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Green Chamber of Commerce looks to expand

Just more than a year ago, the U.S. Green Chamber of Commerce was born when its predecessor, the Green Chamber of San Diego County, announced plans to expand nationwide.

The move was a push to extend the company education, advocacy and visibility provided by the local chamber to a broader audience. And it worked, said David Steel, chief executive officer for the nonprofit group, which is now more than 500 members strong, including San Francisco-based Ecotality Inc., the Cohn Restaurant Group and several large hotels on both the East and West coasts.

But of the roughly 300 members the group gained in 2011, a large number were still from San Diego County. Through a new campaign launched Sunday, which was by no mere coincidence also Earth Day, the U.S. Green Chamber of Commerce double-downed its efforts, calling for businesses, cities and individuals across the nation to pledge support for “socially responsible business.” It’s called the 100 Cities for Change program, and Steel said it’s about more than just declaring businesses “green.”

“We know that word has started to lose meaning for people over time,” Steel said in a recent statement. “We are looking for a complete paradigm shift.”

By phone Thursday, Steel elaborated, and explained how, for membership fees lower than had previously been charged, the program encourages companies to assess their standing when it comes to sustainability and make measured improvements, while also gaining visibility. Making price a smaller part of the equation for interested companies will be worth the effort, Steel predicts, adding that the program has already attracted new members.

“The larger a chamber is, the more value it has to its members,” he said.

Memberships for the program are available for $99, and include eligibility for “green” certification, inclusion in the national business directory, a website logo denoting membership, a USGCC trust seal and access to a national mentor program through SCORE. Media blast announcements and a press release template also come with the package. The chamber has already seen a jump in membership.

The third-party certification system will mark a significant change in how businesses and their customers look at sustainability, Steel said, because it will bring that sort of awareness into the service and product industries, where he said it was lacking.

“You can almost think of it being something similar to what LEED certification is,” Steel said. “But instead of just for the building industry, we wanted to be very inclusive, so this is something that works for hospitality, a product-based company, a manufacturer.”

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