If your mental image of a Chamber of Commerce resembles something centering on a tight-knit clique of good ol’ boys in leisure suits, boozing and schmoozing in a back room somewhere, you should know that bears no resemblance to what’s going on with the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce these days. Just the other day, in fact, West Seattle Chamber executive director Patti Mullen facilitated the latest edition of a semi-regular gathering that was the antithesis of that old stereotype — a casual event reaching toward the traditional goal of a healthy business community in a largely nontraditional way:
Mullen dubbed this gathering the “Sustainable Storm” — sustainable as in environmentally friendly, storm as in brainstorm. We heard about it while talking with her some time back and asked if we could sit in on the next one.
No back-room scene here. The Chamber’s cozy HQ at 3614 California doesn’t really even have one. This was a brown-bag lunch around a no-frills meeting table in the heart of the office, not a power suit or martini or hors d’oeuvre in sight. Mullen likes to keep the roster rotating, but those on hand this time included:
Greg Whittaker from Alki Kayak Tours (you’ve seen them at Seacrest)
Peter Wolf from Neighborhood House (major project upcoming at High Point)
Tracy Carroll from Big Belly Solar (also a founder of the former Flexcar)
Chas Redmond, local organizer/activist currently working on the West Seattle Walking Trails Map, also representing Sustainable West Seattle
Michelle Gaither, West Seattle entrepreneur starting up ToxInspect
Sean Sykes from Harbor Properties (multiple developments in the works for WS)
Heidi Siegelbaum and Steve Gersman from Cascadia Sustainable Tourism
David Della, former Seattle city councilmember starting up EcoReady LLC
No formal agenda, just a free-flowing chat, including a chance for everyone to make a quick pitch about what they’re currently focused on. For Whittaker, it’s the start of the season for Alki Kayak Tours, though he says they’ve been open on weekends for a few weeks already “since the weather has been so nice” — they’re focusing on watchable wildlife in our surrounding waters. He’s expecting their “full-time” season to begin in May. Whittaker also is involved in shoreline issues; it was pointed out that another Duwamish River Visioning event (like one held last month in West Seattle) is set for March 13 at Starbucks Center in Sodo (more information here).
For Wolf, it’s the start of the capital campaign for the High Point Neighborhood House, dubbed the “Heart of High Point,” which figures into sustainability because of the plan to build it to the “gold” standard for “green building.” $2.7 million remains to be raised for the High Point project (previous WSB coverage here), which will be headquarters to various human-services agencies as well as a community gathering place. Neighborhood House has other locations in Seattle and is working on a citywide fundraising breakfast May 14 at the Convention and Trade Center downtown, with keynote speaker Van Jones, billed as a “social and eco-activist.”
Carroll talked about Big Belly’s signature product — a solar-powered trash compactor meant to replace the trash containers you see in most public places now. There are several in use as a pilot project around Seattle, including at least two downtown (one is by Macy’s); its key environmental point is a reduction in truck trips required for trash pickup, since the compacting means it can go a lot longer before it needs emptying — and to maximize efficiency, it includes technology to detect and send a message when it NEEDS emptying!
Redmond circulated the West Seattle Walking Trails Map (covered here two weeks ago – get your comments in now if you haven’t already) and discussed the next steps; after the “Sustainable Storm” get-together, he was off to a meeting with city reps to talk about the kiosks and other components that will mark the walkable routes (by the way, West Seattle’s participation in this is truly trailblazing for the city in general — other neighborhoods will follow, starting with Northeast Seattle). He also talked about the fair that Sustainable West Seattle is sponsoring in The Junction on Sunday, May 4 (more details soon; you’re also invited to Sustainable West Seattle’s next meeting, March 17 at Camp Long).
Sykes reviewed Harbor Properties’ latest West Seattle announcements (detailed here a week ago) and reiterated that his company is particularly interested in being a transportation-friendly piece of the development puzzle, building in a way to facilitate more-walkable neighborhoods (part of Mural across from Jefferson Square, for example, involves sidewalk widening) and access to transit.
Our state’s continually growing tourism business is a focus for Siegelbaum and Gersman, whose business seeks to consult with governments and industry to cut down on some of the wastefulness and inefficiency that can be inherent to tourism — helping the hotel industry get greener, for example. They are a wealth of knowledge about organizations and concepts we somehow had never managed to hear about, including the “Green Meeting” movement (reducing the impact of all those huge conventions bringing thousands of people swarming into one city for a few days). One side topic of note – the looming 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, B.C., and the spillover effects for Seattle, with a concern about what can and should be done now to capitalize on some of the regional interest from elsewhere, especially as a sustainability showcase.
Gaither and Della joined in as new entrepreneurs. She is focusing on building her West Seattle-based ToxInspect business to help people make sure their homes – and what’s in them – are less toxic. (Some helpful information that you might not have seen before is linked from this section of the King County website.) He is starting up EcoReady LLC, with interests including green-job creation and helping businesses comply with “environmental mandates.”
Much of the power in this kind of gathering is for participants to find out about each other; we thought ourselves to be fairly well-informed on environmental issues and realized while covering this gathering that we’ve got a lot to learn. In addition to the West Seattle Chamber, Sustainable West Seattle also is working on getting out more information to you, with projects including a “green business directory.”
The gathering broke up with a promise to do it again soon; Mullen says this is all part of the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce continuing to build on the “preferred vision” of West Seattle generated from a community meeting last November, a building process that will need plenty of help — the Chamber accepts new members year-round and has lots more info online at its website (wschamber.com)