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