Incubating Earth-Friendly Companies at Bethesda Green

Our mission at the Inkandescent Group is to promote, educate, and inspire entrepreneurs, so we are excited to shine a spotlight on Dave Feldman, the executive director of cutting-edge environmental nonprofit, Bethesda Green.

His organization is one of the projects started in 2008 by our December Entrepreneur of the Month, Seth Goldman. With other forward-thinking business leaders, Goldman sits on the board of directors to help oversee Bethesda Green’s mission: to make a positive difference for the environment by promoting a strong local economy that supports green business initiatives.

“We strive to be the local model for sustainable living,” notes Feldman, whose own company, The Livability Project, also helps implement sustainability. “Our purpose and mission at Bethesda Green is to bring business, government, and community together through programs and services to promote a healthy economy and sustainable living practices.”

  • Scroll down to read our Q&A.

Be Inkandescent: Tell us about the mission and goals of Bethesda Green.

Dave Feldman: Sustainability covers a lot of different areas, so it is a fairly broad mission We launched it back in 2008, and it was two worlds that came together. Seth Goldman, the founder of Honest Tea, and a local council member, George Leventhal, came up with an idea to “green” downtown Bethesda. That meant looking at things such as bicycle racks, recycling bins, and providing education about greening the home.

Before coming on board here, I had a very interesting job with the British Embassy and was in charge of their economic development team. I was helping US companies set up in the UK and UK companies do business over here, so I saw economic development in a very different light. Now, I see that we can make the economy much more sustainable, not just by creating jobs, but by creating downtown centers and quarters in communities that emanate sustainability.

Be Inkandescent: Did it take you a while to define Bethesda Green’s mission?

Dave Feldman: It did, but now we describe what we do as educate, incubate, and initiate. That means we educate people on all different kinds of sustainability issues—everything from energy, food and agriculture, transportation, green building, purchasing, technology, consumer behaviors—really all sorts of different areas. We work with business, government, residents, and students to reach a very broad sector of the community.

Be Inkandescent: The incubation part is really interesting.

Dave Feldman: It is, because we see that sustainability and “green living” in many ways is still evolving. Even five years ago in Bethesda Green’s early stage, we were helping support the growth of green businesses: green nonprofits and even those with ideas that might not be incorporated. We became a catalyst or hub to help them take it to the next level. It is really about helping others who have innovative ideas, whether volunteers or government, to make their solutions accessible. There is a lot of sharing of best practices.

Be Inkandescent: So even if a company isn’t green, you’ll help it find the green initiatives, and “green it up” a little?

Dave Feldman: Right. From a business standpoint, there are two different perspectives. We work with green businesses, ones that have services and products that are green, and we help them find markets. We help them understand essentially how to be successful businesses. On the flip side, we take businesses that don’t have a green focus, and help them operationally become green. And, we’ll set up programs where they can do simple things like recycling programs or storm-water management. With restaurants, for example, we help them identify places where they can dispose of grease in a way where it can be recycled. We work with businesses on all ends; we are a very inclusive organization.

Be Inkandescent: That sounds great. Do you work with other communities? In the recent issue of Be Inkandescent magazine, we wrote about Arlington County’s Department of Environmental Services making a game of helping businesses Go Green.

Dave Feldman: Funny you should ask me that. Through my firm, The Livability Project, I am also working with a number of other communities in the Montgomery County and Maryland area, including Annapolis Green, Silver Spring Green, and Poolesville Green. Other groups out there are saying they really want to take these concepts and make it apart of their community as well.

Be Inkandescent: It seems logical. We are in difficult times right now and need to find creative ways of being environmentally aware. Bethesda Green has taken on many initiatives, including procuring recycling bins for Bethesda, organized e-cycling days, and launching a biodiesel-fuel research project with Montgomery County. Tell us about these projects, and some of the others you are working on.

Dave Feldman: We have placed 35 recycling bins around town, and more are coming. Part of what makes us unique is we have a board of directors that is quite diverse. We have somebody from the Chamber of Commerce, senior-level government officials, a lot of business folks. Bringing together a number of different groups makes our programs unique.

Take the recycling bins as an example. There have never been recycling bins in a public space in Montgomery County, and their residential program is wonderful. But businesses have to recycle independently, and there were all of these public spaces that had no recycling bins. We went to the county and asked if they could actually accept the recycling materials and they said yes, if we could get it to them. We found another group that had a truck available who said they would pick it up.

Be Inkandescent: What was your biggest challenge?

Dave Feldman: Getting the recycling bins! We set up a very innovative program to get individuals, businesses, churches, even community organizations to sponsor them. All of the programs we do are actually about helping to educate, but we are also very comfortable helping to promote those that are part of and supporting our initiatives as well. Since we have been involved, we have built up a database that is about 6,000 strong and we’ve connected to neighborhood listservs. We promote the government’s electronic recycling program. Now, when they schedule pickup, we go out to the community and say, “Hey, bring all of your materials here.” We can get a much farther reach than even the government has. What started as between 8,000 and 10,000 pounds of recyclable material is now up to 100,000 pounds.

Be Inkandescent: Tell us about the bike program that Bethesda Green is working on.

Dave Feldman: Transportation is becoming a major issue in Bethesda, as it has in many other US cities. It is getting to a point where we need to find creative solutions. One of the things we have done is help get bike racks placed around the community. It’s a start, because when you give people places to put their bikes, it helps them realize that they are living in a commuter-friendly town. We have the racks in several places now, and hope to add more in the near future. We also are actively educating residents and workers about the value of getting on their bikes, walking to work one day a week, and encouraging them to take the Metro or rent a Zipcar.

Be Inkandescent: Do you foresee Bethesda as being like Paris, or even DC and Arlington, where you can borrow a bike and return a bike?

Dave Feldman: Definitely. Capitol Bikeshare is coming to Montgomery County very soon. It will be not only in Bethesda, but in about 50 different sites around the county. So when you get off on a Metro station, you’ll be able to take a bike to another location. Still, it’s a chicken and egg thing. You bring out the bikes, and now you need to create the infrastructure. Some places don’t have bike lanes. These kinds of changes don’t happen overnight, but we are making progress.

Be Inkandescent: Are you optimistic about the future for the environment?

Dave Feldman: I am optimistic and pessimistic at the same time. We are a very energy-intensive society, and as the world population continues to grow, so does consumption of energy and other resources. Fortunately, we are seeing so many innovative ideas coming from so many creative people right now that I get very encouraged about what is on the horizon.

Be Inkandescent: Being in the trenches, I can see where you would see the challenges as keenly as the opportunities.

Dave Feldman: Exactly. The more you know, the more you realize that these are some areas we need to address. I am just glad to be on the cutting edge of what is happening in the future of sustainability.

Don’t stop here! To learn more about how Bethesda Green’s incubator program works, and whether it would be a good fit for your firm, listen to our entire interview on The Inkandescent Radio Show.

If you are in DC, don’t miss the next Bethesda Green Meetup: First Thursday Happy Hour at the Parva Restaurant Bar & Lounge, December 6, 5 to 8 PM.

To learn more about Bethesda Green, visit bethesdagreen.org.