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Washington Business Alliance: A sustainable approach

Donna-web While “greening” the built environment is our primary focus, O’Brien & Company has always had an eye on the larger purpose — a sustainable future that offers an economically vital and environmentally sound quality of life for all. This focus is why we have supported the concept of a business alliance that takes a holistic, solution-oriented approach to promoting business interests. O’Brien & Company has participated in the Washington Business Alliance (WaBA) from its beginnings, recently formalizing this participation in full-fledged membership.

Like other WaBA members, we believe that creating a high standard of living for all is directly correlated to a good business environment and essential to the vital economy central to a sustainable future.

For O’Brien & Company, in addition to including the environment among its five working committees (the others include health , fiscal governance, education, and transportation), WaBA appeals because of its approach: identifying and testing strategies through replicable demonstration projects, advocating strategic legislation that is based on field-tested successful outcomes, and overall taking a entrepreneurial approach to solving our state’s most challenging problems.

Our firm has had great success working with groups that do not agree on everything, but do agree on things that matter. Hence we now enjoy successful green building programs around the country that bring together government, industry, and environmental advocacy groups. Similarly, WaBA is working with groups that may appear to be in total disagreement but in fact do have areas where their goals intersect. In particular, WaBA hopes to help business and government identify common ground and goals, and facilitate progress towards those goals.

WaBA was modeled after the Oregon Business Association, with a Washington flavor of course. The primary difference is a cross-platform approach among the issues. According to Roz Solomon, Chief Operating Officer, WaBA wants to give businesses an opportunity to engage in public policy in a new way, through a range of topics, rather than specializing in one area or issue, or advocating for one industry. The organization will be advocating for integrated policies that can garner broader support because of its reliance on demonstrated results.

Only for-profit businesses and former business executives may become members of WaBA (hence the entrepreneurial lens), but the organization actively partners with non-profits working in its five issue areas. The idea is to maximize the opportunity for innovative solutions. “Businesses know how to solve problems,” says Roz Solomon and “we have some critical problems to solve.”

In a recent conversation with Solomon, she shared a couple of demonstration projects WaBA is considering:

  • On-Site Primary Care: The idea is to establish health care clinics in office buildings (or other work venues) where employers band together to self -insure and fund the clinic. WaBA’s role would be to establish the project’s objectives and metrics, and to advocate for regulatory waivers to test the program. (Metrics might include less absenteeism, more productivity, better overall health, easy access to family doctors).
  • Business Leadership Training for Principals: In this case, early research revealed that schools in which performance was high — despite high levels of poverty in the school population and low English language competency — enjoyed strong leadership from principals. These outliers led to the idea that leadership training for principals provided by successful local business leaders could translate into higher student performance. This approach has the added advantage of connecting schools to businesses – and students entering the workforce to potential employers – prior to graduation.

According to Solomon, “by redefining business interests to look at the whole system, thereby gaining an understanding how issues are inter-connected and don’t exist in silos, we are more likely to find solutions and less likely to end up in adversarial positions.”

Like most states, Washington’s government is engaged in a struggle to regain economic stability. The fear that naturally rises in such dire situations often drowns out strategic thinking. Government needs better access to business-driven solutions. Kudos to WaBA, and similar organizations around the country, that are asking the right questions and working strategically for long term solutions.  It's smart, and it's sustainable.

Posted by Donna Trost, General Manager and part owner of O’Brien & Company, a woman-owned enterprise founded in 1991 to promote sustainability in the built environment. The Building Capacity Blog is a weekly publication of O’Brien & Company.

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