Green Business Owners Positioned To Make A Difference
by Matt Funiciello, Green Party of New York State

Green businesses could help get the message out by showing people in their communities an alternative to modern corporate behavior and structure.

Green business owners are in a distinct position to represent Green principles to the public. The public may then be more likely to see our alternatives to big corporate practices. As a Green business owner myself, I spend a lot of time thinking about this. Am I uniquely positioned as a Green business owner to promote Green change and help grow awareness of the Green Party? How can I use my heightened visibility in our community to walk the Green walk and help represent the party’s ideals and vision?

I own and run Rock Hill Bakehouse, a wholesale bread bakery in upstate New York. We pay everyone who works for us a living wage, and we do our best to provide all the benefits that can be afforded in our market. We use local and organic ingredients in our breads and foods whenever possible and have been instrumental in creating a demand for locally-grown and milled grains and flours. We use fair trade coffees roasted locally. We use organic teas from our local self-titled “Tea Maven”. The majority of our produce is local, and we sell our breads at over a dozen farmer’s markets Ñ many in New York City. My father raises free-range chickens on his farm and we use their meat to make our popular curried chicken salad. We use beef from a small farm about twenty minutes away as often as it is available. Ingredients that cannot regularly be sourced locally are purchased from local distributors who have made a commitment to paying their employees a living wage and to buying local wherever possible. In short, we try really hard, and we are always trying to build more and better relationships to tweak the formula.

As with most Greens, I am also politically active. I have been outspoken on important issues in our area and have become a spokesperson for the Greens locally through letters to the editor, promoting independent media, and organizing protests and events. To my surprise, I’ve found that the cost to my business has been minimal. I have hosted visits by Ralph Nader twice to our area in the last three years, and while some customers shook their heads at me, they did it while ordering food. A larger number have thanked me, and most couldn’t care less (it’s them I need to work on). I advertise in local independent newspapers, usually putting controversial comments and political advice in my print ads. Callers have only a few times messages they would “never buy bread from a commie” or other such anonymous venom. My business has grown every year for the last ten years and I can’t believe my being Green has ever hurt my business in any way.

David Doonan runs Mohill Design, a freelance web design company in Greenwich, New York. He has worked for himself since 2001. He does a lot of pro bono work for the Green Party and has also designed more than a few web sites for Green Party candidates, including Howie Hawkins when he ran against Hillary Clinton last year. David writes for a local independent newspaper, as well as for Green Pages, and is a photographer who has chronicled many peace actions and antiwar protests.

I asked Doonan what it’s like to be a Green business owner in small-town America. He said when he and his wife first moved up from New Jersey fifteen years ago, “If you wanted anything done, you had to be a Republican. You had to be quiet. You couldn’t put your name and your politics out there. I don’t know that this is the case now because when the town needed a website, I was the guy who got the job.”

Doonan recently accepted a board position with the local Chamber of Commerce. He said things can seem somewhat crazy, being involved in activist and social justice circles and at the same time being involved in fairly conservative business circles. I know what he means. We also talked about using foreign goods in our businesses. It is often difficult to buy products that are domestic and also truly support proper labor practices and environmental law.

I asked Doonan if it is possible to get around the cheap (almost exclusively foreign) hardware and technologies driving the Internet boom his business so depends on. He said if it weren’t for that very equipment, he “would probably be working 40 or 50 hours a week for someone else instead of for myself.” He said he compensates for this unavoidable compromise by doing valuable progressive work.

Mohill Design “recycles paper and turns the lights off.” The client list is almost entirely made up of local people and businesses within walking distance of his modest home office. I asked if he has ever seen any “blowback” as a result of his political work. He relates he did have one client who was deeply offended by a link he sent out showing photos he’d taken of an anti-war march in Washington. That’s probably the only client he feels he’s lost.

High Peaks Java is a small coffee roasting company and cafe run by Derek Java (his real name). He uses only fair trade, organic coffee beans and offers soy and organic dairy products. Java said he has held most of his Green opinions and values before he joined the Green Party about a year ago. He said he doesn’t really know if being a Green affects his standing in the business community because he doesn’t really get much feedback about it. He doesn’t hide who he is, but he also doesn’t necessarily project it either. “If anybody were to come into my shop, they would see a poster of Ralph Nader on the wall and … they can draw their own conclusions, or they can ask me a question. Most of them draw their own conclusions.”

Now that Java has joined the Party, he feels it is even more important to set standards for others to follow. He had “greened” his business from the start, but he now sees the need to help others do the same.

Should Green business owners focus on becoming a more organized force within the party to help financially support party growth on a state and national level, I asked him.

“I think it’s absolutely the way we should go,” he said. “The problem comes when you start thinking about levels of donation per individual and how to compete on a national level against the corporate parties. They set the barrier ridiculously high. I mean the major candidates in the upcoming election will be raising a half a billion dollars – 500 million dollars in eighteen months! I won’t raise that in my life. To compete at that level is perhaps more expensive than can be managed with a maximum donor value.”

We talked about Green business changing the perception of what it is to be a businessperson. We agreed Green businesses could help get the message out by showing people in their communities an alternative to modern corporate behavior and structure. Java said he is interested in seeing Green businesses throughout the country help get the message out by advertising directly about Green candidates and issues.

As a caucus within the party, Green business owners could start a meaningful discussion about how best to utilize the skills and resources we bring to the Party. We can set an example of what “business” can be, and what it looks like when a moral compass and a little vision are added to the mix. We all talked about our desire to see a network form that would unite Green business owners nationwide and help Greens communicate with each other to help grow the party.

If you are interested in helping to form such a group or caucus, please contact mattfuniciello@earthlink.net

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