Posted by: econetworking | August 30, 2008

the highs and lows of the 2008 Austin Chamber of Commerce Awards

Wednesday night, as a representative of Austin CarShare, I attended the 8th annual (my first) Greater Austin Business Awards. Austin CarShare was named as a finalist in a new category they had called “Take On Traffic” (more on that later).

I was surprised to run into a bunch of my friends at the entrance to the Hilton Austin chanting, “W-M-I is not green!”  Turns out that one of the finalists in the category of environmental awards was Waste Management International.  Neighbors in NE Austin have been battling the proposed expansion of the MW landfill for years. I believe WMI is the only major waste hauler in Central Texas to not have an active diversion and recycling program. (I’ve got in inquiry in with them to confirm this one way or the other)

Inside, the event was, predictably, filled with well-dressed people representing Austin’s business community, as well as media and community organizations and a sprinkling of elected officials.  After the schmoozing reception was over and we took our seats in the Grand Ballroom for a feast of a meal (really quite impressive for hotel food), the parade of awards and awardee videos began.

In the first category of awards, the Time Warner Innovation Awards, I was excited that local green/clean tech businesses pulled awards in two of the four divisions. Thin film solar technology upstart HelioVolt and Active Power, a company providing energy-efficient power solutions, won the medium and large-sized business awards respectively.

This year’s event featured a new category called the ABC Services “Take On Traffic” Award.  Finalists in the Small/Medium category were Cambridge Systematics, Inc.; CP&Y, Inc.; and Green Mountain EnergyGreen Mountain Energy won, and I can tell you they have many innovative practices to incent their employees to not drive that others could learn from.  One thing they do is allow everyone who gets to work some way other than driving in a single-occupancy vehicle to enter their names each day for a weekly $100 drawing.

Large business finalists were Farmers Insurance, Advanced Micro Devices, and SpansionAMD won (ugh.  I know my friends are cringing at this one. They caught so much flack for locating over the Edward’s Aquifer that they had to incorporate lots of green building and do transportation studies in an effort to mitigate the damage of placing a major employer (that drives lots of secondary development) over the aquifer. They have implemented a bunch of responsible commuter practices….and, side bar… Austin CarShare got them so interested in carsharing that they decided they wanted to have carsharing at more than just their Austin campus and started looking into national solutions.

An even bigger disappointment of the night was the Nonprofit category, where Austin CarShare was in the running with the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) and the Capital Area Transportation Coalition.  The latter won the category, to the groans of my tablemates from other organizations (who mumbled something about “Road Warriors”).

For the Austin Energy Environmental Awards:

Finalists in the small businesss category were: Greenling Organics, the Habitat Suites Hotel, and Office Furniture NOW. Office Furniture NOW! won for their efforts to reuse and refurbishing office furniture and keep tons of material out of landfills. Certainly it’s nice to see some fresh entries into the green business category. I just wan tto acknowledge here that the other multiple award-winning finalists in this category are treasured local and national green businesses.

In the medium business category, finalists were Intertech Flooring, Balcones Recycling, and Green Mountain Energy; Balcones Recycling took the prize.

In the Large Business category, finalists were Wells Fargo, IBM, and Waste Management, with IBM taking the win.

The Nonprofit finalists were Star of Texas Fair & Rodeo???, Keep Austin Beautiful, and Goodwill Industries of Central Texas.  Our friends at Keep Austin Beautiful deservedly won the prize.

I certainly applaud the Austin Chamber for having a category for the environment and for taking on traffic.  Let’s hope that as we move forward we can build awareness, share practices, and provide inspiration for ALL Austin businesses to operate in ways that care for the planet as well as the bottom line.

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