Aron: Richard Lawton, you’re executive director of the New Jersey Sustainable Business Council. What is that?
Lawton: It’s a state affiliate, it’s a newly formed state affiliate, at the American Sustainable Business Council. And the ASBC is a national organization which started in 2009. And the purpose of the council, both American’s counsel and also New Jersey, is to be a network and coalition of businesses across the country. The ASBC has over 250,000 business members. The purpose is to educate businesses, legislators and the media and engage in public policy, all for the purpose of helping to create a more vibrant, sustainable and equitable economy.
Aron: How would you define sustainable business?
Lawton: Sustainable business, one common way of defining it is a triple bottom line approach to business, as opposed to kind of a single, bottom line narrow focus on shortterm profits. Triple bottom line is a way of doing business that conducts business in a way, according to performance metrics that are not just economic, but also environmental and social.
Aron: Business people are trained or honed to maximize the financial bottom line. Does it cost them anything financially to also be conscience of the social and environmental impacts of what they are doing?
Lawton: You know, it really depends. It’s easy to say that what’s good for sustainability is good for the bottom line. Sometimes that’s true, not always. There’s definitely tension between how wide the aperture and look at what the implications of managing business are in relation to social and environmental. Sometimes there is tension and there are tradeoffs. Other times, I come from a business background, not an advocacy background, there are clearly a line. There is a way to see where those overlap. So, what is good for profits is also good for mitigating environmental harm and also good for the social. So, it really depends.
Aron: You say that the national organization has 250,000 member businesses, how about in New Jersey? How new are you?
Lawton: We’re very new, we just started out four months ago. We’re, I guess maybe the fourth or fifth state affiliate, the newest. And we are just starting out with member businesses. We have a very strong steering committee of local business leaders and we’re gaining members all of the time. And our focus is to do what they’ve done at the national level to focus on Trenton.
Aron: Where are you based? Are you based in Trenton?
Lawton: I am based in Point Pleasant beach, but I go to a lot of meetings all over the state.
Aron: You’re it. Where you are, that’s where the counsel is?
Lawton: That’s pretty much it right now.
Aron: Well, why now?
Lawton: Well, the timing is perfect if you think about it, there are a lot of confluences of events happening with the change of administration at the national level, the Trump administration and everything that they’re doing at the national level to go back to more of a 20th century economic model. The most recent example is pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord. And also with our new election coming up for the governor, so it’s an opportunity for us to really focus at the state level. So at the national level we will not lead on creating a more renewable, or clean economy. It’s an opportunity for the state to take a lead in that role, just as California has with Gov. Brown.
Aron: Do you have a candidate in the governor’s race? We now know recently that it’s Phil Murphy and Kim Guadagno. Do you favor one over the other?
Lawton: No, actually what we do is we don’t get involved in endorsing candidates for electioneering, we focus primarily on issues. So, our primary focus is to form a coalition of sustainable and triple bottom line business leaders who want to get engaged in public policy.
Aron: So, you’re looking for socially conscience business people to join your group and to lobby in Trenton and to worry about the environmental bottom line and the social bottom line. Is it fair to say that you are trying to create a new liberal lobbying group in Trenton?
Lawton: No. It’s not fair to say that. It’s not new and it’s definitely not liberal, although I think it’s understandable to assume that. We are trying to be nonpartisan. The core principals that all of our members adhere to are not inherently liberal or libertarian or conservative. One example of that is putting a price on carbon. That’s one thing we are advocating for in terms of addressing, what’s really essentially a market failure.
Aron: You’re for a carbon tax?
Lawton: A carbon tax or a cap in trade, a carbon tax would be good as well as a fee.
Aron: That tends to be a Democratic position and Republicans tend to shy away from that.
Lawton: Although recently some conservatives have come out, [James] Baker and Bob Inglis and quite a few establishment conservatives come out with the case, a conservative case for a price in carbon. There are a lot of appeals about, but what I like about that is it kind of helps us avoid that trap of falling partisan, this bifurcation or binary choice because it has appeals across the entire political spectrum. Progressives might like it for different reasons than conservatives, but what I like about it is at least it forms a foundation where everyone can agree that there’s a market problem here and there is a market solution.
Aron: So, briefly what’s at the top of your Trenton agenda right now?
Lawton: At the top of our agenda, we are still forming our policy agenda, but it really revolves around renewable energy. We are really transitioning from fossil-based carbon intensive economy to one that’s based on cleaner energy and renewables. So, what we would like to see is, for instance, and this is good for the economy, if you look out of the coast of New Jersey instead of seeing oil rigs, we would like to see wind power out there, wind farms.
Aron: Richard Lawton, thanks very much for telling us about your endeavor.
Lawton: Great. Thanks for your time. I appreciate it.