Answering a 'green' need

A new business group is taking shape with an emphasis on assisting businesses that are grappling with being environmentally friendly and economically viable.

The Laguna Beach Green Chamber of Commerce, which will be official by the end of summer, will become the third in the state behind San Francisco and San Diego, said the chamber's newly appointed president and spokesman, Chris Prelitz.

"Our goal is to improve the economic and environmental sustainability of businesses in town, as well as educate and advocate for better green business practices," he said. "In doing so, we'll also increase awareness of Laguna Beach as an eco-tourist destination."

The chamber plans to start by busting myths, and providing tips at seminars and on its website.

Initiated by resident and political activist Mike Soto, the movement has gained supporters, including Kay Metis, Arts Commissioner Nick Hernandez, real estate business owner Audrey Prosser, environmental activist Michael Beanan and green business advocate Steve Bender. They make up the board of directors.

An advisory board composed of everyone from attorneys to hotel owners is also forming and gaining support and interest from other businesses that are eager to learn how they can be both economical and environmental.

"It's amazing how many misconceptions there are out there about how good green business practices cost too much, when the opposite is true in many cases," Prelitz said. "Being efficient with our limited, finite resources … makes good fiscal sense, and numerous national studies have shown that more than 70% of consumers are willing to even pay more for products and services that are more sustainable."

Until the chamber can develop its own protocols, admission will mirror that for the National Green Pages.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, of which the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce is a member, has become the largest lobbying force in the country against the Obama administration's climate change and health-care agendas, having spent $144 million lobbying in 2009 and $3 million per week so far this year, according to Prelitz.

For this reason, Soto, Prelitz and fellow supporters argue that it was imperative to establish a movement independent of the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce, rather than joining forces.

"If the local chamber of commerce really wants to support environmental legislation, I'd encourage them to follow the lead of San Francisco and Aspen, Colo., which publicly denounced the U.S. Chamber's stance on these issues," he said. "We all want a vibrant and abundant town that serves the needs of the community, but the U.S. Chamber does not represent the views of the majority of Laguna Beach citizens.

"To borrow from Einstein, 'We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.' Having a green chamber will be a voice and network for those businesses that believe in the triple bottom line — people, planet and profit."

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