Local business partnerships seeing green

Green Business certificationLogo certifying a green business in Montgomery County, Maryland

Montgomery County is looking greener by the month thanks to new money-minded business partnerships and their focus on the environment and community sprouting up in Bethesda, Silver Spring and more.

Bethesda Green – a business partnership that bloomed from a year of working out of coffee shop – now sits in a 4,000-square-foot donated space above business partner Capital One Bank. And while that group leverages their growing resources, fledglings Silver Spring Green and Wheaton Green look on with admiration while aiming to conform the model to their own communities.

“We like to think green is the new grey. There’s shades, there’s no right, wrong, yes or no, and people are interested in this but they want to take it to their own level of comfort,” said Dave Heffernan, communications director of the Bethesda organization.

The group, largely kick started by Honest Tea founder Seth Goldman and County Councilman At Large George Leventhal, serves as an incubator for a dozen green start-up businesses, which aim to create green jobs in the community.

Heffernan said residents and business owners are also asking for more of Bethesda Green’s educational programs, which cover topics like ‘how to green condominiums,’ but it’s a challenge to meet demand when the group still relies on volunteers.

“There’s always more you can do, but it’s a matter of resources and time,” Heffernan said. “That’s something the new groups popping up will struggle with.”

Along with Solar Bethesda – a mini-trade show of area companies – Bethesda Green partners with the county’s electronics recycling firm and took in about 100,000 pounds of electronics at their last collection, 10 times what the county was doing alone, according to Heffernan.

Silver Spring Green, together with Blair High School, held a similar e-waste collection event, even though member Doug Weisburger said the group is still working out what they can accomplish with “low-hanging fruit.”

The group first formally met in December, a matter of months after the founding members began gauging interest. But at their first meeting at Discovery Communications – a business partner of the group – dozens volunteered to steer Silver Spring Green in its infancy.

“People recognize there’s some great need, and coming together to address it feels good and right and positive. So it was a pretty heady feeling in that room,” said Weisburger, a sustainability senior planning specialist with the county’s environmental protection department.

The group is working on obtaining 501(c)(3) status and surveying residents and businesses through their website to see what needs the community would like addressed and how they would be willing to help.

One project in the works would bring 15-20 artfully designed recycling bins to Downtown Silver Spring, now lacking in any outdoor recycling containers. The project is still in the early stages of planning, although Weisburger added they could hold a contest with community members voting on their favorite designs, generating income for local artists, engaging the community and raising awareness about recycling.

Weisburger added that their approach isn’t advocacy for the environment, but catering to the community, whether that means redefining “green” for a businesses person or a resident, or reaching out to low income communities without internet access or an immigrant household with a language barrier.

“We don’t wag our fingers at people and say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t do this, you shouldn’t do that,’ and I think that’s worked well for us,” he said..

About the Author

Rebecca Lurye
Rebecca Lurye was a summer 2011 intern at the Voice, covering local news and happenings. She is a junior at the University of Maryland, College Park, where she is studying print journalism and Spanish.