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Green Energy, Jobs and Minority Businesses: Wall Street Is Paying Attention

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Last week in New York, for the first time ever in the same room, Fortune 500 Corporations, some 200 minority owned small businesses and more than 40 panel experts gathered to discuss ways to create jobs, help the environment, reduce dependency on foreign oil and assist multi-ethnic businesses to bring economic development to the country's hardest hit communities.

The all-day "Sustainability Summit" was presented by the New York & New Jersey Minority Supplier Development Council. The Summit was created to identify U.S.-based innovative minority small businesses in the cleantech and greentech world and provide them access to capital strategic partnering with large corporations.

The Summit's Founding Director is Kevin V.G. Wells, General Counsel and Director of Minority Business Services to The Council, an organization that certifies minority business enterprises for Fortune 500 corporations. Here is what he had to say about the conference:

Q: What was the main achievement of this gathering?

A: At the Summit, the small business survival "three C's mantra" -- Capital, Competency, Capacity -- was immediately thrust into the same room with the Fortune 500 sustainability "three P's principle" -- People, Planet, Productivity. The energy within and across sectors was unprecedented. Contacts and contracts were the topics of many discussions. The uniqueness of this comprehensive industry-wide sustainability conference was its laser focus on exploring and resolving the sustainability concerns of both a large multi-ethnic supplier base and purchasing corporations.

Q: What type of corporations took part?

A: To begin with, Marsh & McLennan Companies Chief Sustainability Officer, Elizabeth Barry, took an active role at the Summit to show the importance of merging sustainability practices with supplier diversity sourcing efforts. Ms. Barry led the charge along with presenting companies Citi, Colgate-Palmolive, BKW Transformation Group, Ernst & Young, Johnson & Johnson, Turner Construction, Bank of America, Prudential, Wyndham Worldwide and United Water. The honored guest was world-renowned Jerome Ringo, Executive Director of International Business for BARD Holding Inc., who appeared in the documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. Some of the panels included discussions on alternative energy development and energy efficiency, corporate compliance reporting, green certifications, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), and print versus digital media.

Q: And minority owned businesses?

A: There were many leaders from this growing sector of the economy, including Bard Holding Inc., a U.S. based company led by Asian-Indian CEO Surajit Khanna, which produces green algae as a viable alternative source to petroleum-based fuels and employs people in the local communities surrounding his various plants across the country. Another good example would be MPGlobal Connect Inc., an organic tea company, helmed by Monaqui Porter, an African-American woman, which employs local villages in Sri Lanka to produce the tea. She plans to do replicate a similar production model in the Bronx.

Q: What else came out of the summit that minority owned businesses and Fortune 500 companies should know?

A: Showcasing innovative multi-ethnic vendors in New York and New Jersey had tremendous value. Equally important was the Summit's education of the urban community on sustainability basics and how to incorporate green business practices to make a difference, be competitive and remain viable. The Summit uncovered small businesses showcasing their best practices in the area of job creation to a corporate audience with far reaching supply chains. Attending corporations were astonished at how some of these multi-ethnic companies had a direct impact on job creation - both here and abroad.

Q: How can green energy help bring economic opportunity to minority communities?

A: We've yet to see a big surge in job growth and the populations hardest hit throughout the United States are minority communities. Political debate rages as to whether small business has been disproportionately unaided by big government largesse with its purported emphasis on alternative energy. However, there is no debate. Jobs are created by small business owners. Solutions are sought, but the phrase "sustainability practices" is often bandied about as a potential panacea for job creation without direction.

The harsh reality is that most greentech multicultural companies do not have a clear path to showcase their products or services. They are often overshadowed by larger companies with established funding and business connections. At the Summit, small green companies gained direct access to VCs, high level executives, VPs and managers from some of the world's largest companies seeking and sourcing for their sustainability business platforms.

Q: What should happen next?

Major corporations need to be able to identify and qualify those existing green companies in all industries. However, their objective must be clear. Corporations cannot rest their laurels solely on recording isolated humanitarian acts in their reporting. Altruism equals neither profit nor productivity. These sustainability compliance reports must reflect a corporation's aggressive sourcing of innovative multi-ethnic small businesses that empower its surrounding local communities with jobs.

Small companies unfamiliar with sustainability practices also need to partner with innovative companies. Further, the commercial sector cannot solely bear the brunt of economic reform. Government must also play an active role in disseminating green practices to urban small businesses. That's why we had representatives from the Departments of Commerce and Energy present their procurement objectives to our small business attendees.

Q: Any other thoughts?

A: Attendees told me that they left the Summit wanting more; and they are already looking into methods on how to utilize both multi-ethnic vendors and innovative sustainability practices into their operations. The overall positive response to the Summit will help drive the next generation discussions on creating a network of innovative diverse suppliers and Fortune 500 Corporations to stimulate the economy through contracts that drive job creation. This Summit was an invitation and challenge to all enterprises to create sustainable partnerships and stimulate U.S. economic growth, a wider paradigm shift is sure to follow. It's happening now.

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