Laura E. Sanchez
As you may know, “socially responsible business,” “sustainable business” and “corporate social responsibility” are hardly new concepts. Institutions like the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business has had a Center for Responsible Business for a decade, and SustainableBusiness.com opened its “web doors” in 1996.i Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has also been around for many years and is understood as the integration of business operations and values, where the interests of all stakeholders are reflected in the company’s policies and actions. These stakeholder views often include investors, customers, employees, the community and the environment.ii CSR is now a regular component of most business school curricula.
The novelty in these ideas is the New Mexican flavor of the movement that has emerged in the last few years and which is currently surging from Las Cruces to Taos. This article explains how our responsible business movement in New Mexico started and how two institutions for change, the Green Chamber of Commerce and its sister organization, the Partnership for Responsible Business, have developed.
In 2009, a group of concerned business owners, many of them sole proprietors, such as doctors, lawyers, consultants and other service-oriented entrepreneurs, believed they were not being adequately represented by the traditional chamber. These business owners were tired of hearing that the U.S. Chamber was opposing important environmental matters nationally, claiming to speak for all business monolithically. Something seemed inherently amiss. At the same time, the traditional chamber entities in New Mexico were making similar claims at the Legislature where environmental or social equity issues were involved. Concerned small business leaders wanted to focus on a more responsible approach to making a profit, one that considered the impact on our planet as well as on our people, such as employees, customers and the community.
By 2010, there had been enough of a groundswell of businesses in support of this new socially responsible approach that organizers decided to hire an attorney, yours truly, to help them file to incorporate and advise them on their new organizational structure. From this emerged the New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce, incorporated in March, 2010.
At around the same time, a group of individuals who were not business owners, but many of whom had been involved in nonprofit work, wanted to help this growing business organization. A small group of founders emerged to create the board for a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that eventually decided to call itself the Partnership for Responsible Business (PRB). The PRB Board sought to create an educational outreach organization whose mission was to educate the public about sustainable economies, buying local and green practices.
Thus emerged the NMGCC and the PRB. Each organization has been making its own mark on the New Mexico business community, at the Legislature and at the Public Regulation Commission, and each continues to grow its work incrementally to address New Mexico’s pressing economic needs.
Distinguishing the Green Chamber
More than any other question, people ask me how the Green Chamber is different from other chambers. Several factors distinguish the Green Chamber from other business organizations in the state. First, the NMGCC emerged as a grassroots movement, rather than a top-down effort. That is, its first chapter formed in Las Cruces, providing a local perspective on the value that the organization could bring to its members. The next chapter to develop was the Southwestern Chapter, encompassing Silver City and greater Grant County. To date, both of these chapters are still the NMGCC’s strongest and most dedicated chapters. Later a chapter emerged in Taos, followed quickly by Santa Fe and Albuquerque/Río Rancho. While the organization’s resources are centrally managed, the local chapters determine their own events and local priorities, and they hold their own local board meetings. The NMGCC staff provides support, while locally each chapter has an executive director, managed by both the local board and the NMGCC staff.
Another distinguishing factor is that our members believe in the Triple Bottom Line—also not a new concept, and one which is explored further in a separate article in this month’s GFT. Our members also believe that supporting local businesses results in keeping more money locally—which goes to local vendors, area farms, local employees, and ultimately generates local tax revenue. Our “think-local” efforts are also described in a separate article in this publication.
A further distinguishing characteristic of our Chamber and our members’ expectations is that we don’t approach issues as a “think-tank.” We don’t produce white papers and studies to think about important issues, and research viable solutions. We purposely did not set out to create a policy institute. We take an “action-tank” approach. In a think tank, a team of experts researches solutions to problems. In an action tank, participants transform good ideas into action. We work to efficiently put our plans into actions, learning quickly as we go, and incorporating feedback to improve our effectiveness.
Actions at Work
In our short three years, we have been involved in a number of exciting efforts in the name of responsible business. As you can read in NMGCC President Lawrence Rael’s Welcome Article in this GFT issue, we had a number of successes at the Legislature this year. More importantly, this past session we really began to emerge as an important business voice in the community. Our supporters know we have hundreds of business members, and they know our members are willing to show up, write letters or make calls when necessary to garner support for an important issue. Several bills we supported passed the Legislature and were signed by the governor. Four other bills were passed by the Legislature but unfortunately were pocket-vetoed by the governor. The bill that designated a benefit corporation was among those that fell into the latter category. This bill even had bipartisan sponsorship from Rep. Zachary Cook (R-Lincoln & Otero) and Sen. Tim Keller (D-Bernalillo County), but was nevertheless not signed into law. You can read more about benefit corporations, or B Corps, in a different article in this month’s GFT.
At the federal level, we were also involved in the effort to get the Río Grande del Norte (RGDN) designated as a National Monument. President Obama issued the proclamation designating New Mexico’s newest National Monument on March 25, 2013. An economic study estimated that the new monument could bring $15 million in additional revenue to the area, create 279 new jobs in Río Arriba and Taos counties, and bring an additional $1.8 million in state and local tax revenue.iii The Bureau of Land Management’s Taos Field Office recently reported that RGDN visitation for fiscal year 2013 (Oct. 1, 2012 to Sept. 30, 2013) jumped by 40 percent over fiscal year 2012 visitation, from 130,002 visitors in FY12 to 182,501 in FY13. This increase in visitation was for the entire fiscal year 2013 over all of last fiscal year, and the monument has only been official for the last six months. So these numbers are promising for local businesses, which may see increased sales in equipment, food and beverages, shopping and hotel-nights.
The NMGCC looks forward to continuing to gather information about the impact of increased visitation on local businesses in Taos and Río Arriba counties. Thankfully, the federal government is now back open and visitors can return to enjoying the gorgeous views in the RGDN National Monument. The Green Chamber will continue to work with local businesses to help market the new monument to ecotourists and other potential visitors around the state and around the country.
Another effort to capitalize on New Mexico’s scenic public lands is currently underway in Doña Ana County. The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks (OMDP) is another Land of Enchantment gem that we hope will bring much economic gain to the Las Cruces area in increased visitation and ecotourist dollars. You can read more about the OMDP effort in a separate article in this month’s GFT.
A Business Organization First and Foremost
Ultimately, the NMGCC is an alliance of small businesses interested in developing the responsible business movement here to create more economic value for a better quality of life for all New Mexicans. We work to walk our talk through collective action. We are nonprofit and nonpartisan, and we work with the PRB to educate the community about sustainable economies, environmentally and socially responsible entrepreneurship and to advance socially responsible economic and community development policies. While we often support policies to responsibly protect the environment, we are not an environmental organization. However, we do believe that protecting the environment is a value that we must consider, along with considering the quality of life of our employees, their families and our communities. (And we believe we can do this responsibly to attract socially minded consumers.)
Originally from Deming, Laura E. Sanchez is the CEO of the NMGCC and is also a practicing attorney. She also holds a master’s in Public Administration with a focus in public and nonprofit finance and local government, and is currently an adjunct professor in business law in NMSU’s MBA program.
i See http://responsiblebusiness.haas.berkeley.edu/about/index.html and http://www.sustainablebusiness.com/index.cfm/go/info.aboutus
ii See http://www.csrwire.com/about
iii See http://www.riograndedelnorte.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Economic-Impacts-of-Monument-RGDN-FINAL.pdf