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Sustainable Business Council looks to grow in second year

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Richard Lawton, executive director, New Jersey Sustainable Business Council.
Richard Lawton, executive director, New Jersey Sustainable Business Council. - ()

As it approaches its one-year anniversary, the New Jersey Sustainable Business Council finds itself in the unenviable position of having to lobby for the U.S. to remain in the Paris Climate Accords and Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the first mandatory market-based program in this country to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

As it approaches its one-year anniversary, the New Jersey Sustainable Business Council finds itself in the unenviable position of having to lobby for the U.S. to remain in the Paris Climate Accords and Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the first mandatory market-based program in this country to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The latter dovetails with Gov. Phil Murphy’s signing of an executive order directing the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities to implement fully the Offshore Wind Economic Development Act and begin the process of moving the state toward a goal of 3,500 megawatts of offshore wind energy generation by the year 2030.

“We represent a different voice in business,” said Richard Lawton, executive director of the council, whose mission is promoting businesses and social responsibility. The council looks at how policy changes and market conditions work together to make an equitable economy, he said.

The idea that businesses exist to provide a specified service does not mean they are not socially responsible, he said. The council is a nonpartisan organization that works for a clean, safe environment.

“We formed a diverse steering committee,” Lawton said. “We have foundation grant money. We started outreach for members. We have more than 1,000 companies in our network. We established a policy working group. Given our limited capacity starting out, we do not want to replicate what is already out there.”

The council is focusing on four areas regarding improving businesses. The first centers on water, which is critical for the economy.
“We are part of a campaign that is called Clean Water is Good for Business,” Lawton said. “That is not only true for New Jersey. We have assembled businesses that have a stake in water management and are developing a policy agenda to get engaged in Trenton.”
The second involves transitioning to a clean-energy economy. The council includes business members who are experts in solar power and wind energy.

“We make a business case for New Jersey to transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy,” Lawton said.

The council emphasizes “people, planet and profit,” the priorities of triple bottom-line companies.

“What is good for our workers is good for the economy,” Lawton said. “That may be seen as a fringe idea but it is becoming the norm. The company Patagonia is commercially successful and cares about the environment and social responsibility.”  

“There is so much that companies do on their own because they compete with other companies,” he continued. “If companies are allowed to pollute, that is not good for the state’s health. It puts responsible companies at a competitive disadvantage.”

Lawton referenced New York-based investment management firm BlackRock’s CEO Laurence Fink, who has said his company will invest in companies that pursue a socially responsible purpose.

“That is significant because it is reframing the purpose of business,” Lawton said. “We are part of that effort. It is an evolution of capitalism and adapting to changing conditions.”

The third area is investing in environmentally friendly transportation infrastructure and electric cars. This idea includes pursuing an equitable playing field for low-income communities.

Finally, the fourth pillar is economic development with a focus on sustainability in low-income communities. Lawton said there is a correlation between New Jersey residents who earn little income and as a result, lack political power.

“As we invest in shifting the economy, we say there needs to be focus on these communities,” Lawton said. “They are bearing a disproportionate brunt of pollution. Pollution-emitting plants are located in low-income communities.”

Looking ahead to its second year, Lawton said he intends to expand the council’s membership so it can represent more people.
The greatest challenges facing the business council, Lawton said, include determining how to spend its resources, cultivating relationships with policy makers and spreading awareness of its existence.

“Business is not a homogeneous thing,” he said. “We believe in the market. Smart policy has to work hand-in-hand to move the market in a smart direction.”

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David Hutter

David Hutter


David Hutter grew up in Darien, Conn., and covers higher education, transportation and manufacturing for NJBIZ. He can be reached at dhutter@njbiz.com.

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