When John Stein launched Kirei, an Encinitas-based line of eco-friendly, sustainable building materials in 2002, he had his work cut out for him.
At that time, green building materials had a bad rap, he said. In the early 2000s, there were fewer resources for green businesses; the benefits of going green weren’t widely known, and it was tough for green businesses to carve out a piece of the market.
“People didn’t see any reason to go green except to save the whales,” he said.
The same as any business, Stein said he had to compete on price, quality, and durability — and still does.
The difference now is he’s got the weight of the burgeoning green economy on his side that offers “a little extra credit,” he said. And in San Diego, the boom in green businesses is supported by the Green Chamber of San Diego County.
The new chamber hosted a kickoff event Tuesday at The Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach and business owners gathered to network, share tips and educate others about green business practices.
Stein, who brought the Green Drinks networking event to San Diego a few years back, says the chamber incorporates education and outreach to “mainstream” business in its approach.
“From Wal-Mart to mom and pop shops, going green is not just an ideological issue, it’s a dollars and cents issue, and statistics show going green often saves money,” said Stein, a Green Chamber board member, whose company manufactures building materials made from Kirei board, wheat straw, bamboo, and reclaimed coconut shells.
“Going green is — and in my opinion should be — driven by economics. That’s something everyone can relate to. Not everyone feels the same way about environmental issues, but if we can make a dollars-and-cents argument for going, that’s going to bring a lot of people along.”
The chamber soft-launched in November 2009 and has been hard at work, assembling a board of directors, a staff and a small crew of volunteers, and building membership to 75, said Peter Zahn, president of the chamber’s board of directors. Zahn and others also looked at green chambers in San Francisco and Phoenix to tailor the chamber to San Diego’s growing green business hub.
Zahn said a recurring theme for the Green Chamber of San Diego County — and the theme of Tuesday’s kickoff — is “green is everyone’s business.” The chamber’s focus is connecting, collaborating and educating, he said.
“What that means is we are committed to helping businesses and individuals create business opportunities in this exploding green economy,” said Zahn, a business attorney with a background in clean energy and renewable energy matters.
Educating “mainstream” businesses about the green economy and the benefits of eco-friendly business practices is critical to the chamber’s mission, he said.
Zahn wants the chamber to educate members about obstacles and opportunities. He wants businesses to know about new green statutes and regulations; he also wants the chamber to help them take advantage of government stimulus money and subsidies for green businesses.
“The bottom line is, we have some serious issues facing our planet in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, and we also have to recognize, in order to get businesses committed to helping on a wide-scale basis, green business practices need to be good for their bottom line, too,” he said.
Zahn points to the Encinitas-based Skoy Enterprises as an example of San Diego’s growing green economy. The company manufactures 100 percent biodegradable, reusable natural cotton cloths that are designed to replace sponges or dish towels.
“It is simple ideas like this that are poised to have an impact on the larger market,” Zahn said. “Multiply those opportunities by the thousands and in this county alone we can have a serious impact.”
Members and sponsors of the Green Chamber include Digital Telepathy, Clear Edge Power, Counsel Direct Law Offices, Greener Dawn Corporation, Smarter Light, Allison & Partners, EcoPack Store, Ever Green and Green With Envy Events. Student membership to the chamber is $25; individual membership is $50; and business membership ranges from $150 to $2,000. For more information on the Green Chamber of San Diego County, visit www.greenchambersd.com.