Seizing Green Opportunities in the Land of Enchantment with New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce’s Allan Oliver

September 14, 2011

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so honored to have our friend, Allan Oliver, the CEO of the New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce. Welcome to Green is Good, Allan. ALLAN OLIVER: Thanks so much for having me. I really appreciate it. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Hey, Allan, this is a show of firsts today because I don’t think we’ve ever had a Green Chamber of Commerce on, number one. Number two, we certainly have had a guest on from New Mexico. We’ve gone around the world to Paris and Brazil and different parts of the world. We’ve never even had New Mexico, so we’re so thankful that you came on the show today. ALLAN OLIVER: It’s absolutely my pleasure. New Mexico is very happy to be represented, especially on such a reach that you guys have, so thanks for having us. JOHN SHEGERIAN: No problem. You and I sit both on the American Sustainability Council Board, and that’s another great organization. They’ve been on the show a couple of times. Yourself, having this very great position at the New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce, talk a little bit about your journey and your life up to this point. How did you become the CEO of the New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce, and how and why did you follow that path? ALLAN OLIVER: I have to say, like a lot of folks, I definitely did not take a direct path. I tried out a lot of things to get here. I would just point out maybe two different experiences that really pointed my direction this way. One is actually from many years ago. I was in the Peace Corps and served overseas and worked hand-in-hand with two different mayors and watched the work that they were doing and watched how government could actually have a really direct stake in people’s lives, and how you can go and be working with communities that have really serious needs, and that government can be a force for good. What it often took was good groups out there providing good advice and, frankly, giving a bit of a push to get them to see opportunities that land in front of them. So, that was a really indicative experience, and one that I certainly treasure. I think the other one — I worked for many years in state government here in New Mexico and I ran the Cabinet for Governor Richardson, which is about 33 different agencies, and so getting them to work was always an interesting and neat challenge. One of the things that the previous governor was really focused on was making New Mexico a clean energy state. He asked me to go over to economic development and help run that department first as a Deputy Secretary, and then later as a Cabinet Secretary. There was a laser focus on renewable energy. For New Mexico, it’s a really obvious choice. We’re number two for solar, number seven for wind, number 13 for geothermal, and so combine all these things, and we’re number one for renewable energy potential. This fit personally with me, with my ethic, which is just that I think that the U.S. can compete with anybody. Give our small, medium-sized businesses a chance, and they can go and really succeed. In New Mexico, it’s got a couple of really great businesses that are taking off. I think there’s even studies — and this is more national studies — showing that if you look at actual exports going out of the U.S., solar is actually one of the top exports that we have, and it’s a growing part of our economy, and it’s been growing despite the recession. So being in a place where I can be supporting a growing industry, and it’s an industry that’s doing good. This is something where I’m putting solar up on the roof of my house, like a lot of folks, and one, we’ll be saving money over time, two, I love that my utilities are going to be paying me back, and then three, I’m reducing my carbon. I’ve got a 2-year-old at home. I think that we’ve got to be focused on this stuff, and we’ve got a win-win here. We have an opportunity to reduce our costs, reduce our carbon, and at the same time be doing what’s right. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, that’s why we do this show, and that’s why we wanted you on, because green is good and the Green Chamber of Commerce is good in New Mexico. I want to ask you, Allan, talk a little bit now about the journey of the Green Chamber of Commerce in New Mexico. When was it started? What’s the whole story behind it? Who started it, and how did it really get going? ALLAN OLIVER: I think it’s a really interesting story. There were two small businessmen, one of whom was a doctor, so he considers his practice a small business, and another is a small local businessman up in Santa Fe. They were sitting in a legislative committee in Santa Fe about two years ago, and one of our local statewide chamber of commerce stood up, and was saying some stuff, basically very supportive of increases in pollution, of just some frankly stuff that’s really bad for our quality of life. We’re a desert state, so we have to protect our air and water very much, considering where we live. He stood up at the end and he said, “I represent all business in the state of New Mexico.” And that just caught these businessmen in the craw, if you will, and they said, “Wait a minute, this is not true. We know that there are other businesses that are like us that believe that there’s a good and responsible way to do business, and at the same time create long-term profits for our company and a better product for our consumers.” Again, he went through it all in a responsible way. So, they’ve started a group and started out with these little seedling groups of steering committees in different parts of the state, Albuquerque and Las Cruces, Silver City, and it just started growing. We’ve gone from essentially what you would say is those two guys, and now we’re up to about 1,200 members statewide with chapters in five different communities, and growing by about 20 businesses a month, which is saying a whole lot in this economy. New Mexico has been hit just as hard as any other state, but folks look at this as a good investment into the value of their company and a good principle, frankly, a good philosophy. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Allan, how long ago again was it started? How many years? ALLAN OLIVER: A year-and-a-half. JOHN SHEGERIAN: A year-and-a-half ago. So, it’s fairly new, really. ALLAN OLIVER: Very new. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. Wow. That’s wonderful. Right now you have how many members in a year-and-a-half? ALLAN OLIVER: Twelve-hundred. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s huge. It’s already a huge success, huh? ALLAN OLIVER: Yeah. It really is. It’s like exponential growth, and it was something simple. We tapped into something that, frankly, we didn’t know deep the vein was. We didn’t know how many businesses were out there that felt like us, but the more businesses that we talked to, and we’ve got some very straightforward, very simple programs that we’re doing, thinking about buying local first, thinking about helping businesses become more sustainable, reducing their energy usage, conserving water, mitigating their carbon, and then lastly advocating for clean energy in the legislature, which is for our state a very big deal. There’s a whole lot of folks that said, “I can get on that bandwagon and I want to be a part of this.” JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. Talk a little bit about focus. There are so many things to do when you’re A) starting a new venture like you guys have done that’s a year-and-a-half old, and so much to do. How do you focus? What is the New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce’s focus right now? ALLAN OLIVER: We decided early on that we can’t be all things to all people. If we do, then we’re not any different from any of the current chambers. We need to show that we’re adding value and that it’s a different product. What we’re offering is different and distinct. We do it with three different programs. The first is we do Think Local campaigns. Folks have heard of these before. The story goes that for every $100 that you spend — maybe you’re buying a product from Walgreen’s versus buying a product from a local store. If you were to buy the same product in both stores, if you buy it at Walgreen’s, it’s about $13 that will stay in the community. If you were to buy that same $100 product at a local store, $40 stays in the community. You want to build strong, local, sustainable communities, then you want to be buying local and educating the public of why it’s an investment back into the community. That’s the first thing we do. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, “Thinking Local” is a mantra of the New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce. ALLAN OLIVER: Absolutely. Yeah. The second thing that we do is something called the Green Business Advantage. We strongly feel, and have a lot of examples of this, is that as businesses go green, we want to signal to consumers that they’re going green, and at the same time help them make their business more sustainable. My favorite example, because I like beer, is this place called High Desert Brewery down in southern New Mexico. They’re very focused on the state. They’re very focused on trying to be a better, more responsible business. They decided to go solar, and so they now produce the only solar brewed beer in New Mexico, and it’s something that their consumers look for. They get a kick out of it, and they get, frankly, their huge numbers of people going in, so it’s helped their bottom line because you attract more consumers. It helps their bottom line by reducing their costs because over the next seven years it will return their investment, and they’re going to have El Paso Electric paying them back for their electricity usage. That’s one small example of making long-term profits while doing the right thing. The third one is advocating on behalf of clean energy. For us, we have renewable portfolio center out here. It’s 10% by this year. It’s 15% by 2015 and it’s 20% by 2020. We’re basically going out and building the case that clean energy really represents jobs, lots of them. In New Mexico, right now the studies are showing it’s about 35,000 jobs that have been created over the last 10 years. Our growth rate, in terms of jobs in New Mexico, is at about 5%, which is double what the average rate is for the state. At the same time, just think, the recession has been pretty hard everywhere, and we’re still having this kind of growth. For us, we’re trying to really put out the story that these are good jobs, they’re high-paying jobs. This is something that is perfectly located for New Mexico in terms of our natural resources, and we’re trying to make that case. I will say there’s some organizations that are trying to knock that down, the oil companies in particular seem to look at clean energy as an adversary, which is just not true. The way we look at it is that clean energy is a great opportunity for a state that’s growing and expanding, and don’t kill the golden goose. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wait a second. What was the name of the brewery that’s using the solar again? ALLAN OLIVER: High Desert Brewery down in Las Cruces. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. OK. I see them here on your website. For our listeners who just joined us, we’re so honored to have our friend Allan Oliver on. He’s the CEO of the New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce. Look at his great website. Mike and I are on it now. I’m on the iPad on it and Mike’s got his laptop up in front of me. It’s www.nmgreenchamber.com, New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce, and we’ve got Allan Oliver. You’ve got your members listed right here on your website. ALLAN OLIVER: Absolutely. Yes. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s great. Now you’ve hit this whole thing of the Green Business Advantage program, and as you said, they’re doing the solar thing, clean energy, solar, and other methodologies, and also Think Local, which is such a smart way to go about promoting your great businesses in New Mexico. What we talk about here at Green is Good, and Mike and I always like to focus on the triple bottom line or the major pillars of sustainability: people, planet, and profits. Share how we can merge what our mission is here at Green is Good with your mission at the New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce. Or are they exactly the same? ALLAN OLIVER: I think we would just say the same thing. We would use a little bit different language, but it’s New Mexico. We like to make things our own. We say investing in people, protecting our air, land, and water, and creating long-term profits. That is the way we phrase it. If it sounds like the triple bottom line, that’s very much on purpose, because that is certainly our focus. The businesses that subscribe to us and become members with us, they are also jumping onboard with the triple bottom line. The way we’ve phrased it, and the way our perception is, is that we want to have folks that are coming in with a willingness to learn. We don’t want to sit there and pass judgment, necessarily. We want to have folks say, “I’m ready to go in and do some hard commitment, take a look at how my business operates, and improve on that business.” We’re ready to help. We want it to be something that is beneficial to the business, improves their bottom line, and improves their triple bottom line. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That makes a lot of sense. Have you been well received by the New Mexico legislature? How are the politics in the state of New Mexico? ALLAN OLIVER: We have a Democratic legislature, a Democratic House and Senate, but it’s very close. We have a Republican governor, and I would say we’ve been really well received in the legislature. I think that they’ve been really pleased. I guess the way I would phrase it is to have some diversity within the business community, and to hear from different voices. There were some things that we were advocating for from a business perspective that folks hadn’t given enough thought to from our perspective. An example would be local procurement. We’ve had some laws on the books that are really unusual, where out-of-state companies were getting the same preference as in-state companies. From our perspective, we think we can compete with anybody. Our local guys, we ought to be investing locally. We ought to be investing back into our small businesses here. That was something that went through the legislature, was passed by both houses, and actually it was vetoed by the governor. She has actually come around on that, and she’s going to be introducing it in a special session we’re having here in a couple of weeks, which we think is really exciting. It’s great because this is a place where we can all agree that buying local, thinking local, supporting local businesses is just simply the right thing to do. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. That makes a lot of sense. Talk a little bit about how many companies are joining every month now you said? ALLAN OLIVER: It’s about 20 companies a month. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow. So, that’s about one a day you’re getting. ALLAN OLIVER: One a business day, yes. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, then what’s the proposal? I mean, today you and I are over at High Desert Brewery and it’s the end of the day, and I own a business. We’re just sitting and enjoying a nice solar brewed beer together. What’s the pitch? What’s Allan Oliver’s pitch about why should I join? I’ve been already here. My dad passed me down this great company here in New Mexico. We’re doing well. Why do I join? ALLAN OLIVER: The reason I think that your business should join is that you’re a responsible business voice in our community. You understand the needs that we need to be investing in our community, and we have programs that are doing this through our Think Local campaign. You’re also a business that understands that these days it’s not just a business. If you want to run a long-term sustainable business like your dad did that keeps continuing to give back to your community, then you’re looking for creating a sustainable business. This is something where we have different programs to help on that, that we’re eager to work with you on. And the last is more of a philosophical point, but New Mexico has a great opportunity in terms of clean energy. Lots of businesses are now moving to solar or becoming more energy efficient, or they’re buying wind power. Some are going towards geothermal out here. This is something that is a big job creator for the state. The more our economy out here is humming and the more jobs that we’re creating, the better it is for all businesses. So, this is just simply a smart investment back into our state, and we’d like to have you on board. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s amazing. Do you guys cover every industry, Allan? Do you have membership that’s very diverse? ALLAN OLIVER: Yeah. I would say we’re pretty darn diverse. We’ve got everything from some solar and wind, we have some co-op companies like CSAs, we have various small retail outlets, restaurants, ice cream parlors. I’m looking at our list. It’s a very diverse group. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Allan, I had the honor of meeting you first when we went on the American Business Sustainability Council’s board meeting, and we went over to the White House as advocates for our organizations, but also as a group. You did a great job, of course, advocating what the New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce does. Talk a little bit about what you do on a national basis, because I know you also hosted members of the White House back in your home state after our meeting. Talk a little bit about that interaction and what that means for the great people of your state of New Mexico. ALLAN OLIVER: Thank you. Listen, it was a real honor working with you and meeting you as well. In terms of what we do on a national level, we’re very much in concert with the American Sustainable Business Council, and they really are lead efforts in Washington, DC. We’ve worked hard to be a part of making sure that when they’re going up and having their voices heard in D.C., that states like New Mexico are also represented, and having a western voice in there, which we think is awfully important. We were honored to have Nancy Sutley out there. She is the Chair of the Council for Environmental Quality. For our businesses, she’s very focused on clean technology, green grid efforts, and some other clean energy aspects, so we had a really nice round table with her and about 25-30 of our leading businesses here, and she gave a good presentation of some of the different things the Obama administration has done. I think she was really impressed with the caliber of the businesses that are out here and the different things that they’re doing. She listened in, and we’ve had a number of different green grid initiatives out here and smart grid technologies that we’re trying to put into place. From a larger market perspective, if we can get these things to launch and get some good example of it and get some good federal support for it, there’s no shortage of the number of jobs that smart grids can really create. I think she was really impressed with that. A lot of the water technologies out here, because it’s a higher desert and our resources for water are really scarce, the technology companies that are working in that area have really made some pretty serious advancements that are really transferrable, and they’re flat out good for the economy, good for the environment, good for all of the above, if you will. So, I think that really caught her interest. We’re not the only ones to advocate for this, but pace districts, the essentially clean energy districts that work off of tax assessments and property assessments. This is something we feel strongly out here would really unlock a whole lot of potential. Here in New Mexico, tens of thousands of homeowners, and nationally, I’m sure the number is in the millions, that would really see our solar industry just take off. It’s something that, frankly, in our viewpoint, is just a bureaucratic impediment that just needs to go away. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Allan, unfortunately, we’ve reached the end of our show. We’re down to the last minute or so, and I want you to share any last thoughts you have on the great work you’re doing and on your journey with our listeners. I’ll leave it to you, the last minute or so. ALLAN OLIVER: The only thing I would just share is I appreciate — obviously, this program is terrific in sharing ideas. Thank you for having me on. My hats off to the pioneers that are out there. With electronic recycling, I know you’ve been the leader on that, and so many other folks are trying out something brand new and seeing if it will fly. We need more entrepreneurial spirit out there. I think the green sector of the economy is the exact place that has the most movement right now, and so I just encourage anybody out there who’s got an idea and wants to chase it, go chase it. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is just a perfect way to end the show today. Allan, you’re always welcome back on Green is Good. For our listeners out there, to learn more about the New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce and to join it, so we get Allan’s numbers up from one a day to two a day, go to www.nmgreenchamber.com. Allan Oliver, you are a sustainability leader and truly living proof that green is good.