Blog : Green Collar Careers: Green Alliance Director, Sarah Brown

By Katelyn | Sep 1, 2015 | in

By Ken Johnson

Efforts to become a more green and sustainable culture proliferate the news these days, but often that information is lost amongst the headlines. Though political coverage of climate change and rampant ecological disasters make the front page, seldom were stories about companies incorporating greener business practices given top-billing. Sarah Brown noticed this lack of attention in the media and decided that it had to change if communities were going to become more sustainable. In response, Brown established the Green Alliance, an environmentally-conscious business union, that raises the awareness of sustainably-minded businesses and helps connect them with green-minded consumers.

“We decided from day one that we wanted an outlet for people, whether they were business owners or consumers, to put their money where their values were,” Brown said. “And we wanted people to realize that going green didn’t have to mean going broke; that going green could actually save you a little of it too and for businesses it could increase their profits.”

Brown, who has worked for CNN, at the New York bureau, NBC, as a Moscow bureau assignment desk editor, and for Associated Press TV, as a Moscow bureau producer, started The Green Alliance in the living room of her Kittery, Maine, home in 2009. When it started, The Green Alliance had two Business Partners, Simply Green Biofuels and Purely Organic Lawn Care. Now, the Green Alliance, headquartered in Portsmouth's historic Franklin Block Building, boasts upward of 100 Business Partners and nearly 4,000s individual community members.

The Green Alliance green-certifies each of their Business Partners with a three-part, transparent sustainability certification, which is then made available to the public via a green report card and evaluation on the Green Alliance website. Each Business Partner also has a Green Story on the site, as part of the certification, which tells about their green products and efforts. The Green Alliance has also established itself in the local media, using journalistic storytelling and reporting to deliver information about sustainable culture and the work each Business Partner does to make the community greener.

Ken Johnson (KJ): What do you like most about your job?
Sarah Brown (SB): I like the people. I get to interact, be inspired by, and learn from scores of diverse groups of people on a daily basis; whether it's business people just starting out with their first new business, or individual members of the Green Alliance – people in the community who are interested in sustainability – or interns from UNH or my great employees. It's really exciting to just constantly come in contact with people that are out there on the front lines of sustainability and business and keeping me on my toes so I always feel challenged to go to the next level.

KJ: Where did you go to college? Does your college education help with your current job? What skills from college most prepared you for the work you do now?
SB: I went to Barnard College at Columbia University in New York City and received a Bachelor of Arts in Russian Studies and International Affairs. My college education is the reason that I have my current job. Being exposed to the world around me and politics relates directly to environmental activism and even running a business. I initially used my college education for my first career which was in journalism. It was that career in journalism, and my interest in story-telling, that brought me to the creation of the Green Alliance because essentially what we do is tell stories about the sustainable business leaders and connect them with the community that shares their values. The skill from college that first and foremost prepared me is connecting with people; making contacts and building relationships, and then also following through and being organized. Going to an Ivy League school, especially coming from a working-class background like I did, meant that I was immediately thrown in to a very high-paced, demanding situation and so I had to really work hard to keep up. In order to do that I learned how to be very organized and make sure I was very thorough about everything. And I still use those skills today to make sure that my business is running smoothly and nothing gets forgotten.

KJ: What do you look for in an employee in this field?
SB: I look for an employee who fits the themes of organization, thoroughness, dedication and inspiration. I do think that great ideas are a dime a dozen and a lot of people have all sorts of great ideas, but can they follow through? For employees, the people who tend to have the biggest impact in the Green Alliance and tend to be most helpful in terms of making our business more successful are the employees that are very focused and very thorough and are able to multitask and follow through on any number of the fifty plus things that need to get done. I also look for someone that always, always, always puts the client, our Partnering Businesses and our members, first. Good customer service is the foundation of any successful operation and I am only interested in hiring folks that believe this to be true and will always do their utmost for our Partnering Businesses and members.

KJ: What made you integrate sustainability into your business/go into a green industry?
SB: I moved back to the United States after being a journalist in Russia for 5 years, principally to start my family. At that time I had three young children and they were my complete focus. But while I enjoyed initially being a stay-at-home mom, I’m not one to just sit around so I became very involved in local politics and I became a town councilor, and then I joined the zoning board. In my town, which is Kittery, issues of land development and land use are very important because we have very little buildable space. When I started merging my political interests with environmental concerns that is what brought me to the formation of the Green Alliance. I wanted to do something tangible, where I was really making a difference and not just reaching the early adopters. In activism, you are doing a lot of preaching to the choir, which is important but after a while I wanted to have more of an impact. Once I was taking sustainability into the business realm, I feel like I was really able to move sustainability into a normal concept instead of being a fringe concept.

KJ: What are you most proud of in your business as it relates to sustainability?
SB: I am most proud of the normalization of sustainability. There are a million players and it is a collaborative effort, so everybody in the area has contributed in their own way. But I do feel that the Green Alliance has helped to make sustainability and environmentalism part of a normal everyday value. When it stops being fringe and everybody can embrace it, that's when it really starts to become a powerful movement. There are all sorts of ways to engage, and at the Green Alliance we think that everybody has a seat at the table.