Students for a Better World: The Beyond the Classroom Blog

Stories, Resources, & More from the Beyond the Classroom (BTC) Program at University of Maryland

Civic Learning Trip to Bethesda Green Inspires Students to Consider the Potential of Green Businesses

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Several green business leaders addressed students during their visit to Bethesda Green. Mike Kennedy, owner and founder of Green Savings Co-Op, told students, “Bethesda Green connects us to a really big part of the green community. You never know where your next idea or piece of support will come from next.”

by Andrew Gruenberger, BTC Student

To really top off the semester, participants of the BTC seminar “Beyond the Financial Crisis,” traveled to Bethesda to learn about a progressive, non-profit approach to redeveloping tomorrow’s economy.  David Feldman, Executive Director of Bethesda Green, graciously hosted our group and presented us his vision of what businesses should aim to be like.  This non-profit operates as a small-business incubator with a green twist:

Bethesda Green’s mission statement encompasses three key stake-holders in our economy: business, government, and community.  By utilizing these three parties, the success of Bethesda Green’s model will prove that by going green and conducting business and living one’s life sustainably is the way of the future.

Feldman’s strategy for developing a successful, sustainable, and green business is a three-pronged approach: Incubate, Educate, and Initiate.  In this manner, Bethesda Green supports entrepreneurs with a solid, professional network, as well as the necessary infrastructure for a business to grow – such as support services and office space.  According to the business owners working with the incubator, the greatest benefit of being part of this organization is the collective knowledge and creativity that each entrepreneur brings.  Members meet monthly and give helpful ideas and critiques to their peers about how to develop their businesses.  Many of the businesses also work together as their missions share similar, green goals.

To give us an idea of what kind of creative business models Bethesda Green supports, John Jabara, founder of Savenia Labs, spoke to us about his company.  His business – a certified benefit corporation – aims to inform consumers about the actual energy consumption of common, household appliances and electronics.  Larger appliances such as washing machines and refrigerators are rated with the US Government’s Energy Star rating system, but not smaller appliances like toaster ovens.  Jabara demonstrated how with three different coffee makers, the amount of energy consumed by similarly priced appliances range from between $36 and $500 – a huge difference in cost and energy consumption.

Casey Willson, Retail Industry and Sustainable Program Manager at UMD’s Small Business Development Center, co-instructed the “Beyond the Financial Crisis” seminar with BTC Director Dr. Jim Riker. Willson, pictured left, organized the learning trip and poses in the incubator’s front hall with his colleague Jess Beurkens, Systems Analyst with UMD’s SBDC.

Seeing a need for ratings for smaller appliances, Jabara teamed up with the UMD’s own Center for Advanced Life Cycle Engineering (CALCE) Labs to create a rating system and analyze a variety of these appliances.  The final product is a label that Jabara hopes will soon be available to large range of consumers.  Inefficient and, subsequently, unsustainable appliances’ ratings will have consumers giving their purchases a second thought.  Jabara argues that his business model is an “everybody wins situation.”  The manufacturer with the most efficient appliance would see an increase in sales, shoppers would go to specific stores containing Savenia Labs ratings, Jabara makes money, and, in the end, the environment wins as well because of reduced carbon emissions.  He has so far piloted his rating system in two hardware stores in Maryland.

Jabara’s business model is exactly the kind of creativity that Bethesda Green hopes to attract.  With so much innovation, many of the course participants really got to thinking about their own green ideas.  The Bethesda Green incubator is located just down the street, and hopes to make our world better – one business at a time.


This article was edited by Dr. Caitlin Haugen, Assistant Director, Beyond the Classroom.


Author: btcblogger

Beyond the Classroom (BTC) engages talented and diverse upper level undergraduates from across the university in a selective interdisciplinary living and learning community focused on civic engagement and social change in a global context. The BTC program prepares students to be active and responsible citizens and leaders in a complex, multi-cultural, and global society. We encourage students from all disciplines and majors to realize and develop their potential through an integrated program of academic, experiential, and service components. The Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, the world’s largest nonprofit and nongovernmental sector, becomes a place of learning through exciting internships and civic learning experiences.

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