Money trees

Green Business Chamber of Commerce

John Toth, left, and Dave Asher stand in the top floor of the Vassar-Cordone building, which will soon function as a coworking space.

John Toth, left, and Dave Asher stand in the top floor of the Vassar-Cordone building, which will soon function as a coworking space.


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Dave Asher is a business man, and his niche is in the “buy local” movement (“Home for the holidays, Dec. 23, 2010).

“I basically created the Google of locally owned businesses,” he says, referring to the Reno-Sparks Local Business Co-Op database—a free listing of all local businesses, organized by category. The co-op also plans community campaigns, such as switching to a credit union and hosting a series of classes on networking.

And now he’s also found a niche in the green movement. Asher talks enthusiastically about the benefits of buying local—cycling money within a community, rather than outsourcing products and services, and sparking job creation.

“Much of that also has to do with this very ‘eco’ way of thinking,” he says. “Our economy is a bucket. If you buy eggs in California, rather than in Nevada, there’s a hole in the bucket. Money and resources drain from that. But if we can look to what we already have here, we can start to fill those holes.”

Asher and fellow co-op member John Toth created the Green Business Chamber of Commerce, a new part of the Reno-Sparks Local Business Co-Op aimed at promoting sustainable businesses and organizations. Asher makes it clear that it is not a part of the national U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the conservative lobbying organization.

“Our color is purple—red and blue,” he says. “We’re not a partisan project.”

The Green Business Chamber of Commerce is one of the first of its kind in the country. Asher plans to head up the national chapter, while Toth will maintain the local. Asher says that organizing the green aspects of the co-op was difficult, especially with other chambers of commerce well-established in the area.

“It was very aggressive of me to go up against the other chambers of commerce in town—the ones that are well-funded, well-staffed,” he said. “I would attend their meetings to recruit people.”

The co-op is recruiting businesses to participate in its “going green program,” in which a business can take a pledge to be a more sustainable operation. To ensure that businesses don’t get away with greenwashing—making empty claims about sustainable efforts—participants must make green efforts public to allow for accountability.

“Businesses will get an energy audit,” says Toth. “And they’ll have to implement some procedures, such as invest in solar power.”

“Basically, we want businesses to show how they are being good stewards of our eco-system,” Asher says. “By posting their actions on their websites, the public can follow up with them to make sure they’ve done what they said they were going to do.

But the chamber of commerce will have more than just an online presence—the top floor of the Vassar-Cordone building is being transformed into a coworking space where independent entrepreneurs or startup organizations can rent out a workspace. Asher plans to set up a rooftop community garden and a co-op coffee shop, and the co-op recently started the Films for Action green movie series, which is part of a national program. Film viewings will be held every fourth Friday of the month, including climate change documentary What a Way to Go on May 25. A discussion will be held afterward with a panel of local experts.

“We’re just one of many green hubs in Reno,” Asher says. “But we hope to help link them together.”