Sustainable business, at the White House

Thanks to my friends at GreenBiz, I wangled an exclusive invitation to cover a business gathering earlier today [June 12] at the White House. The meeting itself didn’t produce much in the way of excitement or surprises, but it was noteworthy because the companies on hand weren’t asking the government to leave them alone–they were asking for more regulation, and taxation, and investment, to bring about a more just and sustainable economy.

The group that organized the meeting, the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC), was started a few years ago by Jeffrey Hollender, who was then CEO of Seventh Generation. Here’s my how story begins:

Corporate executives lobby Washington every day.

Not many come to plead for higher taxes and stronger regulation.

This week, though, a group called the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) convened in our nation’s capital to issue A Business Call for a New Economy that is built around “triple bottom line” principles, shared prosperity and environmental stewardship.

The ASBC members–about 125 showed up for a couple of days of meetings–are supporting, among other things, higher taxes on big companies, closing overseas tax havens, tax credits for renewable energy, EPA regulation of greenhouse gas emissions and stricter regulation of chemicals.

In the Business Call for a New Economy [PDF, download] , the group says it wants to preserve the efficiency and dynamism of markets, while curbing what it calls capitalism’s “destructive tendencies” toward “overuse of resources” and “extremes of wealth and poverty.”.

“When too few have too much and too many have too little, society cannot be sustained,” said Roger Smith, CEO of American Income Life, a fast-growing insurance company that provides life insurance to working families. “On the public policy side, the key word is investing. We are not going to cut our way to shared prosperity.”

“I am a big, big believer in unions, and a big, big believer in the collective bargaining process,” Smith said.  Unions help build a strong middle class which is good for business, he said.

The ASBC was started in 2009 by Jeffrey Hollender, the former CEO of Seventh Generation, and David Levine, an entrepreneur, in part as a counterweight to conservative corporate lobbies like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Its members were welcomed to the White House (actually, the Executive Office Building) today [June 12] by officials from the Obama administration; tomorrow they’ll visit Congress. The ASBC, a coalition of state and local business networks, says it represents 150,000 business and social enterprises, many of them small businesses that don’t have the time or resources to lobby. Among the better-known companies on hand in D.C. were Stonyfield Yogurt, Eileen Fisher, New Belgium Brewery and BetterWord Telecom.

You can read the rest here at GreenBiz.

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