The nexus between economy and environment — in N.C. and beyond

By Bob Keefe

Bobkeefe-mugshotI learned about the nexus of economy and environment as a boy in North Carolina.

I grew up in my father’s land surveying business, helping map out subdivisions and shopping centers for new residents attracted to our state by a growing economy, good weather and an unparalleled quality of life stretching from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Outer Banks.

I spent my weekends hiking and hunting in the woods outside of Raleigh; fishing off the barrier island beaches south of Wilmington and wading mountain streams near Asheville in search of trout or anything else that would bite.

So it’s no surprise to me what we found in our new Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) poll of nearly 400 small business owners in North Carolina:

  • Nearly 90 percent of small business owners in our poll said that the state’s good environment is important to its economic growth.
  • About 85 percent said it’s important to support energy efficiency programs. Nearly 70 percent said it’s important for the state to expand its renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind.
  • While they like clean energy, the majority of small business people disapprove of or are unsure about efforts to open North Carolina up to fracking for oil and gas and the risks it would bring to the state’s tourism industry and quality of life.

You can see the entire poll here: http://www.e2.org/jsp/generic.jsp

The first-of-its-kind E2 poll focused on North Carolina, where a state legislature that promised to be good for business but has been horrible on environmental issues reconvenes this week in Raleigh.

But I’d bet we’d hear similar sentiments if we were to ask business people anywhere.

As the new executive director of E2, I’m privileged to get to meet and learn from entrepreneurs, investors and other business-minded people from all across the country. Our 850-plus members have founded or funded more than 1,700 companies that do business in nearly every state in the nation. They don’t just incorporate good environmental practices in their own businesses; they also find the time to advocate for smart environmental policies on the state and national level that can lead to economic growth.

Go anywhere in America as I have — from the corn fields of Iowa to Silicon Valley’s Sand Hill Road to Boston’s Route 128 — and you’ll find smart business people just like those in North Carolina.

What they have in common is the courage to bet on a big idea and a conviction that they don’t have to sacrifice our air, water and land and our children’s future in pursuit of profits today. They recognize they can be both a businessperson and an environmentalist, and that it’s a false premise that the two must be at odds.

They understand the nexus — and the importance of — the economy and the environment.

Bob Keefe is executive director of Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2). Reach him at bkeefe@e2.org.