Fired Up About Being Green – But Not in the Journal

February 7th, 2014 · 2 Comments · environment, journalism

By Denise Tessier

Long-time readers of the Albuquerque Journal couldn’t be faulted for thinking the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce the most important business-boosting group in New Mexico. It gets lots of publicity in the Journal (as we have pointed out in past posts) and a few years ago even partnered with the Journal with its “Business Plan” advertorial (as pointed out here).

So it wasn’t extraordinary to see a story about the Albuquerque CofC’s legislative agenda on the front page of Journal Business Outlook on Monday (“CofC promotes growth agenda: Vibrant private sector is objective”).

Nor was it out of character for the Journal to run results of an Albuquerque CofC poll on the front of Wednesday’s business section ( “Growth barriers: Weak economy, lack of skilled local labor top list of obstacles facing NM businesses, CofC-commissioned poll finds”).

What would be surprising is if similar play were to be given to the activities of the New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce, which claims to have more business members than any other statewide chamber group.

It’s not that the New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce (NMGCC) has been ignored by the Journal; both the state group and individual NMGCC chapters have received mention in several Journal stories since the group’s incorporation in 2010 – stories related to NMGCC’s involvement in Public Regulation Commission hearings, tourism efforts and in campaigns to preserve New Mexico wild lands.

However, from reading only those stories, one might get the impression NMGCC is a small, environmental type group.

That impression would be changed once one had read about the organization, not in the state’s leading newspaper, but in the Santa Fe-based monthly, Green Fire Times.

The Green Fire Times provided an in-depth introduction by devoting its entire November issue to the NMGCC, letting the chamber’s leaders and members write the articles about its activities and breadth of scope.

Now, this is not to suggest the Journal should turn over its pages like that, with NMGCC or any other organization (although the Journal does let the Albuquerque CofC write articles that run on the Journal’s Op-Ed page, sometimes even when the information has already been thoroughly covered on the news pages of the paper. And as mentioned in the aforementioned previous posts, the Journal partnered with the Albuquerque CofC to produce advertorials that at times were journalistically close to compromising.)

The Green Fire Times’ November issue is worthy of note, rather, because it points up how the Journal’s relationship with the Albuquerque CofC – and its apparent lack of any kind of go-to relationship with the NMGCC – contribute to the overall image of the Journal as a journalistic enterprise willing to buddy up to big businesses but failing to show similar interest in a group that openly calls itself “green.”

And after reading about the NMGCC in Green Fire Times, “green” means more than the environment with this group. In an introductory message written by then-president Lawrence Rael (who has since stepped down to run for governor):

We are often asked how we define “green” and whether a business that does not produce or sell green products can join. Our response is a resounding: YES! We welcome anyone to join who can adopt our values and wants to preserve New Mexico’s unique local, cultural and environmental assets while furthering their long-term sustainable business success.

The message further explained that “green” has a double meaning:

“Green” to us stands for environmental stewardship, but also profit. We believe green leads to green. That is, adopting a green approach leads to producing more green $.

We believe that responsible businesses can turn a profit by harnessing the green business advantage and appealing to a more socially conscious consumer. We are not an environmental organization, but our business members do care about protecting our environment—including public lands, air and water. Our businesses believe in the triple bottom line: people, place and profit.

Who are these businesses?

According to NMGCC, they are mostly mom-and-pop outfits that together outnumber every other statewide CofC, with more than 1,100 members and five chapters – in Albuquerque/Río Rancho, Las Cruces, Santa Fe, Silver City and Taos. According to the introductory message, these businesses:

. . .believe not only that they can build a successful business while doing no harm to the planet, but they also believe that doing things responsibly will also distinguish them from other businesses, thus leading to a market advantage among responsible consumers. So far, our members have reported improved quality of life for themselves and their employees, as well as an increase in profits from harnessing the green advantage. We believe this is the way to ensure sustainable long-term profits.

It might be just me, but those kinds of comments sound productive and forward-looking, a contrast to the message coming from, for example, Wednesday’s story reflecting the Albuquerque CofC poll, which led with:

A weak economy and the lack of a skilled local labor force are the biggest obstacles facing businesses in New Mexico, according to a new poll conducted by Research and Polling Inc. for the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce.

In another article in the Green Fire Times, NMGCC’s CEO, Laura E. Sanchez, wrote, “We take an ‘action-tank’ approach, transforming good ideas into action.”

Calling itself an “action tank” is an interesting way for the group to distinguish itself from “think tanks,” the latter of which often get play in the Journal. It also provides another example of the power of language and whether a group is encouraging or discouraging when it comes to the future of the state. (As an example of the latter, the numerous papers and reports from the Rio Grande Foundation about what’s wrong with New Mexico come to mind.)

A review of Journal NMGCC coverage online reveals NMGCC is generally mentioned in the context of news, quoting the groups’ positions, which seem to be guided by the idea that what’s good for the state in terms of environment and public health is also good for business: The Taos Green CofC was among those supporting creation of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument at the Rio Grande Gorge. The Silver City chapter has been active in promoting tourism and the Santa Fe chapter was involved in the Green Lodging Initiative, encouraging area hotels to reduce waste and water use. The most recent mention of NMGCC was last month, in an in-depth story about the debate over how much land should be included in a proposed Organ Mountains national monument. NMGCC said it would send a letter to President Barack Obama requesting he bypass a gridlock-prone Congress to adopt the larger land mass plan.

These are news stories, reporting on actions NMGCC has taken, without a specific focus on the group or its principles. In contrast, the Journal often runs a picture of Albuquerque CofC President / CEO Terri Cole with stories about that chamber.

Note: Cole is also president of the board of the New Mexico Chamber Executives Association, a statewide group made up of 28 city CofCs. That group’s legislative agenda was mentioned in a four paragraph story on the Wednesday Business page (next to the Albuquerque CofC poll story), advising readers to read its agenda online. It should also be mentioned that Cole, until recently, enjoyed access to the Journal by serving as president of the board of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government. Founded by journalist Bob Johnson, with full involvement of the Journal, FOG was created to advocate for government transparency and reporter access to public records and meetings. As of 2014, FOG is again headed by a journalist, its board again primarily made up of journalists and First Amendment / media lawyers.


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