses; educate members and stakeholders; and promote public awareness about sustainability and clean technology.
“We see an exploding green economy,” Zahn said. “We want to enable businesses to learn about and benefit from that while doing a good thing for the environment and the planet at the same time.”
The Green Chamber was created this past November so membership is currently small, but the group has been tracking “tremendous interest” via its Web site, Zahn said. Plans for a kick-off event in early March are currently under way.
The chamber is financed by membership dues, which Zahn described as “reasonable compared to other chambers.” Annual fees range from $25 for students, $75 for nonprofit organizations and between $150 and $2,000 for businesses depending on the number of employees. Applicants are also required to make a “green commitment” by implementing five sustainability measures.
When applying, a business must designate a company coordinator to organize sustainability efforts. Within the first 60 days, members must implement at least three waste-reduction programs. They must also commit to at least four energy-reducing measures within 90 days, three water-conservation measures within 120 days and one pollution-prevention program in the first six months.
Most of the requirements are fairly simple steps. They include posting signs in restrooms and kitchen areas encouraging water conservation, using energy-efficient light bulbs when replacement is necessary, recycling or donating old electronic equipment and purchasing recycled paper products. Monitoring efforts are still being developed but there are no plans to create a “green police force,” Zahn said.
“It’s very doable,” Zahn said. “It’s not going to cost the businesses a lot of money. In general, it’s the opposite. Adopting these measures can result in a tremendous savings.
“We want members to walk the walk,” he said. “The idea isn’t to burden businesses, but to get them to join in and make this a contagious situation where members are serving as models of a sustainable business.”
The kick-off event will likely be in or near Solana Beach, a city that seems a natural choice because it already has “a cluster of sustainable businesses,” Zahn said. The Solana Beach Chamber of Commerce and the Green Chamber have a collaboration agreement to provide services and benefits to each other’s members. “Under the agreement, any funds or services advanced by either chamber are to be given in return for equivalent services or value from the other chamber,” said Zahn, who is also vice president of the Solana Beach Chamber.
For example, the Solana Beach Chamber advanced about $500 in start-up funds to the Green Chamber, which provided materials and services in return, he said. Solana Beach offers the Green Chamber the use of some of its facilities. The Green Chamber is a co-sponsor of this year’s Fiesta del Sol, the Solana Beach Chamber’s main fundraiser. Current plans are for Green Chamber members to provide additional manpower and attract sustainable businesses.
Zahn said the Green Chamber has not yet provided funding for the event and there are currently no plans for it to benefit financially. The two groups also offer reciprocal membership, but Zahn said they will remain independent agencies.
“We see a benefit to separate chambers,” Zahn said. “Local chambers can focus on their towns.”
Green Chamber membership is open to all San Diego businesses and organizations to provide a regional benefit by allowing participants to network countywide. So far, Zahn said, the response has been positive.
“I’m a big proponent of it,” said Bryan Fuller, a member of the Solana Beach Chamber of Commerce and owner of Java Depot. “The Green Chamber seems to be gaining traction, and it’s kind of a natural here in Solana Beach for us since we already have a number of green businesses.”
Fuller said he likes the idea that “we can reach out beyond our borders to a bigger geographic area around the county on this growing industry.”
“I think the Solana Beach Chamber would benefit greatly from it,” he said.
Following the March kick-off, education events featuring guest speakers will be held throughout the county.
“There are a lot of neat things happening and a lot of opportunities,” Zahn said.

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