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Environmental Business Association champions ecobusiness

That will change if the Environmental Business Association of New York State Inc. has its way.
Providing positive information about environmental businesses through the media is one goal of the 2-year-old EBA, says Ira Rubenstein, founder and executive director.
The non-profit organization also has other goals in its efforts to support the growth of the environmental industry in New York.
The EBA works to stimulate business development, awareness and growth opportunities through networking, member services and educational seminars; acts as an information clearinghouse for market, regulatory, technical and financial information important to businesses; coordinates partnerships among environmental businesses and with other business, research, government and non- profit organizations; informs government and business leaders about the needs and economic opportunities of the industry; and assists in developing policy that protects the environment and promotes a strong economy.
Still a young organization, the EBA has 130 members from Buffalo to Long Island. Roughly 30 are from an area that includes Rochester and stretches from Syracuse to Buffalo and down into the Southern Tier.
The 1996 calendar of events sponsored or co-sponsored by the association includes a meeting in New York City on ISO 14000, a series of voluntary standards that guide environmental-management systems; a technology fair in Albany; a pollution-prevention conference in Albany; a recycling investment forum in Boston; an alternative-transportation symposium in Rome; a solvents exhibition in Buffalo; and a meeting on Middle East exports in New York City.
Also scheduled were three sessions dealing with cleanup of former industrial sites, a subject of special interest to Linda Shaw, an environmental and land-use attorney with EBA member Harris, Beach & Wilcox LLP.
Shaw is working to get a bill passed in the state Legislature that would put into law unwritten Department of Environmental Conservation policies regarding redevelopment of the areas known as brownfields.
Her interest in the topic meshes with the EBA’s active role in promoting the issue, she says. For example, an EBA task force on brownfields held an educational forum in May that brought together state officials, environmental consultants, developers, remedial contractors and other interested parties.
Another program in the series planned for this month in New York City will include updates on federal and state brownfield initiatives with a special focus on biotechnologies available to remediate contaminated sites.
Shaw hopes the EBA will help gather information from other states that have passed redevelopment laws resulting in economic development of such sites. No EBA sessions on brownfields or other topics have been held in Rochester, but Rubenstein says the organization is looking at opportunities to hold a program here in 1997.
The brownfields focus illustrates the EBA premise that environmental and economic interests in the state are integrally related.
People need to know how vital the environmental industry is to the economy, says David Alexander in a March article in the Capital District Business Review, a business newspaper in Albany. He is an EBA board member and vice president of an environmental-services firm in Latham.
Alexander points out that the industry employs thousands of people around the country and is responsible for tens of billions of dollar in economic impact.
Founded in 1994 when Rubenstein–president of HRST Inc., a consulting firm in Troy–saw many companies that had similar problems and opportunities but no structural network, the association is a partnership between environmental firms and government.
Leaders from business, government and academia were responsible for forming its start-up strategy.
The inaugural meeting in October 1994 featured a roundtable on strategies for industry growth; seminars on import/export opportunities and partnering with New York research institutions; and meetings about financing and marketing opportunities in the industry.
Rubenstein says companies join for different reasons, but members are primarily interested in opportunities to network with representatives of other environmental firms.
That is important to Ewald Blatter, president of Finger Lakes Chemical Inc., a Rochester company that joined the EBA two years ago. A primary reason, Blatter says, was the opportunity to be with people who share his interest in the environment.
Networking reaches beyond state boundaries. For example, Blatter’s company may become involved in a Latin American venture with another EBA firm.
In another part of the globe, the EBA is providing a key link between New York environmental businesses and companies in Bombay, India, that are having environmental problems. That project is a public-private partnership coordinated by the state Department of Economic Development.
Blatter’s firm makes and sells cleaners and de-greasers. These products traditionally- are made from chlorinated or petroleum products, neither of which is biodegradable, he says.
The 29-year-old company still sells those traditional products but tries to influence customers to use other materials that are made from natural ingredients and therefore are environmentally safer, he says.
But the problem is that safer chemicals often are the most expensive. When one of two products costs more but is better for the environment, he says, people still usually will choose the less expensive one.
“Environmental issues … stand in line behind many others,” he says. He likes the EBA’s emphasis on promoting the significance of such issues.
EBA member firms range in size from two-person operations to large companies like Niagara Mohawk Power Corp.
Many members have come via word-of-mouth, and the membership-renewal rate is fairly strong, “which means people are responding to what we are doing,” Rubenstein says.
Annual dues depend on the number of employees in a member company. They range from $300 to $2,000.
Current members include manufacturers of environmental equipment, environmental consultants, laboratories that test for risk factors, recyclers, contractors specializing in landfill design and operation, firms that help with financing, law firms, non-profit organizations, research institutions and state agencies. Most members–at least 115–are private firms.
In addition to the topic-related programs, member services include a Web site for sharing information among members and the public, and access in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Commerce to a computer system linking environmental companies with international trade opportunities. Group environmental liability insurance is being investigated.
A new outreach program called Business Neighbors enlists EBA member firms to answer environmental questions from the general business community. The idea is to increase visibility for environmental professionals and gain new business contacts while helping other types of businesses.
The organization publishes a directory of member firms and a quarterly newsletter that also is available to non-members, another way of increasing visibility.
(Ann Fox is a Rochester-area free-lance writer.)

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