Maya I. Krishnan
Runner-Up Winner
12th Grade
Richard Montgomery High School
Rockville, MD

    At first glance, high school students seem to be isolated from the outside world. After all, we spend seven hours a day and five days a week in the classrooms. This may strike many outsiders as a recipe for detachment from problems of pressing national and economic concern, but really, nothing could be farther from the truth. Four years in high school have taught me about the world as a whole, the importance of preserving the environment, and the value of community service. The lessons I have learned relate to the path Greater Washington companies can take to ensure the well being of both themselves and the community around them. By pursuing internationally-oriented strategies, exploring green technology, and reaffirming commitments to the community, Greater Washington area companies can face the economic challenges ahead.

    In a time when U.S. consumer spending is reduced, businesses need to look to a worldwide market to find new opportunities. The idea of adopting a global outlook is familiar to me: over the years, I’ve seen my own school system in Montgomery County adapt to the new international climate in our society. Every year my high school hosts an “International Night,” where students can experience the foods, dances, and traditions of other cultures. Chinese is now offered alongside Spanish and French in high schools. Eight of the schools in Montgomery County offer the International Baccalaureate program.i And the internationalism is a part of all the school systems in the Greater Washington area: eight schools in Fairfax County, five schools in Prince George’s County, and three in Anne Arundel County also offer IB. The region’s commitment to international education in grade school reflects its ability to compete in a worldwide economy.

    Adjusting to globalization is one of the key challenges both individual companies and the United States as a whole will face over the coming decades. By reaching out to international markets, greater Washington area companies can provide an example for the rest of the nation. Companies should look at emerging markets in particular, which will be driving much economic growth in the coming decades. Currently, over 350 Washington law firms work with overseas firms, and over 1000 businesses work in international finance.ii Over 500 international non-stop flights leave from the greater Washington area every week; a stunning testimony to the region’s connectedness to the wider world.iii The greater Washington area epitomizes those qualities that our entire nation will need in years to come.

    Finding markets abroad is one of the immediate ways Greater Washington area companies can approach the challenging economic climate. But businesses should also use this time to reconsider their long-range goals. The downturn itself was caused, in part, by a lack of thoughtful foresight on the part of consumers and businesses: consumers were overspending and overstretching, and businesses were spending too little time managing risk and planning ahead. While the economy is slowly improving, companies can reconsider their underlying structures and aims. Part of this consideration can involve reevaluating the role of business in social problems. In order to responsibly deal with current economic challenges, companies can recommit themselves to community outreach and environmental sustainability.

    Corporate-community partnerships are a key quality of the Greater Washington area. The DC public school system actively partners with local businesses to fund improvements.iv Outside sponsors help pay for research labs at Thomas Jefferson High School in Fairfax, VA. Community outreach is also an issue that’s close to me, since I work at a DC nonprofit that serves kids living in Anacostia. I’ve seen firsthand the positive effects the business world has on nonprofits: local businesses have donated generously to support Horton’s Kids. We’ve received grants for free meals for the children, resources for tutoring, laptops to help bring technology to the local population – the list goes on and on. Just as the nonprofit looks to serve the DC community, Greater Washington companies already work to give back to society. But now especially, the community needs extensive help.

    With the tough economy, poor populations are struggling more than ever before. Greater Washington businesses should try to increase their roles in local communities in order to help responsibly address the area’s economic challenges. Greater DC Cares is one representative organization: by linking over 700 nonprofits with corporate sponsorship and volunteers, it creates a dynamic business environment in which companies act with social responsibility.v Given DC area businesses’ established ties to the nonprofit world, they can easily have an impact by reaffirming their commitment to pressing social issues. By sponsoring local community outreach organizations and investing in education, Greater Washington area companies can also help create a high-quality workforce that will strengthen the local economy for years to come.

    Last year, solar panels were installed on the roof of my high school. Students in Piney Branch Elementary School in Takoma Park, MD, campaigned to replace Styrofoam trays with reusable metal Montgomery County Public Schools has started an overall green technology and recycling initiative.vii Greater Washington area schools are increasingly engaging in the world of environmental sustainability. The business world can follow the example: Greater Washington companies can use the recession as an opportunity to take the lead on environmental issues.

    While increasing production during a time of reduced consumer spending is clearly unwise, improving the environmental efficiency of existing capital is certainly a wise move. Businesses can view tough economic circumstances as an opportunity to make strategic “green capital” investments. As the New York Times points out, replacing old machines and buildings with new, “greener” versions will both stimulate the economy and help the environment.viii

    The Greater Washington area is already poised to begin green technology implementation, since it is home to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Energy. There are currently 14,000 people in the Greater Washington area working in environment-related jobs, and an estimated 156,000 will join them over the next 30 years.ix Businesses can take advantage of this opportunity by incorporating environmental sustainability into their long-term strategies.

    There are also profits from pursuing sustainability: a 2006 survey indicates that 42% of consumers are very concerned about the environment.x Already some Greater Washington area companies have begun to tap into eco-aware consumer preferences. Sweetgreen, an organic eatery created by Georgetown students that has expanded to 3 locations in the DC area, features biodegradable packaging and uses wind power.xi The Bethesda-based “Honest Tea” company sells organic, free-trade tea drinks and has a compound annual growth rate of 66%.xii Clean Currents is a Rockville-based company that helps homeowners and businesses switch to renewable energy sources. By continuing to explore this growth area, Greater Washington companies can be certain of providing profitable and sustainable products for years to come.

    Going to school in the Greater Washington area means so much more than just attending classes and doing homework: it means being exposed to a unique way of life. It means always thinking about countries on the other side of the world. It means reaching out to the local community. It means constantly reevaluating our society’s impact on the environment. These issues, which have shaped and defined my high school years, reflect the fundamental values of the Greater Washington region that will allow it to address the pressing economic problems facing our nation. Business interests and community interests are intertwined: the way forward for Greater Washington companies will rely upon dynamic, proactive responses to problems of fundamental human concern. The area already has the requisite raw material for increased success, in the form of international connections, social awareness, and environmental workers. Constructing a path to the future will mean uniting all of these factors, a task as exciting as it is challenging. The time has come, and Greater Washington is ready.

  1. Montgomery County Public Schools, Rockville, MD. Web. .
  2. Greater Washington 2009 Regional Report. Economic Development, Greater Washington Initiative.
  3. Greater Washington 2009 Regional Report.
  4. DC Public Schools, Washington, DC. Web. .
  5. Greater DC Cares Online Web. .
  6. De Vise, Daniel. "Early Lesson in Eco-Activism Comes From Economics Book." Washington Post 9 June 2009. Web. .
  7. Montgomery County Public Schools, Rockville, MD. Web. .
  8. Krugman, Paul. "An Affordable Salvation." The New York Times. 30 Apr. 2009. Web. .
  9. Greater Washington 2009 Regional Report.
  10. "Making the Eco-Movement Matter - American consumers’ attitudes and behavior regarding environmentally-friendly products for the home." Cotton Incorporated: Building the Market for Cotton. Web. .
  11. Sweetgreen - Georgetown | Dupont | Bethesda. Web. .
  12. Honest Beverages. Web. .