Meet the Visionary Behind the Phoenix Green Chamber of Commerce, the Nation’s First to Focus on Sustainability

Mara DeFilippis, Founder & CEOof the Phoenix Green Chamber of Commerce

Mara DeFilippis, Founder & CEO of the Phoenix Green Chamber of Commerce

All you need is a heart beat and a balance sheet to join most business networking groups. Not with the Phoenix Green Chamber. You need to first step up to its eco-standards if you want to step up to its bar.

Say hello to Mara DeFilippis. She is the visionary founder and CEO of the Phoenix Green Chamber of Commerce, the first of its kind in the country. Mara was kind enough to take a few minutes out of her hectic schedule to share with us her insights into creating this pioneering organization just over a year ago.

When did the Green Chamber of Commerce begin and what was your inspiration behind starting the GCC?

I previously worked as a socially responsible financial advisor, which means I specialized in screening investments for social and environmental behaviors of companies that matched my client’s preferences.  I was continually contacted by the public with questions about possible job opportunities in the “green” world, angel investment inquiries, and general questions about “green” such as: “What’s the best alternative fuel vehicle?” And, “what do you know about solar tiles?” This was far beyond my scope of expertise and I did not have the time to invest in the research.  I knew enough about economics to know that if the demand was not able to find the supply, then this movement was a slow one at best.

image001It was Earthday 2007 at a tradeshow and though I was excited about such a busy time of year as a socially responsible financial advisor, I was quite frustrated that this was nearly the only time of year that I was able to actively prospect for new clients.  This was the consensus of the other vendors at the booths and as we talked after the event, we realized that we also lacked a resource for us to network, business to business.  What we needed was a chamber of commerce, but a “GREEN” chamber of commerce.

Through a very grassroots group, we finally launched the first chapter, the Phoenix Chapter, of the Arizona Green Chamber of Commerce on November 18th, 2008.

Was Phoenix a good market to pioneer this concept and why?

Absolutely! This is probably one of the toughest markets, in my opinion, to begin this movement. Though there are amazing leaders in the movement locally, we are challenged with the local culture that has not yet embraced a culture of environmentalism.  We are blessed that we have much work to do, and if we can make it here, during these times, we can make it anywhere!

How large is your membership and how has your recruiting met your projections?

We currently have 136 members.  Our projections were higher than our results, unfortunately, as we chose to continue the launch despite the conditions of the economy.  To that end, we are exceptionally proud of our accomplishment of acquiring these much appreciated members.  They represent businesses that are committed to environmentally responsible business practices, and we are also quite proud of them.

What is the major initiative of the GCC?

There are a few major initiatives that we represent.  First, we are about smart business and advancing a sustainable economy.  We are developing a major project of sustainable business practices that are tiered, like “shades of green” businesses.  This will be tied to our membership and designed to be inclusive rather than exclusive.  There will be incentives and benefits for those who are more committed than the others.  It is also designed to support businesses with smart financial choices, which is essential to a sustainable economy and environmentally conscious business practices.

We also take the role of being the local portal for information, resources and connectivity when it comes to green.

What are your plans for growth into other markets and when?

The Phoenix Chapter is the first of many.  It is they prototype for future chapters and we have taken the first year to learn from mistakes and move forward with a model that is able to be duplicated.  We have set up the legal structure and are moving forward with consultants to support us in expansion nationally with key partners, businesses and members.   We will begin operations as the American Green Chamber of Commerce in 2010.

Which are the next three logical markets to start a GCC?

We have inquiries from 14 cities and 10 states to start chapters there.  There are many variables to have the local resources and partnerships to begin operations in other locales.  More on that in the near future, Park!

If you could start it over again, what would you do differently?

I’d begin with funding from investors, rather than funding it personally.  And, I’d start with an assistant! Nothing else.  All is as it should be.

How did you participate in November’s Greenbuild conference in Phoenix?

We supported several Greenbuild committees to make local connections for green vendors and execute the conference locally.  Additionally, we helped to promote the conference for several months prior to its arrival in November.  We were donated a booth, where we recruited several people of interest to start local chapters in their cities and states.

Do you have the stuff for Green Chamber of Commerce membership? Find out by downloading this PDF: PGCC Eco-Standards

Or, if you’re interested in starting your of chapter, click here.

Hats off to Mara and her team of committed professionals to launch the nation’s first green chamber; an organization that is more than just about being “green,” but being sustainable.

5 Comments On This Topic
  1. Pat posted
    December 8, 2009 at 11:52 am

    I’m curious to learn how she defines success with this venture.

  2. Mara DeFilippis posted
    December 9, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    Hello Pat,

    Thank you for your comment. I personally define success with results. And, if the vision is to create a sustainable economy, that must be tracked. We are currently in development for a program, our Eco-Standards, that will assist business members in both tracking and reducing waste, energy and water. Additionally, it is designed to provide education, information and incentives to engage in sustainable transportation, procurement, supply chain management, indoor air quality, materials and resources and community and social equity. I can hardly wait for this program to launch!

  3. Pat posted
    December 10, 2009 at 11:49 am

    When you state you define success with results, what results are you expecting? Is it financial gain? A mentally challenging endeavor? Camaraderie? Networking?

    I’m not trying to pry into your personal life, but was truly interested in what the real goal of someone starting a Green Chamber of Commerce was/is.

    I see a lot of people and companies jumping on the Green Building / Sustainable band wagon because they sense it is leading them to the bank, as opposed to saving polar bears.

    I find nothing wrong with the wagon ride to the bank, provided everyone’s cards are on the table, but it irritates me when people claim their motivations are purely altruistic, when we know better.

    No offense intended, and again was just curious how you would answer that question.

    Good luck with your venture.

  4. Park posted
    December 12, 2009 at 9:29 am

    Pat, I don’t think commerce and ecology are mutually exclusive. Why can’t a company aspire to be as environmentally sensitive as possible, all the way to the bank? It seems that industry should take a leadership role in protecting the very resources they use to be in business in the first place. Just makes sense. It’s called being sustainable, and the best book I’ve read on the subject is Adam Werbach’s, “Strategy for Sustainability.”

    Ray Anderson of Interface is another great example of industry demonstrating leadership in sustainable manufacturing and consumption.

    Patagonia was founded on the very principles of sustainability, and they’re making a rather tidy profit with their efforts. Check out their Footprint Chronicles: I imagine you have some of their gear, which is an expression of its “Greenness.”

    Even Frito Lay is into it with their Sun Chips, capturing 20 percent growth per year, while encouraging their consumers to make the world a better place.

    Volkswagen too:

    So I hope it’s not a leap to think that a Green Chamber of Commerce has been launched to do anything but offer businesses a way to become leaders in sustainability while increasing their profits? I believe that’s its intent.

  5. Pat posted
    December 14, 2009 at 8:29 am

    Your points are well taken, Park, but to set the record straight, I didn’t say making a profit and the idea that one feels they may be saving polar bears are mutually exclusive.

    In fact, one only needs to look at some of the characters involved in the East Anglia / Climate-gate Scandal and carbon credit trading to see there is a tonne of money to be made off global warming and sustainability.

    I understand Patagonia, Frito-Lay and Volkswagen are marketing to an emotion in order to make a profit. There’s no question of that, and I applaud them for any success they may have.

    Companies that don’t pass the smell test with me are the ones that try to hide their primary motivation of making money, with claims of changing the weather if you buy their goods or services.

    I think the winners in this arena will be those who can credibly & honestly market their goods and services as environmentally responsible, but only if they succeed in separating themselves from the anthropogenic global warmers.

    Back to the Green Chamber of Commerce, as I stated in my message, I was simply interested in learning the founder’s motivation.

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