Chambers help members tackle enviro issues

New Hampshire’s chambers of commerce have always supported businesses in their communities with programs, lectures and networking opportunities. Now they’re helping members learn more about sustainable business practices and saving money.

The green movement has become deeply rooted within the 1,000-member Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce. Several months ago, the chamber asked its members if they were interested in forming a Green Committee. The response was overwhelming — 600 members responded, with “virtually all enthusiastic and supportive comments,” said Quentin Keefe of Regency Mortgage in Bedford and chair of the chamber’s Green Committee.

“Our first meeting was held last January, and we had to hold it in the aldermanic chambers because there were so many attendees,” he said. According to Keefe, there are about 100 members on the committee, with as many as 40 attending meetings regularly.

The committee features four sub-panels: education, regulations, building and business.

“Each works on action steps that fit into the Green Committee’s mission statement, which is to act as a catalyst to facilitate, educate, promote and encourage sustainable green business practices that will lead to positive, measurable, business and community results,” said Keefe.

The committee will be surveying chamber members to develop a baseline for sustainability to measure changes in cost savings other indicators as businesses adopt green practices.

“It’s an evolving process. I like to say you don’t ‘get green,’ you ‘go green,’” said Keefe.

While other chambers in New Hampshire are not as far along as Manchester’s in setting up their environmental programs, a number of them have plans to move forward and form similar groups.

In fact, the Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce recently launched its own Green Committee, said Janice Crawford, the organization’s executive director.

The chamber had a large response from its membership to attend its first meeting, held Nov. 27.

“We have a lot of interest from our lodging properties, so there will probably be an energy component to what we do,” said Crawford.

The chamber also has been involved with a number of other environmental projects, such as supporting the New Hampshire Climate Change Resolution urging President Bush and Congress to pass effective actions to address the issue of climate change, which the chamber argues is harmful not only to the environment but the economy of New Hampshire as well. It also is working with the Clean Air-Cool Planet organization on various projects and holds a Valley Pride-Clean Up Day.

In Nashua, the city has its own “Green Team,” of which the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce plays a role.

Officially a city committee since June 2006, Nashua’s municipal green team has been working to help city offices reduce their carbon footprint.

However, as more and more area business owners heard about the city’s plans, they began to come to the meetings expressing interest in what they could do to become more sustainable, said Angela Vincent of the Nashua Regional Planning Commission and vice chair of the team.

“In the last five or six months we’ve been getting a lot of contacts by businesses, so much so that the city’s green team is revamping its executive committee to include membership from for-profits and non-profit organizations,” said Vincent.

She said a recent meeting attracted representatives from a bank, a car dealership, a builder, a packing and shipping company and a green cleaning business. St. Joseph Hospital also has expressed interest in joining the group, she said.

“The city is finalizing its action plan, then we will be rolling it out to the community,” said Vincent. “We want to demystify what it means to ‘go green’ and how to get started.”

She said the first steps will be to identify barriers and opportunities in going green.

The city also will be putting together a roundtable with the University of New Hampshire’s New Hampshire Carbon Challenge outreach organization to further discussion among community leaders.

“It’s been a long time in coming, but we wanted to get processes streamlined with city before bringing it out to the business community,” said Vincent.

Doug Bates, president of the Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce, has only been on the job a few months and is still in the process of identifying priorities for the businesses under his charge.

“We have other fish to fry at the moment, but [a green committee] may be something we will consider in future months,” he said.

The Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce also does not currently have a green committee, said chamber president Tim Sink, but it is anticipating hosting a program in February to discuss how members can save more on their utilities bills.

“It will be a start for us,” said Sink. “We’ll see where it goes from there, and where we can facilitate education.”

The Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce (formerly known as Greater Laconia-Weirs Beach Chamber) also is testing the environmentally friendly waters for its members, said Theresa Lamson, executive director. “We are talking about starting a committee. We are doing a lot more work with green.”