"Green" is no longer just a buzzword. Consumers, investors and stakeholders are now more than ever interested in a company's environmental performance in addition to the cost and quality of their products and services.

This heightened awareness creates a powerful opportunity for businesses to not only address their own environmental footprints but play a greater role in influencing how we think and act as consumers.

Right now, efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay have reached a turning point. New water quality commitments have brought greater urgency to the restoration effort and a greater emphasis on regulation. This has come at a time when financial support from government is declining and many businesses are also confronting economic headwinds.

Yet the future of the Chesapeake Bay and the well-being of business and industries in its watershed are intrinsically linked. One solution is to find business leaders who can make a difference for both the Bay as well and the sustainability of their business enterprises. Success depends on working together in new collaborative ventures.

For more than 10 years, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay pioneered a "Businesses for the Bay" program that inspired hundreds of businesses in the watershed to voluntarily reduce waste, conserve energy and reduce pollution. Voluntary in nature, this program set goals for pollution reduction, recognized success and encouraged businesses to share their experiences.

Work on this program waned after 2007, and the Alliance is now moving to create a new and reenergized partnership with business in the Bay watershed. We are seeking three major areas of commitment:

First, is a pledge to get involved, learn about Bay issues, work with other businesses and environmental groups, and to come together to talk about and foster innovative solutions.

Corporations who are headquartered or have major physical footprints in the Bay watershed should have a voice in issues related to Chesapeake restoration and protection and in crafting solutions that make business sense.

Corporations and businesses can integrate Chesapeake restoration goals in sustainability and social responsibility efforts, involve their employees in volunteer efforts, and contribute to watershed and community-based environmental causes. Businesses can also build a positive message about support for the Bay and local rivers in product marketing and communications with other leaders.

In addition to our annual Watershed Forum, we hope to present a Business Forum next year where business leaders can have an open, progressive dialogue with policy makers and environmental groups and celebrate their contributions to the Chesapeake Bay.

Second, is to create a culture of volunteerism. Companies that encourage participation in local restoration or education efforts build an informed workforce and link to solving environmental issues in their communities. We are looking for businesses that will commit to getting their employees involved.

For example, the Alliance has worked with a number of business sponsors for Project Clean Stream each year. However, none have been more dedicated than Perdue. Some might suggest that by being a sponsor of this watershedwide stream cleanup effort, Perdue simply wants to "green" its reputation. But, this company's actions say otherwise. Since 2008, Perdue has gone from organizing a single cleanup site with 30 volunteers on the Eastern Shore to organizing and supervising dozens of sites involving hundreds of Perdue employees and their families as volunteers each year.

This consistent commitment by the company and its employees means that real changes can be seen in the watersheds where they organize cleanup sites. As Chris Oliviero, a member of Perdue's Environmental Stewardship Committee, reports, now "our challenge has been finding enough sites to keep all of the volunteers occupied."

Although much of their effort has been in the Chesapeake region, Perdue has committed to Project Clean Stream as a companywide effort, organizing and leading cleanup sites everywhere they have major operations - from Indiana and Kentucky to Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, the Carolinas, Tennessee and Virginia.

Lastly, we are looking for businesses that want to "give-back" to Bay-related causes. Every business is differs in its capability to contribute to the financing of environmental work. Â The Alliance is lucky to have some generous corporations on its Board such as Dominion Power and Constellation Energy, Altria, Smithfield Food, Glatfelter Co., and Perdue. These companies fund tree planting and other restoration projects across the watershed. 

The Alliance is lucky to have some generous corporations on its board, including Dominion Power and Constellation Energy, Altria, Smithfield and Perdue. These companies fund tree plantings and other restoration projects across the watershed.

Two small businesses we have been working with, the Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company and the Cleaning Corps, have a different approach. The Cleaning Corps has committed to using environmentally safe cleaning products while contributing 10 percent of its profits to Bay-related causes. And, not only does the Chesapeake Roasting Co. produce some fine tasting coffee using sustainable practices, but they have also made a pledge to give back 2 percent of sales - not profits - to promote healthy local waterways. These are examples of innovation that link private business directly to watershed stewardship. We hope that we can help to create an expanded network of like-minded businesses who want to give back to the Bay's restoration.

Leadership within the business community teamed with local action and initiative may be one of the most powerful and productive partnerships available to address the challenges that lie ahead.

I believe an opportunity exists today for businesses that operate in the Bay states to promote sustainability programs that directly support the restoration of the Bay, involve employees in stewardship of their local rivers and streams, and thereby contribute to the bottom line while showcasing the role of businesses as good corporate citizens.

The Alliance's new Businesses for the Bay initiative will provide businesses around the Bay region with a forum in which they can make their voices heard and their contributions recognized, where they can learn from each other, and actively participate in environmental causes that are important to them, their customers and their communities, all the while helping to meet the larger restoration goals in the Chesapeake watershed.

If your business is interested in being a part of this effort, or you would like information, please contact me at atodd@allianceforthebay.org.

Al Todd is executive director of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.

Chesapeake forum accepting proposals

The planning committee is accepting workshop proposals for the 2012 Chesapeake Watershed Forum, which will take place September 28-30 at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, WV.

The forum is a regional training opportunity for local watershed and conservation organizations and local governments in the Bay region.

Participants include volunteers, board and staff members, skilled restoration practitioners, experienced leaders and funders. For details, go to https://allianceforthebay.org/initiatives/connecting-people/chesapeake-watershed-forum/.