Making a Green Footprint in Washington

It’s no secret that there has been a significant influx of ‘green’ business people making their way to our nation’s capitol recently.  Now, I realize that this is cherry-blossom season, but I have a feeling that’s not why companies - from green start-ups to established cleantech companies - are knocking down the doors of Washington.   But, are they actually having an impact?

It used to be that companies just hired fat-cat lobbyists to deal with policy matters - to advocate their clients ‘issues'  over a martini and a stogie at the Caucus Room.  But things have changed.  Start-ups and growth-stage companies don’t have the capital (or the time) to hire lobbyists to carve away at the layers of bureaucracy and navigate the power struggles on the hill.  Plus, the ethics laws don’t allow for the extravagance that once rewarded only the big guys, and helped to decide the winners and losers in Washington.   And, don’t forget that the game has changed significantly.  With more access to information - such as blogs, Twitter and digital newspapers - policy-makers and influencers are able ‘get smart’ about issues much faster.  So how are these companies making a footprint in Washington?  The good old-fashioned way…starting from the ground-up to make themselves visible.  They are giving the new wave of influencers in Washington a reason to pay attention by launching a grass-roots effort.  They are rallying the Obama-ites, the newly elected members of congress, the fresh insurgency of lobbyists and the not-so-old-school journalists and bloggers.  And because of their savvy PR efforts, they’re certainly not finding it difficult to get meetings; especially if they are being featured on the home pages of The Washington Post or Energy Daily. 

Take Solyndra for example.  They were awarded the first energy loan guarantee from the DOE in four years. And, I’m pretty sure this wasn’t by accident.  In a CNET article, it was reported that “When the president announced a $1.2 billion investment in science research at national labs, he spoke at the White House before a select group of companies that reflect his commitment to reviving the economy through investments in green technology.”  So how did Solyndra end up with a $535 million loan and an invite to the East Room?  They found a way to be visible among the major influencers and key decision makers.  Whether it was through meetings with the new policy-makers on the hill, discussions with right people at DOE or by developing relationships with key reporters inside the beltway, this innovative company found a way to get in front of the right audience.

So…why wouldn’t you hop on the shuttle to Reagan, knock on the door of the (newly confirmed) assistant secretary for renewables at DOE, track down that green blogger you’ve been following, set up a meeting with a reporter from a policy-focused energy publication, twitter during your meetings in the democratically revived halls of congress, and take the first step toward making YOUR green footprint in Washington? It seems like a no-brainer to me. 

- Contributed by Sarah Ellis.  Follow her @sakerellis